Cult Cinema: Suffer the Little Children: Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)

"Do you think the other children will start playing the way we do?" 

"Oh, yes...there are lots of children in the world. Lots of them."

There seems to be an unspoken taboo about showing the death of children in films and very few dare to go down that road. The provocatively named Spanish horror film Who Can Kill a Child? (1976) is based entirely around this idea and although it doesn't pull any punches with the violence, it ends up being more of a nuanced take on the material than one would anticipate.

The film starts out with a montage of real life footage of various atrocities that have been perpetrated on children all over the world, from the Holocaust, to war orphans, to children dying from starvation in Africa. To be honest, though this sequence is quite effective it does feel a bit tacky to show actual footage of dying children to make a point. That being said, it sets the tone of the narrative and establishes the notion that more often than not, children are made to suffer for the sins of the adults through no fault of their own.

This montage transitions directly to modern day and introduces an English couple: Tom (Lewis Fiander) and Evelyn (Prunella Ransome). They are on vacation in Spain and Evelyn is pregnant with their third child. Tired of the huge tourist crowds Tom decides that he wants to go visit a quiet island called Almanzora which is four hours away from the Spanish coast. Upon reaching the island the couple discover that it's mostly deserted except for large groups of unattended children roaming around. These aren't normal children, however, they possess murderous intent and have killed practically every adult on the island.

Who Can Kill a Child? has a slow burn first act and it spends a lot of time establishing the couple's personality. The violence builds slowly and much of the first half of the film has the children playing cat-and-mouse with the young couple. The sound design excellent and I have never heard innocent childish laughter sound so ominous before. Unlike similar style "killer kids" movies (like Children of the Corn or The Omen) the children in this movie very rarely act sinister--they maintain their playful demeanor even while murdering people, which make it all the more disturbing and chilling. There is nothing like seeing a bunch of children giggling and cheering as they gleefully beat an old man to death. The setting also plays a large part in the horror because it takes place on a gorgeous and sunny scenic island and the juxtaposition between the horrifying situation and the tranquil setting is jarring.

The subtext of the film is two-fold: an ironic role-reversal with the children causing adults pain and suffering for an unknown reason, and a metaphor for the generational divide. Like it is hinted at in the opening credits, the adults of the world fight their wars with each other and through this conflict cause harm to innocent children who cannot defend themselves. From a child's point-of-view it can seems like there is no logical reasoning for all of this death. In Who Can Kill a Child? there is never a reason given for why the kids have decided to suddenly eliminate all the adults--it is chaos incarnate. Additionally, there has always been an innate fear that the younger generation will cannibalize the older generation, replacing the old ways with their incomprehensible new ideology.

As the film progresses, the situation escalates to the point that the couple have to actually start defending themselves by hurting and eventually killing the children, and this is shown in graphic detail. Even seasoned horror veterans will balk at the carnage which worsens until right up to the harrowing ending. Who Can Kill a Child? not only poses the question of its title in the film, it answers it as well: we can and do kill children all over the world every minute of the day with both our actions and inaction. Maybe it's their turn to kill us now.

--Michelle Kisner