Sunflower Skins

February 16, 2010

Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s The Killer’s Playground (1976)

The Killer’s Playground (1976)

A.K.A.

  • ¿Quién puede matar a un niño?
  • ¿Ma come si può uccidere un bambino?
  • Ein Kind zu töten…
  • Island of the Damned
  • Oi eglimaties tou etous 2000
  • Vem kan döda ett barn?
  • Who Can Kill a Child?

Dir. Narciso Ibáñez Serrador; Starring Lewis Fiander, Prunella Ransome, Antonio Iranzo

Based on Juan José Plans’s novel El juego de los niños, The Killer’s Playground is an easy film to fall into and enjoy—if you let it; the opening title sequence is rough and needlessly narrated, instantly spelling out the message that, of all the victims of war, children suffer the most in this world, largely due to human ignorance. Getting past the first few minutes may seem like a gruelling process—viewing stock footage of the 20th century’s worst crimes against humanity—but the effort is well worth the while. The tired plot of young-couple-on-vacation is brightly revived by a middle-aged Spanish couple visiting an old island off the coast of Spain. Shot in Ciruelos, Granada, and the Balearic Islands (masking as Belvais and Almanzora), The Killer’s Playground is rich with culture. Trope would have it that Tom and Evelyn end up the only adults on an island sick with madness, but this madness presents itself in a particular and, for the times, rather unique manner: children are gathering together and killing all the adults. They are not an angry mob though; a little girl laughs whilst beating an old man to death with his own cane. These kids are having a good time at their new game.

Serrador’s direction is hardly subtle, for he quickly and clearly sets up a dichotomy between killing an adult—infected by humanity’s greed and capacity for evil—and killing an innocent child. For a child can be nothing but innocent, right? In contrast to Serrador’s fierce direction, the pace builds slowly and carefully. Aside from the opening title sequence, the action is akin to the first part of Rosemary’s Baby, complete with the light-hearted ambience. Nothing truly scary happens for the first forty minutes of The Killer’s Playground, yet the entire film seethes eeriness and atmosphere.

Lewis Fiander, as Tom, reminds one of Donald Sutherland circa Don’t Look Now. Sadly, while this appears too good to be true, Fiander manages to convey his emotions when it really counts. However, his pretty wife, Evelyn, pregnant with their third child, is excellently played by British actress Prunella Ransome. She carries the full weight and conviction of her character through this film’s toughest and strangest moments. And there are some downright creepy moments. The more you allow this film to envelop you, the more intensely you’ll experience its most horrifying scares; The Killer’s Playground is at once deliciously engaging and disturbing.

One of the details I enjoy most about foreign cinema from the 1970’s is that the composers know when to leave the film silent. Waldo de los Ríos’s understated score suits José Luis Alcaine’s photography, emptying the film aesthetically yet greatly enhancing the overall ghost-town-sense. Wandering through the beautiful village, Evelyn and Tom have far more architecture to study than people, slowly leading them to realize that although Almanzora is charming and attractive, it is also quite sinister.

Call me cold, but I find children inherently creepy, so this film has a one-up on me before it even gets going. Though the story may appear predictable, the final irony remains startling, unnerving, and relevant.

The Killer’s Playground @ IMDb

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