The lurid title alone was enough for me to catch this film by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador on a pirate DVD, and my mind was blown when I discovered a completely unheralded classic of bleak 1970s horror cinema. Comparable in tone to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now and using the genre trappings of “murderous children” potboilers like Children of the Corn, this thoughtful and provocative European offering takes its time building a mood of palpable dread, eking menace out of every social encounter faced by loving husband Tom (Lewis Fiander) and his pregnant wife Evelyn (Prunella Ransome). This British couple, vacationing on the coast of Spain, is making every effort to get away from it all, and they remain blissfully oblivious that there’s something vaguely creepy on the periphery of their vision. Much like Roeg’s classic, mutilated bodies are washing up onshore at the local beaches. When Tom and Evelyn charter a small boat and travel out to a remote island village, the streets are curiously empty and the only residents seem to be sullen, introspective children. Ibáñez Serrador methodically draws out the waiting game, and as the kids gather their sinister forces and close in on our unsuspecting couple, a moral conflict arises. The adults are forced to contemplate the unthinkable, doing battle with the little monsters and struggling with the notion that they may have to kill or be killed. Tom manages to get his hand on a machine gun, and he carries it around with him protectively as the audience wonders to themselves how he’ll answer the question posed in the title. Whether or not the answer surprises us during these cynical times, the aftermath is as disarming as it is disturbing. The closing 10 minutes come from a different era in filmmaking, when horror movies could spit in the eye of the status quo and say that good does not always prevail, no matter how much we’d like it to.
The image quality is clear, with only minor print imperfections. The audio is slightly tinny, and sometimes obviously dubbed, but clean and audible.
The separate featured interviews with director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador and cinematographer José Luis Alcaine are informative. The filmmakers deal with the intense subject matter and their experiences interacting with child actors (who seemed to have a great time indulging in wild freewheeling mayhem on the set). They also share some production history, indicating that the project was actually shot on many different beachside locales.
Unflinching, uncompromising, and finally available in an uncensored version in America, this is one of the dark hidden gems of 1970s Euro horror.