Who Can Kill a Child? Huzzah!

Oh yes, I have been waiting for this one!  Today we have Mondo Macabro's new blu-ray release of Who Can Kill a Child?, pretty much the greatest killer children film of all time.  And this blu marks the film's near debut in HD (more on that later) and the first proper special edition of this 1976 Spanish horror classic.  The Dark Sky DVD did have a couple decent extras, too, which we'll also look at.  But really, this is a long awaited blu-ray that fills a big deficit.  I'm excited.  😁
I have a pet theory about this movie, that Stephen King basically lifted it for his much more famous Children Of the Corn.  Now, please don't make too much of this - I don't claim to have any great inside angle or deep-seated conviction - but it feels right to me.  This movie came out in 1976, and was, you know, about as popular as a small foreign horror flick is going to get in the USA, meaning still pretty obscure.  But I did read where King spoke positively about this film back then.  And then, at least according to Wikipedia, he published his short story in Penthouse in 1977.  And certainly, there are completely original elements to King's story, i.e. the whole thing about a monsterish creature in the cornrows that the kids worship as a god.  And you know, neither story invented the killer kids subgenre... obviously there are some major precedents like The Bad Seed, Village Of the Damned and sort of The Omen (it also came out in '76).  But everything about the young, idealistic couple on a trip wandering around a small, seemingly abandoned village only to find out that the children are lurking, and ultimately murderous... as well as key elements like the pregnancy, stumbling on the kids in the church and the ultimate resolution (no spoilers, I'll leave it at that) all feel like the same story being told twice.  And we know King likes to import awesome foreign horror ideas into the US, like his Kingdom Hospital of Lars von Trier's original masterpiece.  So... that's my pet theory.
This movie's better than Children Of the Corn, though.  That movie's fun, though it gives Who a strong advantage by softening up King's original story, with the couple adopting two of the kids from the corn, and there's still the issue of that film's missing footage.  But any way you cut it, this is a better made, more dramatic film.  The performances are better - including a neat appearance by the Demon Witch Child herself! - the moral questions raised are more thoughtful and compelling, and the horror is more genuinely disturbing.  We're not let off the hook by a big plot point where a dude just has to drive a tractor into a monster to save the day.  Here, there are no pat explanations or plot devices; we don't even learn why the kids have gone homicidal apart from some brief philosophical suggestions of why they might be in some ways justified.  Apparently the book (yes, Who was also based on a book) actually did go into some pseudo-scientific clarifications, but the film wisely steers clear.
And wasn't this film remade?  Yes, in fact the special features on Mondo's new release even talk about it a bit.  From 2012, it's called Come Out and Play, and it isn't just a remake; it's practically shot-for-shot. It's such a faithful copy that there's really no reason for it. It doesn't add or alter anything. Well, it does one thing. It cuts about 30 minutes out of it, mostly from the beginning. And it doesn't duplicate every single camera angle, like Gus Van Sant's Psycho remake. However, like that remake, it just feels like a completely pointless exercise because, really, every moment plays out the same. And, frankly, the scenes were played a little better in the original (for instance, when the guy tries to open the kid's tackle box and gets a surprising response - it's more effective in the original). On the other hand, because it's such a faithful remake, they manage to not screw things up completely like so many remakes do. There's no arbitrary changes that unwittingly detract from the drama, ruin characters carefully constructed motives or make plot points illogical. It's just... the same things over again. And most of the performances are fairly comparable - only the wife stands out as having been much better acted in the original. Everybody else at least comes close enough. As such, if you just jump into this movie blind (i.e. having not read the book or seen the original), you'll probably think it's a fine, surprisingly derided horror movie with a compelling storyline. And it is out there on DVD and blu, too.  But you're doing yourself a real favor if you watch the original instead. And once you have seen the original, all the value of Come Out and Play is lost.
So, Who's history on disc is a little complicated.  Here in the US, Dark Sky gave us a nice little DVD in 2007, and in the subsequent couple years, different companies put it out across the various countries in Europe with a new transfer and sometimes an additional featurette.  But naturally Spain got to this film first, putting out a basic edition way back in 2001.  That version was non-anamorphic, though, and completely barebones.  And I called Mondo's release nearly Who's debut in HD, because there was a Spanish blu-ray put out first in 2016.  But that edition was disappointingly barebones, reportedly DNR'd and more critically, not English friendly.  So yeah, unless you're fluent in Spanish, this is your first real HD option.
2007 US Dark Sky DVD on top; 2018 US Mondo Macabro blu-ray bottom.
Mondo's new blu boasts a "Brand new 4k transfer from the film negative" and looks terrific.  And Dark Sky's DVD only serves to make it look better by comparison.  The DVD is ostensibly 1.85:1, but as you can see, there's a bit of dead air in the overscans, particularly on the left, so it's really closer to 1.83:1.  Still, getting an anamorphic widescreen transfer of this film with the correct language options (more on that in a minute) was pretty exciting in 2007.  But after seeing Mondo's transfer, you can just throw your old discs out.  Framed at 1.85:1, it doesn't really reveal any more picture - it might even lose a sliver, shifting slightly from shot to shot - but it is so much cleaner in HD.  I mean, where to even start?  Going 4k rather than 2k really helps sure that the grain is very naturally captured, and detail is definitely stronger here.  It doesn't help the DVD's case that it has a waxy look, like they tried to to wipe away grain compression.  Obviously, a DVD is never going to be able to resolve grain like a blu, but they over-compensated on the Dark Sky.  Also, the DVD colors have a heavy green push to them, like there's a tint laid over the whole film.  Look at the black and white comparisons a little further down the page.  Mondo has fully color corrected the film, making it look very attractive and authentic, also restoring some information in the shadows that the DVD had crushed into solid black.
2007 US Dark Sky DVD on top; 2018 US Mondo Macabro blu-ray bottom.
I mentioned correct language options with this film, and that's important.  This is a multi-lingual film, with tourist characters speaking to each other in different languages.  So ideally, the way to view this film is with the mixed audio track and subtitles for all the non-English parts.  Fortunately, both Dark Sky and Mondo included those audio tracks: the original mono, in 2.0, upgraded to lossless DTS-HD on the blu.  They also included fully Spanish tracks, which dub over all the other languages to Spanish, and the blu adds a third track, dubbing everything into English.  But the mixed track is the most authentic one, demonstrating the language barrier between characters.

Mondo's disc also boasts "newly created English subtitles," where they've fine-tuned the translations.  So, for example, in the scene shown above, the news report starts out by saying, "[i]n spite of their suicidal sacrifice, the demonstrators' protests have been futile" on the DVD.  But the blu-ray now writes, "[t]he sacrifice of the priests as a protest against the war... have been in vain," which I assume is more accurate.  Mondo also gives you more subtitle options, so you can have it translate all the dialogue, or just the parts that aren't already spoken in English.
2007 US Dark Sky DVD on top; 2018 US Mondo Macabro blu-ray bottom.
And speaking of Mondo laying on the options, the blu-ray also makes the extended, documentary-style intro optional.  If you're not familiar, the film starts with an eight-minute documentary prologue, setting the tone for the film that's about to take place.  This intro is often cut from various international cuts of the film, which is honestly understandable.  It only connects to the story in a subtextual/ thematic way, and features some very graphic, 100% real imagery from the holocaust and other tragedies.  So you can imagine marketers trying to sell you a little light, scary entertainment would be keen to just lop it off.  Now, the DVD did include the intro, as does this new Mondo blu-ray (I'd be pretty bummed if they didn't).  But Mondo's blu makes it optional, so you can watch the film with or without it.  They call it the Island of Death version, because it also features that alternate title card and alternate opening credits that play over the first scene of the movie.
Finally delving into special features, the DVD featured two key interviews: a nine one with director Narciso Ibanez Serrador and a sixteen minute one with the DP, Jose Luis Alcaine.  Both feature forced English subtitles and are pretty good, but could've definitely stood to go a little further in depth.  But apart from a stills gallery, that was all the DVD gave us.

Happily, the blu-ray goes further.  And to start with, yes it includes those two interviews from the DVD.  We hear a lot more from them now, however, with the inclusion of a roughly 45-minute Spanish television documentary on the film, that pairs the two of them up with a genre expert and their host to reminisce on the film.  One really cool aspect is that, we know the director spent a lot of his time doing Spanish television, but this actually explores that work, showing clips, etc.  Then there's a fun interview with British critic Kim Newman, who talks about the film and even its place in the killer kids subgenre.  He also compares it to Children Of the Corn, but if he shares my pet theory, he doesn't mention it.  😉
But that ain't all.  There's also a brand new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan, who do a podcast called Daughters of Darkness.  I've never listened to it, but I'm going to check it out now, because they do a great, informative job here, filling us in on differences between the book and film, etc.  There's also a fun trailer for a double bill with Lucifer's Curse, where they mix the footage up so it looks like some of the film from that movie was in Who Can Kill a Child.  Then there's some radio spots and a montage of clips from other Mondo Macabro releases. 

And the edition I'm reviewing is the limited edition that was only available direct from Mondo's site.  It's limited to 1,000 numbered copies (mine's #771), and is essentially out of print, though I think I read somewhere that Mondo held onto a few copies for an upcoming holiday sale.  So if you really want it, you should still have a shot.  But a regular, non-limited edition should be coming out sometime in July.  That version comes in a blue case instead of a red one, has different artwork, and is missing the following exclusives, pictured above: eight cardstock lobby cards, reversible Island Of the Damned artwork and a twelve-page booklet with notes by Lee Gambin.  My understanding is that the actual on-disc content, including all the special features, will be identical.
So this is a pretty terrific release of the film, whichever edition you get.  And it's a really under-appreciated horror flick.  I'll put this at the very top of the killer kids list, but even as just one of the all-time great horror films of the 70s, period.  I'm honestly giddy.


  1. Wonderful release, really just perfectly handled by MM.
    Great write up!
    Don't agree on King though, the timeline is suspect, ISLAND OF THE DAMNED was rated by the MPAA in 1977 but not sure it played until 1978.
    Here is a review from Feb 1978

    King more likely ripped MISERY from STRANGE VENGEANCE OF ROSALIE though, I'll sign on that one :)

    1. Oh no! Holes shot in my theory! haha

      Also, funny, until reading that review you linked, it never occurred to me that the alternative "Island Of the Damned" title was to connect it to Village/Children Of the Damned. Of course, duh, but I never connected those dots.