Archive for Who Can Kill a Child?

Operazione Paura

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 13, 2019 by dcairns

It occurs to me that Boris Johnson would be good casting for HG Wells’ invisible man, with his unpigmented hair and psychopathic personality and thirst for power, but there he is, on television, horribly visible.

Mario Bava’s KILL, BABY… KILL! was released in Italy as OPERAZIONE PAURA, which loosely translates as PROJECT FEAR, so I should really have written about it in our Project Fear blogathon, and maybe I can catch up with it on Friday 13th December when the general election results come in. Instead, we watched THE WHIP AND THE BODY and HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (really more of a cleaver) but I didn’t get around to saying anything about them.

Bava notoriously made KBK from a script of, I think it was, twenty-five pages. Surely WHIP’s source document must have been ever shorter, given the amount of atmospheric prowling around gloomy corridors the director perpetrates to make up the time. Olivier’s HAMLET has nothing on this. The sadomasochistic relationship at the centre of the story is quite compellingly drawn, though, the photography is luminous, and Chris Lee looks good in that fringe he seemed to acquire for European movies around this time (his No. 2 hairpiece). Too bad he never recorded his own line readings: Lee with someone else’s voice is only half the pleasure.

This is another movie that screwed itself by being too much too soon, like WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? Arguably audiences weren’t ready for such naked sadism in 1963, and censors certainly weren’t, either banning it outright or cutting it until it no longer made even marginal sense.

HATCHET is basically AMERICAN PSYCHO, with similar games played with reality and perception. Stephen Forsyth shows us what that movie would be like with a genuine blank at its centre — a lot less fun to watch. He’s absolutely appropriate but not very entertaining. Bava shot this one himself, but it has neither the Gothic trappings nor the pop-art pizzazz of his finest work.

Interesting, though, for what Bava steals from others — the Hitchcock-Freud recovered memory plot — and from himself — a clip from his own BLACK SABBATH plays on a television.

Suffer the Little Children

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on November 3, 2019 by dcairns

“He’s not fucking around,” I said to Fiona as the opening prologue of Narciso Ibanez Serrador’s WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? unspooled in our Sony multi-region. Apparently Serrador himself came to believe that this no-holds-barred opening montage of actual death — Auschwitz, India-Pakistan, Biafra, Viet Nam — would have been better placed at the film’s end, and one can see a kind of wisdom in this: how does a horror movie “top” a sequence of actual, documentary infanticide? At the end, he must have imagined, the sequence would have served as a devastating and inarguable summation of his film’s thesis.

Of course, the sequence would have been better not included at all. Any horror movie is going to look trivial compared to actual real-world horrors, and if you’re going to draft atrocity footage in to your fiction film you need to have the best of all possible reasons and even then you may be better implying rather than stating your film’s relation to world events. Several home-video versions of this movie actually deleted the prologue. I disapprove of this because it’s censorship, and against the filmmaker’s wishes, but had NIS voluntarily chosen not to include the montage I’d have liked his film more.

“How the hell did this get made?” asked Fiona from the edge of her seat. I theorised that the seventies were a time when filmmakers experimented with the limits of free expression. Inevitably, one or two of them overshot the mark by a country mile (Pier Paolo Pasolini, I’m looking at you). Serrador’s controversial take on THE BIRDS, with the avian apocalypse subbed out for an onslaught of school-age psychos, their murderous tendencies transmitted like a plague, or a playground rhyme, is one such instance.

Serrador was already the successful director of LA RESIDENCIA, a snazzy, edgy Gothic horror with Lili Palmer, plus he’d helmed an influential shot-on-tape spookshow for Spanish TV, Stories To Keep You Awake. All this, and creating Spain’s top game show, the original of 3-2-1 (I always felt Dusty Bin was a bit sinister. You could never tell what he was thinking.)

Serrador directs the hell out of this thing, getting full value out of the early, pre-creepy stuff where we have nothing but the touristic adventures of our young British couple (Lewis Fiander & Prunella Ransome, both of who really bring it to the later hysteria scenes), and then out of the very creepy indeed scenes of wandering about a Spanish island eerily populated only by smiling kids.

It’s ages, in fact, before our heroes are faced with the awful choices necessary for survival, and even in the run-up to this, the filmmaker is strikingly discreet in his portrayal of child-on-adult violence. We see its effects rather than the horrible incidents themselves. He’s smart enough to know just how much can be believably staged. Not for him the unconvincing zombie tot of PET SEMATARY, wandering confusedly about the set while the soundtrack tries to summon the appropriate mood. His kids are only asked to do things they can do naturally.

“Possibly a case might be made out that children are not human either: but I should not accept it. Agreed that their minds are not just more ignorant and stupider than ours, but differ in kind of thinking (are mad, in fact): but one can, by an effort of will and imagination, think like a child, at least in a partial degree […]” ~ Richard Hughes, A High Wind in Jamaica.

Children, of course, are little bastards, as everyone from Clouzot to Peckinpah has shown. But somehow they’re very rarely murderous irl. Serrador’s mental mutation causes the swarms of young to not only fixate on slaying all adults, but to not give a damn about their own safety, enabling them to use force of numbers as the winning argument, heedless of the little bodies accumulating on the hot ground…

Given the immense skill — angles, editing and sound all enhance the creeping anxiety, and then performances step up to the mark to bring us all into a state of desperation — it’s a real shame that Serrador seems to have been effectively ejected from cinema like an unwanted bum. But we’ll be delving into what we can find of his televisual output, because the man was a master. However, ah, questionable, his methods.

Project Fear: the banners

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on October 18, 2019 by dcairns

PROJECT FEAR is probably only a quasi-blogathon, but I think it still ought to have some banners. It’s quasi because very possibly most of the guest writers will be posting here, rather than on their own blogs, which they don’t have.

Since this is a quasi-blogathon not only about European horror movies, for Halloween, but also (subtextually) about Brexit, for Halloween, these banners can all be read as depicting the state of the nation in a hypothetical post-Brexit world which I still hope isn’t going to occur.

Will Britannia be a terrified woman sinking to the floor, disemboweled from within, under the horrified eyes of her loved one, or a stunted zombie outside looking in with the cold eyes of a vengeful corpse? Or else a lonely immortal, knitting in solitude? Or just an eyeball?

Only time, the courts, parliament, and the deeply psychopathic leaders of the Conservative Party, will tell.

I’m still happy for folks to jump on board this thing with contributions. Just let me know at some point. It runs, as the banners hint, between November 27th and the Day of the Dead.