When 'killer kid' movies hit big with American audiences in the seventies, exploitation giants American International Pictures released a trimmed down version of Narciso Ibanez Serrador's Who Can Kill A Child under the more acceptable title of Island Of The Damned. The film has retained a cult following ever since, though this disc from Dark Sky Films marks the first time that the film has been released on DVD in North America. To say it's an anticipated release in the eyes of Euro-Cult fans is probably a bit of an understatement - thankfully, the wait has been worthwhile.
After a grisly opening credits sequence in which we're bombarded with real life footage of starving and malnourished children we're introduced to Tom (Lewis Fiander) and his pregnant wife Evelyn (Prunella Ransome), a married couple from England enjoying their vacation together in sunny Spain. Things get a little chaotic when a crime spree in the area results in a few corpses pilling up so they decide to spend the rest of their time in Almanzora, a more remote island just off the coast, figuring that the crime from the mainland won't have much effect there.
Shortly after their arrival at the picturesque village, the couple notice that there are no grown ups and the inhabitants are made up of a small group of young kids. Tom and Evelyn decide to investigate, to try and find out what happened to the adults that obviously once lived in the town. What they find is shocking, disturbing, and completely unexpected.
Directed with plenty of style by Narciso Ibanez Serrador, the same man who directed the excellent The House That Screamed in 1969 (also known as The Finishing School), Who Can Kill A Child? is one of the few 'killer kid' films that plays completely straight. Let's face it, the genre is full of entertaining movies but many of them are guilty pleasures - not so with this film. The very title of the film implies the film's central theme, that of morality in regards to defending ones self against children. Not many people would be willing to raise arms against young kids, even with their own lives in danger. This is what makes the movie work, as it is something that at least most of us can relate to... very few of us out there would ever want to hurt a kid, end of story. This makes the finale all the more chilling, particularly because we're never told why the children have behaved they way they do in this film, it's simply left to our imagination just as it is in George A. Romero's original Night Of The Living Dead.
The film might move a little slow for some tastes but those with just a little bit of patience will be rewarded with a very well made film. The performances are uniformly good across the board with Ransome doing an extremely good job in her part. The cinematography from Jose Luis Alcaine is top notch and it does a very good job at capturing the sun drenched Spanish locations and the desolate feel that the script evokes. A few truly disturbing set pieces will no doubt upset the queasy or easily offended but the film never goes so far as to feel tasteless or base. This isn't a happy film nor is it always an easy film to digest but it works extremely well and fans of smart horror films should very definitely give this one a look now that it's readily available domestically.
Dark Sky does the film's fantastic cinematography justice by presenting the picture in a very nice 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Color reproduction looks excellent and foreground and background detail remain strong from start to finish. There's a bit of grain here and there but aside from the occasional speck, there isn't any print damage to complain about. Mpeg compression is never an issue and only the slightest trace of edge enhancement is noticeable. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and by and large, Dark Sky have done an excellent job on making this movie shine.
Dark Sky provides two mono tracks - one recorded completely in Spanish, the other a Spanish-English hybrid. Optional English subtitles are provided. The two leads speak English in the film making the hybrid track the preferable one but in terms of quality, there's not a lot of difference between the two. This is an older film and so the track is a little limited in range but dialogue remains clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to report. The score sounds quite good and the levels are properly balanced.
The first of two featurettes is Who Could Shoot A Child? which is an interesting interview with the film's cinematographer, Jose Luis Alcaine, who has since gone on to a fair bit of critical success working with famed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. Alcaine talks about working with the director, about where and how various portions of the film were shot in different parts of Spain and concludes by talking about where his career has gone since working on this picture.
The second featurette, Child Director, is an interview with director Narciso Ibanez Serrador himself. Serrador talks about the relationship his film has to the book version and about casting the film. Interestingly enough, he wanted Anthony Hopkins for the male lead - while that would have changed the film drastically, it does make for interesting food for thought.
Rounding out the extra features on the disc is a generous still gallery comprised of lobby card and poster art from various international and domestic markets, animated menus, and a chapter selection menu.
An intelligent, albeit very grim, thriller, Who Can Kill A Child? holds up well as a great piece of tension filled filmmaking. Dark Sky's disc looks great and sounds pretty decent and on top of that they're supplied some interesting extra features. Fans have been waiting a long time for this one, thankfully the disc does not disappoint. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.