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Director: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Dark Sky Films/MPI

One of only two theatrical features directed by Uruguay-born Narciso Ibáñez Serrador (the other being 1969’s LA RESIDENCIA/THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED), WOU CAN KILL A CHILD? is possibly the best movie involving demonic killer children. The film was released in the U.S. by American International Pictures in 1978 in a truncated edition known as ISLAND OF THE DAMMNED, and many video incarnations have circulated in various countries over the years. Dark Sky Films now premieres the film on Region 1 DVD, complete and uncut, in what can certainly be deemed a definitive and highly anticipated release.

British tourists Tom (Lewis Fiander) and his pregnant wife Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) are vacationing in Spain during a lively fiesta season. As reports of mutilated corpses washing ashore the nearby beaches circulate, the couple decides to head to the coastal island of Almanzora to get some peace and quiet. When they arrive, they discover that the island is void of adults and seemingly deserted, that is for a number of small children. Wandering around for answers confirms that these very strange kids are up to no good, having murdered most of the island’s adults who refused to defend themselves out of moralistic nature (who would dare kill a child?).

Borrowing somewhat in subject from Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS and George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (the hero is even misunderstood during the climax), WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? is miles above the cinematic killer-kids efforts that followed, as well as most of the ones which preceded it. The idea of having children turning crazed and ruthlessly homicidal (the cause of the epidemic is never explained, but it’s spread by a hypnotizing glare or vindictive touch from child to child) is a disturbing one, and effectively carried out in the capable hands of Serrador. The lengthy running time allows the film to properly mount the tension, at one point moving from one shocking incident to the next. Though violence is prevalent throughout, it’s handled rather tastefully, considering the subject matter and that some of these monstrous tykes have to come to a bloody demise. Not revealing too much, one memorable sequence has an elderly man being beaten to death by a young girl, followed by his blood-soaked corpse being used a piñata by the kiddies (a blindfolded lass whacks it with a sickle).

Fans of British horror films will recognize Fiander from his obnoxious character turns in Hammer’s DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE and the Vincent Price sequel DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN. Here, the mustached Fiander shines as the likable family man caught in the worst case scenario of his life, and shares good chemistry with co-star Ransome (FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD) as his delicate wife. The rest of the cast is made up of Spanish actors (including familiar thesps like Antonio Iranzo and Luis Ciges), and the children really do a convincing job of illustrating madness, albeit by supernatural causes. Wide-eyed child actress Marián Salgado had been the titular DEMON WITCH CHILD in Amando de Ossorio’s laughable EXORCIST clone the year before, but did little else. Shot mostly outdoors in some exotic locations, WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? benefits from skillful cinematography by José Luis Alcaine and the eerie score by Waldo de los Ríos, but the bulk of the film’s success must be attributed to the fine direction by Serrador. It’s a shame he only made two features (he’s still heavily involved with Spanish television), and MGM really should prep his other genre masterpiece, THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED for U.S. DVD!

Dark Sky Films presents WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? in its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The Eastman colors look quite bold, and the overall detail is sharp throughout, with very little in the way of print blemishes. Clear mono audio is presented in both English and Spanish with subtitles. The English track is preferable as Fiander and Ransome speak English most of the screen time, except when interacting with the Spanish locals who speak in their native tongue – English subtitles appear whenever character speak Spanish, and the captions presentation is very well done. Also note that this is the most complete version of the film, running a full 112 minutes and including the real atrocity and famine footage during the title sequence missing from some prints.

The disc is furnished with some nice extras. “Who Could Shoot A Child” is a featurette with cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, who talks about his relationship with Serrador (he refers to him as “Chicho”), the trouble he encountered matching up the various shooting locations to resemble one place, and he concludes with a bit about another director he worked with; Pedro Almodóvar. “Child Director” is a featurette with director Serrador who, among other things, discusses how the novel (by Juan José Plans) in which the film is based on was written after his screenplay and has little to do with the final film, and that he disliked leading actor Fiander (he originally wanted Anthony Hopkins!) but did like lead actress Ransome. The still gallery shows a lot of poster and lobby card art from around the world, showcasing the many different titles the film went under. It’s interesting to see a U.S. one-sheet for a re-release under the title “Trapped.” (George R. Reis)