Now playing: Who Can Kill a Child? | Bleader

Friday, October 28, 2011

Now playing: Who Can Kill a Child?

Posted By on 10.28.11 at 12:00 PM

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Tonight at 8:15 PM and Monday at 8 PM, the Gene Siskel Film Center takes a break from the usual Frankenstein/Nosferatu/Caligari routine to present a little-seen Spanish shocker called Who Can Kill a Child? (1976). It's been called a lot of other things too—Island of the Damned, Death Is Child's Play, The Killer's Playground—but fans of 70s exploitation tend to score movies not with a star rating but by the number of release titles it's accumulated.

Brace yourself for the unbelievably tasteless opening credits, an eight-minute montage of horrific archival footage that surveys the liberation of Auschwitz and, from the late 60s and early 70s, the famine in Bangladesh, the U.S. napalm bombing of South Vietnam, and the suffering and starvation in Biafra. You may think representatives from UNICEF are going to be coming down the aisle to collect donations, but in fact director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador appropriates these stomach-turning images just to make a facile rhetorical point: millions of children the world over die at the hands of adults, so why shouldn't the little tykes get even?

What follows is a gory update on the "wicked child" subgenre that gave us The Bad Seed (1956), Village of the Damned (1960), The Omen (1976), and Children of the Corn (1984). A vacationing married couple (Lewis Flander, Prunella Ransome) arrive on a tiny island in the Mediterranean and discover that, except for the little ragamuffins running around, the town is deserted. Before long they discover why: for some reason the children have all gone mad and murdered every adult they can get their hands on.

Once the story clicks into gear, Serrador does a 180-degree turn from his opening-credits sequence: as it turns out, no one could be so heartless as to kill a child, which is what gives the bloodthirsty little rascals a decisive edge over their victims. The movie climaxes with a scene in which the hero reluctantly mows down a mob of kids with machine gun fire, which is supposed to make us Stop and Think. On the other hand, if you've ever had to put up with spoiled little shitheads running amok in a public place while their indulgent parents ignore them and chat among themselves, you may find this scene the ultimate wish fulfillment. That's the sort of perverse response a filmmaker has to prepare for when he can't decide if he's making a piece of junk or a work of art.

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