The legitimacy of remakes often comes into question whenever a new one is announced or released, but one positive that does come out of a remake is that it ultimately brings attention towards the original film. Such is the case with the soon-to-be released “Come Out And Play”, which is a remake of the 1976 Spanish horror film “Who Can Kill A Child?”. While I was already quite familiar with the title, because “Come Out And Play” is reportedly an almost shot-for-shot remake, it’s impending release date finally got my butt into gear to get my dvd out of “Who Can Kill A Child?” (which I have had sitting on my shelf for around seven years now) and to sit down and watch the original film.
As described in one of the featurettes on the dvd by the film’s cinematographer, Jose Luis Alcaine, “Who Can Kill A Child?” takes elements from both Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” and George Romero’s “Night Of The Living Dead” and combines them to create an absolutely chilling and unsettling movie. The film is about a young couple, Tom and Evelyn, who are holidaying in Spain before the birth of their first child, when the two of them decide to hire a small boat to visit a tiny neighbouring island that Tom had visited years earlier and had become enamored with. As soon as the couple reach the island it is obvious that something is amiss. The place is incredibly quiet and with the exception of a few kids they happen to come across, the island appears to be empty. Tom and Evelyn continue along their journey to find a place to stay the night, with Tom becoming more and more convinced that something strange has happened on the island as it barely resembles the place he visited years earlier. Not wanting to upset his pregnant wife, Tom subtlety looks for signs of what may exactly have happened on the island, until he comes to the shocking realization that there are no adults on the island and worse, the reason for this is because the children have turned on them and killed them all. Knowing that they are going to be next, Tom and Evelyn must try to get off the island as quick as they can, but this is going to be a lot easier said than done.
The director of “Who Can Kill A Child?” is Narciso Ibanez Serrador and while he only has four directorial credits to his name, two for television and two for cinema, it is my opinion his limited output is a real loss to cinema because he is brilliant at what he does and I would have loved to have seen more features from him. Sadly Serrador found his calling in creating game-shows for television (and was very successful at it too) which left him with little time to make movies. His greatest asset is his beautiful storytelling abilities. He has such a simple and straightforward approach to telling a story and his camera placement is second to none. It is obvious that his shots have been planned long in advance and have been done in such a way that the story could only be edited in one way. Obviously then, the finished product is Serrador’s ultimate vision of the story and what a terrifying vision he has come up with in “Who Can Kill A Child?”.
He bravely starts the film with a montage of real footage of children suffering through the effects of war and famine, in an attempt to make the point that at the end of the day, it is the children who suffer the most from adult’s mistakes. It is an incredibly confronting way to start a movie, and could easily turn the viewer off, but personally it gave me hope that what I was about to witness was going to have a little more depth to it than your average horror film; that Serrador was going to use the format to say something and to get some things off of his chest. This beginning gives substance to the thought that the children’s actions within the film may be some sort of revenge against the adults for all the past atrocities that they have had to suffer. From this startling opening, the film then begins in earnest with Tom and Evelyn trying to hire a boat to get to the island. What makes “Who Can Kill A Child?” so successful is the fact that it does not rush to tell its story. It takes its time and we are allowed to get to know our main characters before they are thrown into the horror of the film. As I have mentioned many times before, this is paramount in a horror film because you really need to care for the characters so you fear them being hurt or killed.
Once the couple gets to the island, the creep factor begins immediately and you can feel the tension even if the characters themselves are oblivious to it. The atmosphere continues to build to an unbearable point because you know our couple are in serious danger from the most outwardly innocent of all things. What is amazing about “Who Can Kill A Child?” and its success in the horror genre is that unlike the majority of entries, almost the entire film is set in the blazing sun during the sundrenched daytime, and it is as scary and as suspenseful as anything you have seen. A lot of the credit here must go to cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine who does an amazing job of matching the light of four different locations that were used for the shooting of the film, convincingly portraying that the action of the film indeed happens all on a single remote location. The location of the story is also a big key to the success of the film too as while the film is largely set outdoors on big, wide locations, in actuality our characters are in fact isolated on the island, trapped with the people who are trying to kill them.
You may immediately question how a bunch of kids are able to overpower the entire adult population of an island and kill them all, but the answer to this question comes in the form of the film’s title. The children systematically killed the adults one by one, first coming across as if they were playing a game, and then attacking. As one of the adult survivors says the reason no-one would lift a finger against them was because “who could kill a child?” which is exactly what they would be forced to do. When the question is poised in the film it really did make me think if I would be able to do just that if my own children suddenly turned on me, and I still do not have an answer to it. What makes the kids in the film so creepy is that they all attack with smiles on their faces; to them they are just playing a game, a sick, sadistic game, but a game nonetheless. This is a brilliant choice by Serrador because you would immediately think the obvious thing would be to have the kids walk around with scowls on their faces, being dark and brooding, but by doing the opposite and retaining the appearance of innocence, it just makes the whole thing that much more chilling.
One thing I appreciated about “Who Can Kill A Child?” was the way the film was shot and edited in regards to the violent scenes involving children. In the majority of cases, smart editing is used to create the illusion that the children are performing these horrible tasks but if you look a little closer you can see this isn’t the case. An example is when the children a tormenting a men who is strung upside down with a scythe. The shots of the children are from above with them waving a stick almost from the injured man’s point of view, and then the violent scenes of the scythe touching the man is done at an angle where you cannot see the kids, in more of a close-up. This is very responsible filmmaking and because of how expertly it has been done, it does not hurt the film at all, but the kinds of things that the children do in the film are not the kind of things you would want them to be around in reality.
In regards to acting, I wouldn’t really call “Who Can Kill A Child?” an actor’s piece, but our main couple are both believable at looking terrified whilst running for their lives. Whilst her character Evelyn really has little to do but look scared, I thought that Prunella Ransome was terrific in her role, and especially looked the part. She reminded me at times of Mia Farrow from “Rosemary’s Baby”, she had a strength within while looking fragile on the outside. Lewis Fiander, who played Tom, on the other hand was nothing special (apparently he and the director did not get on during filming) but passable however he really needs a new running style; he looked like a baby deer trying to get its legs for the first time straight after birth, it made me giggle each time he took off with purpose.
Overall, I found Narciso Ibanez Serrador’s “Who Can Kill A Child?” to be an incredibly chilling horror film that deserves the reputation it has. It is an expertly made film with great cinematography and very adept editing. Serrador’s framing and blocking of shots are stunning as he knows exactly where to put the camera to achieve the highest emotional resonance. Similar to “The Birds” I also loved the fact that the reason why the kids turn on the adults is never explained, and I admit I enjoyed the downbeat ending. Without giving the scene away, there is also a moment two thirds of the way through involving the character of Evelyn that was just so unexpected, and I never saw coming, but it was equally shocking and brilliant. I have no idea how “Come Out And Play” (the remake of this film) will turn out, but after finally watching the original, I have no hesitation in recommending it; it truly lives up to the hype.