Thursday, February 08, 2007

KBT Presents: WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (aka ¿Quién puede matar a un niño?)

Spanish filmmaker Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s Who Can Kill A Child? (1976) has a certain grace not often encountered in horror films. Italy's horror maestro, Dario Argento often hits the mark. Robin Hardy’s 1962 classic The Wicker Man definitely has it. Alfred Hitchcock nailed it with The Birds, as did Steven Spielberg in both Duel and the early half of Jaws . -It- is something primal that gnaws away at the irrational part of your brain and taps a (sort of)

This 'daylight horror' film starts off a tad on the exploitive side (fair warning to the meek, film is also not recommended for pregnant ladies). The film is often lumped into the 'exploitation' subgenre of horror, but is a much better film that category ever sees. The opening minutes may make or break viewing the film and an argument could perhaps be made (I’m not making it, however) that it is unnecessary. This is perhaps why this film has never really made it to North America. A version of the film was released with this whole sequence excised amongst other things, called “Island of the Damned,” clumsily referencing John Wyndham. Documentary footage over the lengthy opening credits unflinchingly shows horrors visited upon innocent children during WWII, Vietnam, and widespread famine in Asia and Africa. Serrador may be dropping a karmic note as to what will follow plot-wise, or perhaps he is going for generating horror, sympathy and outrage prior to the first opening image of European tourists and locals frolicking on the beach.

A body washes up on the shore, and while folks look on (in that special way people do when there is a car accident on the side of the road) an ambulance picks up the corpse and carries it away. Instead of following this unexplained event, the camera follows the ambulance until it passes a tourist bus heading back into town. It is a bit long winded, but the film decides to follow an upper middle class white couple on their vacation to the south of Spain.

Tom and Evelyn (apparently from Britain, but speak in Spanish even in private – an artifact of Spanish and Italian style filmmaking (those folks do a fair bit of dubbing in post-production)) want to get some time away from their kids, while Evelyn is in the middle of her third pregnancy. Finding the Spanish port too crowded during a summer festival (fireworks and piñatas everywhere), they rent a boat in and head for a tiny island Tom knows of where things are peaceful and quiet. When they arrive at this island, a few children help them tie up their boat, but gaze at them more than a little odd-like.

Arriving at the town square, the sun is sweltering and the tall white-washed adobe buildings are completely empty. Forbiddingly empty. It is here that the film kicks into high gear by actually doing nothing. Tom and Evelyn are left to wander the emptiness, first trying to make the best of things, feebly convincing themselves that the residents must be on the other side of the island at a festival or something. Evelyn, while taking a load-off in the deserted cantina, has another strange encounter with a young girl. Soon afterwards she and Tom witness an event which is both casually off-kilter and horrific that it borders on sublime.

While I’m being a bit coy on plot details, the titular question offers more than a little clue. The effectiveness of Who Can Kill A Child? is in the slowly building tension on the island, which lets the sun and the architecture breathe along with the characters. The concept of daylight horror seems strange as most it is commonly accepted that chilling things go bump in the night. Much scarier, I think, are when things are horribly askew in broad daylight. Surprisingly, few directors attempt this type of horror. There was mention of The Wicker Man (previously shown at KBT) and Duel above, as well as Peter Weir’s one-two punch of Picnic at Hanging Rock (also previously shown at KBT) and The Last Wave come immediately to mind. This film clearly belongs in that master-class and more is the pity that it is so damn obscure. There is a scene in the film where a man encountered by the confused couple is simply convinced to walk to and accept his own annihilation which he clearly knows will be of the worst sort. It is horrific in a way that by the films logic is weirdly plausible. Another scene involving Evelyn and her pregnancy surely rivals Roman Polanski’s horror of the same type. Furthermore, I can only guess that a key moment (it is on the poster, no less) from Kátia Lund & Fernando MeirellesCity of God was cribbed directly from Who Can Kill A Child?, just as Serrador borrows effortlessly from George Romero. Why this film isn’t woven properly into the tapestry of great horror films is a tragic, I'm lucky enough to have a copy of Alfa Digital’s 2004 release. After all, if you are only going to see even the tiniest fraction of horror films made worldwide, this should be one of them.

Come out Thursday for a lost classic horror film that is bonafide scary. Drinks at 8:15pm. Trailers and Showtime at 8:40pm.


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