Ymm, here I am in the Detroit airport, on my way to Traverse City [MI] to see my family for Christmas, and how delightful to have a somewhat scary/somewhat cheesy movie to write about to pass my layover. The Detroit airport has been carefully engineered so that there is not a single corner where one can escape the nasal drone of the CNN anchors, who can be seen on the near-IMAX sized TVs at either end of every seating area. You spot what looks like a quiet little nook where you might compose your thoughts, only to find that there is a little speaker RIGHT THERE bringing you the irritatingly nasal and hyper-chipper voice of two women talking about the best home stress relievers for the holidays, because it is SIMPLY. NOT. CONCEIVABLE that any American would not want to be watching television at all times. I mean, what are they supposed to do, sit there and THINK? And if everyone is watching CNN all the time and everyone has to have the latest headlines beamed into their craniums, how come it is that no one knows anything?
One other airport reflection: How is it that Harley-Davidson manages to retain some sort of outlaw allure when they have boutiques in stores that sell Harley oven mitts and cookie jars?
These matters I leave to your speculation. Anyway, How To Kill a Child, er, I mean, Who Can Kill a Child? We begin with a bunch of footage from various wars and conflicts, WWII, Vietnam, Indo-Pakistan, etc., with a tally of how many children were killed in each one. On the director interview on the disc he laments not putting this at the end, as it would then really underscore the point: that the real enemies of children are adults, via wars. Hmmm, I guess I didn’t really think about that. Maybe because it’s not that interesting a point. Regardless, that’s where the director [who also wrote it] is coming from. We then transition to some average well-off kids playing on a beach in some resort town when one of them finds a body. This is Benevis, Spain, where many men are in Speedos and mustaches of every shape and variety are plentiful. Let your eye drink it in now, because we’re soon going to be almost completely confined to two characters for the rest of the movie.
So our young couple, Tom and Evelyn, arrive in town and try to find a hotel, but they’re all full because there’s some event going on. They do find a room in one house, but are planning on getting a boat to this little island called Amanzora, which the husband had been to twelve years earlier. We get our first glimmers that Evelyn, who is pregnant, is so appallingly stupid that it really cannot be tolerated when she looks down an alley and says “What’s that?” and Tom responds “It’s a piñata.” SHE’S NEVER SEEN A PINATA???
After a discussion of how she likes Benevis and wants to stay there, but he wants to go to the island, there is a creepy scene when they’re on the beach when suddenly a shrill whistle repeatedly blows, and all the natives start running off in a particular direction. It’s good, and very reminiscent of Jaws. That night, over the din of fireworks, he screams “Are you happy?” into her ear, twice, and she responds with a perfunctory “yes.” Clearly there is a simmering tension with this couple, and so far it’s all going quite well. The movie, that is. This is confirmed that night during a discussion over how Tom thinks the two kids they have is enough, and wants the pregnant Evelyn to get an abortion. We find out from a later news clipping that the reason everyone on the beach ran off is that two more bodies washed up.
So they rent this tiny boat—a TOTAL junker—and head off to this island, a trip which will take them 4 hours! And I wouldn’t lay money on that boat making it there, and I sure wouldn’t guess it could ever make it back. And just as I’m thinking this my thoughts are obliterated by SUDDEN EXOTICA music, played on a zither or theremin or something—it is all not to be believed—and after a long trip in a tiny open boat [and before they had CNN to constantly beam exciting new product ideas into their heads], they finally arrive in Amanzora.
Now, up until now I am totally down with this movie. It is the exact type of vaguely unsettling and creepy tone I love, with strange things going on that our heroes don’t understand and scenes that go on just a bit too long. And let’s not forget the barely-repressed marital tension, which never fails to appeal. I mention all this because over the course of the movie, our characters are going to reveal themselves to be SO FUCKING STUPID that I started to hate them and want to see them die, and this reflects poorly on the movie as a whole, as hey, the director wrote it this way. Anyway, while I’m still really into it, they arrive on the island to find this creepy boy fishing. He says nothing in answer to Tom’s questions, and makes it clear that he does NOT want Tom looking in his little tackle box. As they continue walking around, it becomes apparent that the island is nearly deserted. Only the thing is, they both sort of act as if they don’t notice it. They chit-chat about finding a hotel and buying a new sun hat and you’re like “Uh, HI, have you guys noticed that there’s no one here?” It goes on like this a while. Now, I wasn’t so much into Tom, but I did appreciate his consideration in wearing quite snug jeans with a nice worn patch over his considerable love offering. Speaking of that, perhaps I should be sitting closer to the moving walkway, where hot Michigan dudes—who, unlike the guys in New York, still want to look like biological males—are being conveyed by me in a manner reminiscent of those sushi bars where the sushi floats by you on a boat and you just reach out and take what you want. Unfortunately, if I were to do that here I suspect I would end up eating a knuckle sandwich. But I digress.
SPOILERS > > >
So Evelyn sits down in the lobby of the hotel they’ve found, while Tom spots an old man walking down the street. The old man turns the corner and is beaten to death by a young girl! When Tom demands to know why the girl did it, she just laughs at him in a creepy way. He then walks on, and soon finds a room where a bunch of kids are playing piñata with an adult man—they have him strung up, and a blindfolded girl with a SICKLE is trying to hit him. Now personally, this would be enough for me to decide that maybe Benevis wasn’t that bad. Maybe I’m one of those too-timid travelers who is afraid to take a few risks to find some really unique vacation spots and secluded beaches, but I think I’d prefer the safety, if relative isolation, of a Club Med, as opposed to having kids play sharp-object Piñata with my head. So Tom returns to Evelyn, who begins the routine of screechingly incessant questions that will continue to the end of the movie with “Tom? Tom? What’s going on? Where is everybody? Tom? Tom? Where is everybody? What’s happened here? Tom? Tom? What’s wrong? What’s going on? Tom? Tom? Tom?” Asshole Tom tells her nothing is wrong, nothing’s going on, everything is fine, and decides that he needs to look around JUST a little more to be sure if something really is amiss. So he goes wandering all around upstairs where he finds another corpse, and by this time you’re like “HOW MANY CORPSES DO YOU NEED TO FIND BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO GET OFF THAT FUCKING ISLAND!!?!?!?” Then—Evelyn screams!
Now, I neglected to mention that while Tom was away doing his “Hmm, a brutally-murdered corpse, I wonder if something is somehow amiss here?” routine, a young girl came in and, without a word, placed her hands on Evelyn’s pregnant belly and made mysterious giggles. This will become notable later. Anyway, the reason Evelyn screamed is that there’s a man—and not just any man, but the CdM RANDOM MOVIE HUNK OF THE YEAR!
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, once again, the RMH of the year appears in the year’s waning days [last year’s was the indescribably dreamy Deputy Jason from Night of the Lepus], right under the deadline. This is this sweetie Spanish dude with sweetly sincere eyes and a great stache, who looks like he last shaved three days ago. Plus he’s probably a fisherman named Alfonso. Mmm, that’s him above; don’t you just want to make out with him for three hours? No? Good—more for me.
*UPDATE: Turns out the title of Random Movie Hunk of the Year was snatched from Alfonso's grasp at the very last second [like literally on December 30th] by the horny, hunky Mario from The Witches' Mountain. Sorry Alfonso, but it's a cutthroat world out there.
So Alfonso—let’s just call him that, he’ll be dead soon enough anyway—tells them that the kids all got up and started going house to house, laughing and joking, killing everyone in town. No one fought back because: who can kill a child? Then Alfonso’s daughter shows up, crying, and asks him to come with her and help. Of course he can’t resist, even though he is warned by Tom, and God, that just makes me love him all the more. What a sweetie.
So Tom finally finds the one corpse that convinces him that maybe, just MAYBE they should try to leave the island, and he tells Evelyn that she’s going to have to run. They do, and Evelyn falls right on her stomach—ouch! That couldn’t have been good for her fetus—and is then completely hysterical. Tom declines to smack some sense into her, although she sorely needs it, and they get into this Jeep. Evelyn screeches “They’re children! They’re just little children!” and you at home are like “Hello? Are you just waking up to this fact?” They face a wall of kids and Tom is going to plow right through them when Evelyn grabs the wheel and forces him to CRASH THE JEEP. That is when I would look at Evelyn and say “Okay, you stay here and die,” and walk off. WHY does no one in a movie ever do this? By this time the considerable strengths of the first half of the movie had worn off and I was just waiting for it to be over, and ALL BECAUSE OUR MAIN CHARACTERS ARE SUCH IRRITATING MORONS.
So I forgot to tell you that during one of the parts I skipped we saw that the killing impulse is transmitted from “infected” kids to “non-infected” via stare. Our “heroes” are trapped upstairs in a room, thanks to Evelyn’s sentimental stupidity, with kids using a battering ram. While Tom struggles to save them, Evelyn of course stands in a daze doing absolutely nothing. Thanks, hon! She totally loses her nut when Tom is forced to shoot a kid, and then goes on about how her fetus is killing her. Well, at least SOMEONE has the right idea. She screeches on about how “he’s killing me!” and you’re like “Okay, bye!” But she may not be too far off base, because remember the girl stood and felt her body earlier… she may have been giving the fetus the stare. Also, we now have an answer to our question: Who can kill a child? Tom can. And then you recall that it was Tom who wanted to abort the current baby. And then you review the movie, hoping that maybe this subtext carried through in other areas, but no, not really.
So finally Evelyn is dead, and not a moment too soon, and Tom goes outside to face a wall of kids. He shoots them with a machine gun, and you’re like “Right on! Finally he GETS IT,” but then, once he runs past the kids, he THROWS THE MACHINE GUN AWAY. Okay—that’s it. It’s over. Fuck this director, fuck these characters, and fuck this movie. I’m done. If you cannot care to create characters that are not THE BIGGEST IDIOTS THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN then I cannot care about your movie. Deal? Deal.
So no sooner has Tom made it to the waterfront and is fumbling wildly with the rope’s knots—golly, if you had your machine gun you could just shoot through that—with the kids advancing and finally attacking en masse and—Hey Tom, don’t you wish you had your machine gun right about now? Then the police show up, see Tom attacking children, and kill him. Oh my God, SO Ironic. Fucking asswipe deserved to die, by that time. Then the kids kill the police and take the boat to Benevis to infect the mainland. How dire. How ominous. Oh dear. The end.
< < < SPOILERS END
It’s too bad, because the whole setup is handled very well, and the idea is fairly creepy and is done in a way to emphasize the creepiness [as opposed to something like Village of the Damned, which I thought was just kind of stupid]. Little details like everyone on the beach suddenly running off in one direction or what a piece of crap their boat is—making one wonder if they could ever make it back—front-load the movie with unsettling intimations and suspense. The problem is that the characters are just so stupid and venal that one’s sympathies just slowly drain away, until it’s past not caring whether they escape or not, onto actually wanting them to die. I can appreciate that perhaps most British women of the early 70s were not the empowered women we expect today, but Evelyn goes beyond that, she creates a very vivid characterization of a woman who has had everything she might need or want handed to her, down to displaying the arrogance of the truly stupid that it is her right to demand answers of others and to make choices for them, despite that her mind seems unable to process anything past cute puppies with extra-big eyes. Tom is equally repulsive for being so blind in his wish to recapture some lost instant in his childhood that he refuses to believe—despite the presence of three corpses telling him that maybe things have changed in the meantime. His outright lies to Evelyn are inexcusable, his need to continue looking around when it’s clear what’s going on, and finally, as noted, when he throws away his only means of defense… I was really into this movie from the start, and had really, really turned against it by the end. It’s still worth watching for its qualities in direction and cinematography, but for me everything good about it was in the first hour.
Also on the DVD are two short interviews with the director and cinematographer. The director says that some other guy who ended up writing a novel of the same name suggested the idea, and the director wrote one story and the novelist another. Apparently in the novel, the kids’ turning is preceded by a yellow dust falling on the island. Here we never find out what happened, we only see that it is transmitted by stares—which also detracted from the movie for me. Both he and the cinematographer agree that their antecedents were The Birds and Night of the Living Dead, and the cinematographer says that because of the nature of the story he knew he would have to shoot it very naturally, without the enhanced atmosphere of the traditional horror film. They both liked that here the horror happens in broad daylight, surrounded by bright colors. I can get into that too—I just wish our main characters weren’t such all-round repulsive idiots.
The first hour is definitely worth watching. I just got progressively more irritated after that.