WhoCanKillAChildThe apotheosis of killer kid movies! This Spanish chiller from the seventies is unadulterated exploitation, to be sure, but it’s also superbly made, suspenseful, disturbing and impossible to forget.

WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (QUIEN PUEDE MATAR A UN NINO?; 1976) joins DEVIL TIMES FIVE and CHILDREN OF THE CORN in the obscure but potent category of killer kid exploitation films, a cycle that continued through the nineties with HEAVENLY CREATURES, HELLBENT and FUN.

The writer and director of WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? was Chicho Ibanez Serrandor, who also made the feature THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED (a.k.a. LA RESIDENCIA; 1969); beyond that all his credits are in the Spanish television arena, with a plethora of made-for-TV movies and miniseries (all unknown in the us) that in his native land have apparently given him the title “a genius of terror.” I haven’t seen any of Serrandor’s television work, but based on the current film I believe the above quote may well be accurate.

Tom and his pregnant wife Evelyn are vacationing in the beach community Benavis. They’re on their way to Almanzora, a remote island that promises a respite from the crowds and noise of Benavis; once they arrive on Almanzora, though, Tom and Evelyn discover that the place seems deserted, with inexplicably abandoned bars, restaurants and retail stores, one of which houses a woman’s dead body unseen by Tom as he wanders through the place.

Another corpse, that of an old man, lies outside Tom and Evelyn’s hotel, but a young girl runs up and beats it with a stick. Tom tries to stop her but the girl just giggles and runs off. There’s more: inside a barn, Tom spies several laughing children gathered around a companion who repeatedly stabs a man’s hanging body piñata-like with a scythe. A bit later Tom meets a traumatized man who reveals the horrific truth: the children of the island, under a mysterious spell, got together the night before and killed nearly all the adults! Not that the guy is any help to Tom and Evelyn, as the man’s own daughter, faking a crying fit, shows up and leads him off to be beaten to death by an underage mob.

The trick now becomes getting off the island. Tom and Evelyn’s first stop is the house of a woman living at the seaside…with four children. It seems these kids are docile, but several of the island’s less docile children show up and put the woman’s kids under their murderous spell. Tom and Evelyn manage to escape, but find that wherever they go on the island children are looking to do them in, and even Evelyn’s unborn fetus starts acting up in her womb—at least until Tom manages to shoot a young boy, which scares off his companions. Thus the key to survival on the island is revealed: Tom and Evelyn will have to kill whatever children get in their way!

Chicho Ibanez Serrandor orchestrates his film with steely control and precision, conjuring up moments of shock and suspense worthy of Hitchcock. His camerawork is admirably unselfconscious, yet succeeds in creating an extremely fecund atmosphere of apprehension. Not too many filmmakers are capable of making the seemingly benign sight of a group of children seem as deeply menacing as Serrandor does (THE VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED has nothing on this film). The sight of kids massacring adults is a profoundly disturbing one, a fact Serrandor understands implicitly. He also realizes that the sight of adults brutalizing young children is even more unsettling, and puts that knowledge to powerful use in the unforgettable climax. The editing could probably be a bit tighter, particularly in the early scenes of the protagonists exploring the deserted town (in the uncut 111-minute Spanish language version at least; the English cut is shorter).

If there’s something the film could definitely do without—or at least have edited way down—it’s the interminable opening credits sequence, which encapsulates several major atrocities via photos of starving and tortured children in an apparent effort at coating the proceedings in a bogus veil of social responsibility. Lasting a full eight minutes, it’s a repetitive and annoying bit that does nothing to enhance one’s viewing experience and begs for the intervention of a fast forward button.

Vital Statistics

Penta Films

Director: Chicho Ibanez Serrandor
Producer: Manuel Perez
Screenplay: “Luis Peñafiel” (Chicho Ibanez Serrandor)
(Based on a novella by Juan Jose Plans)
Cinematography: Jose Luis Alcaine
Editing: Antonio Ramirez de Loaysa, Juan Serra
Cast: Lewis Fiander, Prunella Ransome, Antonio Iranzo, Miguel Narros, Maria Luisa Arias, Marisa Porsel, Juan Cazalilla, Luis Ciges, Antonio Canal, Aparicio Rivero, Fabian Conde, Andres Gomez, Maria Druille