The opening credits of this film are an incredible downer, not something I was expecting when I rented a 70's Spanish horror film about killer children. I thought I was getting into some light, cheesy entertainment. The first few minutes is very disturbing footage and photographs of real life tragedies, where huge numbers of children have been slaughtered; Jews in Nazi concentration camps, Vietnamese children during the war, nasty stuff like that. Not something you really want to think about when you're trying to enjoy a movie, it makes death real. But it sets the tone for a film, that is far better made, and far more serious than I ever thought I was getting in to.
Who Can Kill A Child? starts with a young English couple, Tom and Evelyn, on vacation in Spain. They're enjoying the local festivities, but have plans to go on to a scarcely populated island off the coast. The film takes a while to get going, but it gives us a chance to get to know Tom and Evelyn, they're good natured, friendly, and very in love. They're enjoying their last vacation together, before Evelyn gives birth to their first child. Tom rents a small boat to take out to the island, which isn't too far off shore. When they arrive, there are a few children playing and fishing on the docks, but no sign of anyone else. Immediately something seems off, when Tom asks a boy what's in his fishing box, he gets a deathly glare.
When they get into town, there doesn't seem to be anyone there. Evelyn starts to get quite skittish about it all, but Tom seems confident that there must be some sort of festival on the other side of the island. Finally they lay eyes on their first adult, an old man dazedly walks towards them, when suddenly a young girl grabs his walking stick from him, and starts to beat him to death. Tom runs over to help, chasing the girl away. He takes the dying man to a nearby barn, laying him down in the hay, leaving him there, hoping to find someone who can help. He doesn't get far, when he hear strange sounds coming from the barn, what he discovers horrifies him beyond belief, a group of children have turned the old man into a pinata, slashing at him with a sickle. He doesn't tell Evelyn about what has happened, he's trying to hide his fear, while frantically looking for someone who can help them. Soon they run across a man, who's been hiding in the attic of the town's only hotel. He tells them how the children suddenly went wild, killing off every adult on the island, none who did much to defend themselves because Who Can Kill A Child?
The film is actually somewhat surprising where it goes from here. It's surprising in how effectively creepy it all is. Surprising in how realistic the filmmakers manage to make it all feel. I appreciate that they don't try to explain how or why it's all happening, just the fact that it is, making it a gruesome reality. The closest they come to explaining anything, is a great scene (see it below); Tom and Evelyn go to the other side of the island, where they find a family home intact, with some still innocent children playing outside. When some of the kids from the village show up, they watch helplessly as the kids change. Tom and Evelyn split, leaving the children's mother there to suffer the consequences, because what could these outsiders possibly say to make her understand that her own children are about to kill her.
Writer/Director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador created an understated masterpiece. The film takes a ridiculous idea and makes it a horrifying reality. This 1976 film is undoubtedly influenced by Hitchcock's The Birds, where for unexplained reasons, birds decide to attack and kill humans; they're both done realistically, relying on tension to terrify instead of gore. The few violent scenes pack a lot more emotional punch because of the way the film is built. The most disturbing scene in the film has to do with the surprising results to Evelyn's pregnancy. Who Can Kill A Child?, isn't a film for the faint of heart, once Tom's switch is flipped, he does some disgusting things to survive. The tone remains deadly serious throughout, it never really lightens up with any jokes. Once the film is over, the opening scene begins to make sense, these children are punishing the adults for all the atrocities of the world, and boy don't we deserve it. - Grade: A