Who Can Kill A Child?

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Tom (Lewis Flander) and his pregnant wife Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) have travelled to the Spanish coast on holiday. Reports of the war in Vietnam flood the television sets of the coastal village where they stay before moving on to a remote fisherman’s village on a small island some four hours off the coast. Despite a number of ominous portents Tom and Evelyn leave for the island only to discover upon reaching the village that all of the children have gone mad.

With every Narciso Ibáñez Serrador film I see I become more and more impressed with the director, and Who Can Kill A Child? (1976) is no different. Serrador’s skill at slowly building suspense and sustaining an atmosphere of panic and dread is at least equal to any of the masters (Hitchcock, Argento, De Palma, etc.). Serrador’s use of deep focus wide shots is highly affective, not to mention beautiful.

But Serrador has done more than just to construct a perfect genre film. He prefaces the narrative of Who Can Kill A Child? with a series of news reel clips that run under the opening credits. The first of the news reels in this bleak montage begins with the children of the Auschwitz concentration camp and concludes with footage of the strife caused by famine and civil war in Nigeria. Serrador opens his film about murderous children on a remote island with a veritable check list of atrocities committed against children by adults throughout the mid-twentieth century.

This emotionally draining preface not only provides a contrast to the horrors perpetrated by the gang of children in the film, but also provides a historical context that makes these marauding kids sympathetic. Before the plot can unfold Serrador forces the audience to confront these terrifying realities and asks the viewer to remember them as Tom and Evelyn struggle for survival. This relatively simple tactic amplifies the spectacles to come by ten fold.

There’s an entire sub-genre to horror and science fiction media that focuses on children running amok. From the Star Trek episode “Miri” to Stephen King’s Children Of The Corn children have been banding together to inflict mortal harm on us “grups”. The fear of children in revolt, of their innocence and ignorance turned into deadly games, is part of the dramatic complex of Serrador’s film. However Who Can Kill A Child? does more than simply exploit fundamental terror and paranoia. Serrador insists that the very existence of this macabre fantasy implicates society’s complicity in the abuse and murder of children without exception.