With her firey red hair, empty green eyes and freckled complexion, little Nicoletta Elmi was a natural to make lasting impressions in such 1970s horror films as TWITCH OF THE DEATH, BARON BLOOD (both directed by Mario Bava), Aldo Lado’s terrific giallo WHO SAW HER DIE?, Paul Morrisey’s FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN, and later, Dario Argento’s DEEP RED. Shot in 1974, THE NIGHT CHILD is the film that gave her a starring role and called for the young performer to act her adolescent heart out (not to mention, the American credits used the “introducing” tag when listing her name). By the time it was released here by Film Ventures (who had already enjoyed a massive success with BEYOND THE DOOR), the film was hyped as another EXORCIST clone (which it’s not) and has pretty much become lost after initial TV airings and an obscure VHS release, and then the film made its U.S. DVD debut a few year ago courtesy of Code Red. Now Code Red revisits the title on HD for this welcomed Blu-ray release.
Michael Williams (Richard Johnson, THE MONSTER CLUB), a British BBC filmmaker is working on a documentary entitled “Diabolical Art”, having to do with demonic imagery in old paintings. His young daughter Emily (Nicoletta Elmi) is having recurring, traumatic nightmares about her late mother’s tragic death, a demise caused by fire. On the suggestion of the family doctor (Euro trash favorite Edmund Purdom in a walk-on cameo), Michael takes Emily with him to Spoleto, Italy, along with gloomy governess Jill (Evelyne Stewart aka Ida Galli, SYNDICATE SADISTS) so he can shoot his film, but strange occurrences begin to take place and his daughter is at the center of it all. Michael is greeted at the airport by American production manager Joanna (Joanna Cassidy, BLADE RUNNER), and they immediately take a liking to each other, much to the dismay of nanny Jill (who is also in love with him) and daughter Emily (who is totally obsessed with her father in near-Freudian terms). Contessa Cappelli (Lila Kedrova, THE TENANT), with her psychic sensibilities, serves as an authority on the subject of these devilish paintings, but warns Michael not to use the image of the one painting he’s fascinated with most; it depicts the death of a woman before the eyes of child, wearing the same medallion Emily now possesses, which belonged to her mother. A blue apparition is mysteriously found in the film negative of Michael’s documentary, and Emily’s brat-like behavior is boosted by what appears to be demonic possession, and she may be responsible for the “accidental” death of someone near to her.
Although the first part of the film concentrates too much on travelogue scenes (moving around from England to Italy and then back) of scenic Spoleto, with much of the demonic and supernatural occurrences happening later, you might say that the sum of its parts is greater than the whole, but it still gets a hearty recommendation, especially to anyone who has a soft spot for 1970s Italian demonic films, even if they are admittedly dated. Massimo Dallamano (billed in the American credits as “Max”) directs the film with a Bava-worthy quality (there's a passing resemblance to LISA AND THE DEVIL), with the usual zooms and effective lighting in check, and such nightmarish imagery as a dead character seen as a living statue in the eyes of a cursed child, being quite daunting. This is Elmi’s finest hour (as she’s seen imitating in adult in the mirror with a lit cigarette, hysterically tormenting her repressed nanny, crying her eyes out, and having numerous heavy-handed fever dreams) and the score by Stelvio Cipriani (CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD) compliments the film with its memorably haunting main theme, repeated throughout.
THE NIGHT CHILD used to show up on local television as THE CURSED MEDALLION (a literal translation of the Italian title, "Il medaglione insanguinato") and was released here on VHS in the 1980s by a Canadian company known as Cocktail Video with a rather murky transfer. Code Red DVD (through its “Septic Cinema” banner) released it on DVD in 2010 and has now decided to revisit the title on Blu-ray. Mastered in 1080p HD from the original CRI negatives, the film is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is a nice improvement over the out-of-print DVD, with a much cleaner, nicely detailed crisp transfer. Colors look not only more stable but distinct, and outdoor scenes are specifically more impressive. The DTS-HD mono English audio (with Johnson’s and Cassidy’s real voices used in the post sync, and Elmi dubbed by an adult woman with a Brit accent) sounds a bit improved over the previous DVD, with no noticeable flaws or imperfections.
Although Code Red’s DVD contained a featurette with actor Johnson, instead, the Blu-ray features a brand new interview with actress Joanna Cassidy (8:51) and the actress (who still looks great) says she had a great time making the movie, and had a lot of fun working with Johnson, and then goes on to talking about other films and television she did including BANK SHOT, THE OUTFIT, THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN, OUR WINNING SEASON, STUNTS the “Codename: Foxfire” series and “240-Robert” series and more, and she sums up by mentioning the projects she’s currently working on. Katarina Leigh Waters (in character) does bookend hosting duties when you play the film in “Bucket List Theater” mode, and if you play it without that option, the trailer shows up after the movie is finished (though the presence of the trailer is not mentioned on the packaging).
Just released, the Blu-ray of THE NIGHT CHILD was available exclusively through Code Red DVD as part of a three-pack bundle (with THE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHT and THE OBSESSED ONE), but is currently unavailable before we could publish this review. Keep checking Code Red’s site for the title to show up for sale again. (George R. Reis)
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