The Crypt is back with our ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’ special. After all, what could be scarier than subverted innocence, and the fear of little cherubs turning on adults with glee. So this Halloween, lock the doors and whatever you do avoid the children. As we look back at three truly terrifying horrors that prove the kids aren’t alright. Featuring, Who Can Kill a Child? (18), The Children (15) and Eden Lake (18).
Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)
If you have never heard of Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s masterpiece of 1970s horror until now, I am not surprised. After all, it didn’t receive a UK wide DVD release until 35 years after its initial release; all but forgotten in the public imagination. But Who Can Kill a Child is undoubtedly one of the finest examples of European horror from the 1970s, its slow-building terror equal to that of The Wicker Man and Village of the Damned. While its style owes much to Night of the Living Dead and Don’t Look Now. The resulting picture a fascinating and complex subversion of childhood innocence that burrows into the mind of the viewer, remaining there long after the credits have rolled.
The opening scenes of Who Can Kill a Child play out with a shocking montage of newsreel footage. Real images of war and suffering, highlighting the fact that children are regularly the victims of a violent adult world. Every scene signposting the audience to one inescapable fact; adults regularly kill children with little remorse through conflict, famine and war. The director, in turn, placing children into the role of victims, and adults into the role of perpetrators of violence. A theme that he will later dissect as the tables are turned and children become the instigators of barbarity.
British couple Tom (Lewis Fiander) and his pregnant wife Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) arrive in Spain for a relaxing holiday away from their other two children. Seeking culture, relaxation and fun as they enjoy one last slice of freedom before a newborn baby enters their world. However, their arrival in a small coastal town coincides with Mardi gras celebrations, crowds, fireworks and bustling streets. With the couple quickly deciding to leave the heaving streets for the remote island of Almanzora. A small, quaint and secluded community that Tom has visited once before. Therefore, they hire a small boat and make their way out to the island four hours off the coast. Welcomed on their arrival at the small dock by a group of pre-teen boys playing in the water.
However, as they walk through the narrow streets, it immediately becomes clear that Alamzora is as quiet as a grave. With no adults present, just an eerie and uncomfortable silence accompanied by the patter of children’s feet on cobblestone paths.
The innocence of the Islands children corrupted by an unseen force, the few remaining adults hiding in dusty haylofts in fear. Their ability to tackle the devilish, pint-sized killers held firmly within their moral view of the world. After all, who can kill a child?
Director: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
The Children (2008)
Its the most wonderful time of the year, and the snotty-nosed kids are full of turkey and chocolate. Their hyperactivity mixed with tiredness and tantrums. Sound familiar? Well, this horror is far more than just another Christmas in the trenches. With director Tom Shankland taking core elements of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and mixing them with a flurry of The Village of the Damned. But when you add to these our current social fears and anxieties surrounding the pandemic, the film’s impact is only amplified. However, despite this, The Children remains a British horror very few people have seen following its release in 2008.
Elaine (Eva Birthistle) and Jonah (Stephen Campbell Moore) and kids arrive at a snow-covered country house; the winter sun replaced with an icy cold starry sky. The joyous celebration of New Year with their close family, all that matters as they unpack the car. At the same time as Elaine’s sister Chloe (Rachel Shelley), brother-in-law Robbie (Jeremy Sheffield) and their young kids, greet them with open arms. A meal freshly prepared, alongside plenty of wine and whiskey to mark the special occasion. However, when the youngest child of Elaine and Jonah suffers a vomiting episode, his behaviour also changes; the little cherub becoming both erratic and reclusive. And as this mysterious fever spreads to the other children, the celebrations take an ominous and deadly turn.
While Who Can Kill a Child kept the reason for the kid’s revolt hidden from its audience. Then The Children proudly wears the reason for the bloodshed and trauma on its sleeve. Taking the classic themes of the outbreak ‘virus’ horror and mixing this with the classic demonic child. While at the same time playing on every parent’s worse nightmare, as an unseen force invades the security of the home with children its target. However, the questions of perceived innocence raised in Who Can Kill a Child also find a voice. With the parents turning on each other rather than accepting the devilish change in their offspring.
While The Children may not chart new ground, it does offer a genuinely creepy and assured horror. While also providing us with a set of themes that carry even more bite during our current global pandemic and lockdown. But the genius of Shankland’s underrated gem comes from the location and Christmas setting. The story joyously subverting the joys of Christmas, as a group of doe-eyed moppets make toys of the adults around them.
Director: Tom Shankland
Eden Lake (2008)
It is often said that the best horror comes from reflecting the fears inherent in society. So let me start this by taking you back to 2004, and the Labour governments extension of the ASBO (Anti Social Behaviour Order). The ASBO had sat at the heart of public fears of youth crime since 1998. Its launch tied to a fear of young people being ‘out of control’. But by the mid-00s these fears had become ingrained in everyday life. With adults debating knee jerk reactions to the ever-increasing gang-culture of our inner-city streets. While at the same time attempting to understand the reason for rising knife crime and the mindless destructive behaviour of many young people. The newly enhanced powers of the ASBO only adding to public distrust of our young.
The social fear generated through conversations on the ‘hoodie’ wearing hooligan, only isolated young people even further from mainstream society. While at the same time raising significant questions on policing, community cohesion and the rights of the child. With many adults crossing the road to avoid large groups of kids fearing that they would suddenly turn into ravenous killers. Eden Lake not only understood these fears but cleverly coupled them with the classic slasher movie template. The resulting picture, lacing a genuinely disturbing horror with social panic and anxiety. In turn, creating one of the best social horrors of the 00s, its sheer visual power leaving a lasting mark on the memory.
The premise is simple enough; a young couple (Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender) take a leisurely camping trip to a secluded lake. The peace of their getaway broken by the loud music, swearing and anti-social behaviour of a group of teens led by Brett (Jack O’Connell). However, the simplicity of the setup is shrouded in the absolute terror that permeates every scene. From the leisurely yet forboding drive to the lake, to Fassbender challenging the behaviour of the kids. With every scene ratcheting up the tension, in a film that slowly descends into the pits of hell. The viewer playing witness to the grubby, inhuman and vile behaviour of a group of kids ‘out of control’.
But what is even more remarkable is that Eden Lake continues to terrify new audiences today, clearly demonstrating that the fears of the mid-00s have not left our consciousness. While at the same time showing the continuing power of the slasher movie template born from Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. However, a word of warning, Eden Lake is not for those of a sensitive disposition. And once seen, this is a film that can never be forgotten.
Director: James Watkins