The Video Nasties #49 – The Child (1977, Robert Voskanian)

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‘Hope you’re not a nervous woman.’

Well, it’s fair to say that The Child did not play out as I expected it to. A kind of weird rural gothic chiller that only the independent regional scene in the 70s could produce, The Child would play nicely on the bottom half of a double bill with Axe. I’d go as far as to call it a poor man’s Axe, even though I know that description is likely to send most of you running for the hills. But I liked Axe, and while this isn’t as successful, it still creates a nice creepy atmosphere before turning into a full on Night of the Living Dead rip off.

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The beautiful but ultimately pretty useless Alicianne is on her way to stay at the Nordons, who’s daughter Rosalie she will be looking after. Rosalie has never been the same since her mother died, but she seems to have made a few new friends down at the local cemetery…

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This is one of those films that operates on one simple equation – the more fog there is, the creepier things are. Now I’m no mathematician, but that equation sounds just about perfect to me. The opening shots of the graveyard have more dry ice than the entire Hammer filmography, and when a little girl holds out a cat and gnarled hands reach out from behind a gravestone and grab it you know you’re in for a treat.

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Things slip off the rails for a while when Alicianne arrives and the film grinds to a halt, though there’s just enough to hold my interest. Like Axe, The Child is full of self-consciously arty touches, from tilted camera angles to its excellent avant garde score. The voices are all dubbed and sound like they were recorded down a phone line from the bottom of the ocean, lending the characters a strange, distant quality in keeping with the offbeat atmosphere of the movie. Nothing much happens during the second act, and I felt my attention wandering. Even the first murder is seven long minutes of build up leading to a poor payoff. I was beginning to think I had misjudged the movie, but then it’s revealed that Rosalie’s friends are zombies – zombies! – who seem to do her bidding, killing those that upset her. Then things get really weird.

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If nothing else, this is the only film I’ve ever seen where a woman slow dances with a corpse in a fog enshrouded graveyard. It might also be the only film I’ve seen where a teddy bear cries blood, but I’m not 100% sure on that one. Alicianne and Len try to escape from the chaos and find themselves besieged by zombies in a barn in an exciting scene that ignores all the arty trappings from earlier and goes for the crowd pleasing gross out and is all the better for it.

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The makeup on the zombies is cheap looking but oddly effective, making them look more like filthy, leering skulls. Just don’t pay too much attention to the actors playing them, who hobble about with their arms raised like a kid in a white sheet on Halloween. The gore is fun but unconvincing, and it’s a mystery how anyone could imagine this film was liable to deprave and corrupt right up until the last minute, when something happens that you don’t see everyday in horror films. I won’t spoil it, because I rather enjoyed The Child – if you can get past the talky first 50 minutes you’re in for a low-key treat.

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