Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who Can Kill a Child? (¿Quién puede matar a un niño?) (1976)


Child Abuse

“I grabbed my shotgun. But I didn’t do anything. No one did anything. I mean, who can kill a child?”

Unlike anything that I’m about to write, that’s a pretty fucking introspective quote. A couple of years before Stephen King inked Children of the Corn and almost two decades before Guillermo del Toro put children in the woeful clutches of warfare, Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? or Who Can Kill a Child? took a major risk by tackling a sensitive and morbid subject that made its adult viewers ask themselves, “Could there come a point when our children become so desensitized to our actions that they rise up against us without hesitation?” Thanks to Dark Sky Films, this cult masterpiece has been re-released; and considering America’s current state, the film’s message still has enough impact to put a chill in the spine of every parent.

The film’s opening is powerful enough, utilizing actual footage from World War II, Vietnam and other global atrocities where the death rate of children was a lot higher than the adults. All the while, a child’s casual humming permeates in and out of the grisly footage, making it that much more uncomfortable to watch. Fade into modern times, (1975 to be exact) and we meet our protagonists, Tom and his pregnant wife Evelyn, an English couple who have come to Spain for a relaxing vacation away from their other children. Heading to Almanzora, a small island off the southern coast of Spain where Tom had once visited, our lovebirds expect to find peace and quiet. They find quiet all right, but not the kind they had hoped for. When they arrive on the island, only the solemn-yet-eerily-friendly children are amidst. There is nobody running the bars, the grocery stores or the hotels. Assuming that the locals are celebrating a festival, Tom and Evelyn grab a room and walk through the town for a bite to eat. Sooner than you’d think, the truth is revealed: the children on the island have murdered all of the adults and Tom and Evelyn are next, unless of course, they have enough strength to kill a child.


Goddamn this is a great movie! It doesn’t fuck around at all. There aren’t any “jump scares”, the acting is damn near excellent for a low(er)-budget 70s film, and more importantly, the film’s socio-political message creeps into your mind and refrains from shoving it down your throat. Are we ever told why the children suddenly have the urge to kill every adult? Nope. Is there an explanation or flashback that tells us why they can pass it onto one another just through small contact? Not at all. And it’s beautiful that way. I thought perhaps the beginning of the film with the war footage would taint the movie’s message the rest of the way through, but they are equally as effective. The beginning tells us all we need to know, and I’m sure del Toro would agree: “Children are always the ones who suffer the worst.”

When it comes to violence, this film uses the less-is-more approach. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. In this film, it works to the fullest extent. To be honest, I found myself wishing for a gory film, but once the creepiness kicked in, that was all I needed. In the infamous “piñata” scene, I can safely say that the sound effects alone drove a pit in my stomach. Oh man, and speaking of stomachs…nevermind. I’d dare not spoil that one for you. But the violence itself is effective. Yes, you do see a few children die. Are you happy about it? No. With Children of the Corn, I could’ve cared less about what happened to the evil kids. But then again, they worshipped a corn field, so they kind of had it coming. In Who Can Kill a Child? every death reminds the main characters and the viewers that it’s the world we’ve created that made them this way; and because they refuse to no longer accept that world, the adults are forced to fight back. Violent adults create violent children which create violent adults. Almost seems tragic and pointless, doesn’t it?


It’s amazing how seriously this film takes itself. In the 70s, when exploitation films were predominant in the genre, a film about murdering children and vice-versa could have easily been made and released. However, it’s so involved and serious about its message that it was banned from several countries and went through at least ten title changes before it was released in certain areas. For example, in its original US release, it was heavily cut and re-titled Island of the Damned. Honestly, does that really sound like something you’d want to see? Just the title Who Can Kill a Child? alone is enough to pique your interest because it strikes a universal chord. Aside from a certain percentage of child molesters and mentally ill people, who could really have enough conviction to kill a child? If your son or daughter were trying to kill you, would you have the courage to fight back and possibly end their life? Would their actions make you feel like a failure as a parent? Would you blame yourself and/or society for making them this way? This movie embeds these questions into your head, but it dares not answer them. And that, to me, is truly terrifying.

5/5 Stars

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