The Child (1977)

Let's play hide and go kill.
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The Child - Let's play hide and go kill.

Harry Novak is best known for his prolific production and distribution of softcore exploitation cinema with titles as amazing as The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet, The Exotic Dreams of Casanova and The Dirty Mind of Young Sally. He is also responsible for exposing the world to a few gems in the horror genre, most notably Axe and The Child.

The Child begins with a lot of dramatical wandering around utilising camera zooms and jarring music to inspire gasps. Alicianne Del Mar (played by the Laurel Barnett) is lost on her way to a job to look after a difficult child called Rosalie. Faced with car problems she abandons her vehicle and sets off on foot through the forest... as one does. She eventually manages to get there in one piece and starts to get to know Rosalie and her family. When not out galavanting with Len and actually doing her job, Alicianne discovers that Rosalie has "friends" in the graveyard and anyone that Rosalie takes a dislike to meets their demise. Alicianne is soon concerned with her own mortality as the situation begins to unfold and the uncanny abilities of Rosalie become apparent.

The movie is a peculiar combination of horror themes, a mash-up of many styles and ideas. What starts looking like a standard supernaturally possessed child film evolves into a non-traditional zombie film. Clichés are deposited from multiple angles; Halloween, a creepy child with telekinetic abilities, Jack-o'-lanterns, lightning storms, maniacal laughter (at a hilarious story about the death of a troop of boy scouts), zombies and even murderous scarecrows. It shouldn’t work yet it does. Even Rosalie is not a naturally creepy looking kid but she still manages to achieve creepy. There are hints towards the beginning that there is something inhuman living in the woods but they are brief and easy to gloss over. The alternative title of Zombie Child may drop more than enough hints about the line this movie is to take though. Director Robert Voskanian's and writer Ralph Lucas' portfolios are much thinner than that of executive producer Novak and this could be the reason for the strange direction the story takes and some of the apparent filmmaking anomalies seemingly intentionally present in this movie. These quirks are what make the film stand out and enrich it with an element of quaint rather than having detrimental repercussions.

The obvious distractions from the film are the excessive use of the smoke machine (the forest fog occasionally engulfs the actors - the funeral scene is a sight to barely behold) and the excessive use of music. There is a lot of soundtrack, swinging between haunting piano medleys, cacophonies of jarring sounds and overlaps of the two with little room for quiet in between. Strangely the end credits are silent. Constant noise is an unusual tactic to adopt but once again it works, creating a confusing tension throughout. Strange decisions turning out well seems to be a recurring theme within this movie.

The kills are few but quite violent. The splatter focuses mainly on face traumas and does this well with the tools available. It probably caused some genuine shocks in 1977. People of all ages get their faces destroyed, there is no ageism here. The beauty of independently released movies is that they aren't so constricted by the pressures of gaining a massive audience such as movies from the larger studios. Novak's objective was to shock and he knew he could do this by utilising taboos that other films would stray away from.

As the end approaches, The Child takes on a different atmosphere. A much faster pace is attempted as the remaining characters fight for survival. The antagonists reveal themselves for their stint in the limelight and these curious looking zombies give chase. Alicianne becomes the stereotypical distressed damsel with an inability to do anything useful. Constant screaming, holding her ears, tripping over things and getting stuck are her only major contributions. The character wasn't ever looking like she was building up to becoming a heroic final girl, instead the story opted for her to become quite annoying. The tension dies in places during the final survival episode and some scenes could have benefited from more aggressive editing as they drag and simply emphasise how irritating Alicianne has become. This is a minor fault and doesn't detract from the overall quirkiness of the whole experience. The weirdness of The Child and the strange choices made during the making of it is what makes this so endearing and bound to bond with the average connoisseur of crap.
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