Monday, December 5, 2011

Child, The (1977)

... aka: Kill and Go Hide
... aka: La casa degli zombi
... aka: Zombie Child

Directed by:
Robert Voskanian

Alicianne Del Mar (Laurel Barnett) decides to travel back to the small country town she grew up in to take a live-in nanny position at the Nordon home. On her way there, she runs her car off the road to avoid a barrel, decides to walk the rest of the way and crosses paths with elderly, gossipy widow Mrs. Whitfield (Ruth Ballen), who invites her inside for tea and promptly informs her that her new charge Rosalie (Rosalie Cole) is a strange, trouble-making little girl whose now deceased mother had spent much of her time in mental institutions. Mrs. Whitfield also insists Alicianne stay on the path and not wander into the woods since she's been hearing strange noises there and small animals have recently been discovered dead. Since the opening credits sequence shows Rosalie feeding a kitten to some kind of cemetery ghoul, we already known poor Alicianne's gonna have her hands full. Still, since she lost both of her parents at a young age and Rosalie has recently lost her mother, Alicianne figures they'll relate on some level.

Upon arriving at the Nordon home, Alicianne meets patriarch Joshua (Frank Janson), a cranky old prick who warns "I hope you're not a nervous woman," as well as Joshua's grown son Len (Richard Hanners) and, of course, young Rosalie (who actually looks like a teenager; not the little girl I was expecting). There's also an Chinese gardener (Slosson Bing Jong) who works there but his few scenes seem removed from the rest of the film and he's not once seen in the same shot with anyone else from the cast, possibly because his scenes were added later on. Alicianne discovers that Rosalie is a pouty, obnoxious little brat who hates other kids ("Aw, they're all dumb!"), grapefruit ("I hate grapefruit!") and donuts ("Donuts!?"), gets pissed at Alicianne for going horseback riding with her older brother and giggles at a story her father tells her about a bunch of boy scouts who got poisoned by oleander sap and died. Rosalie also enjoys drawing morbid pictures and makes frequent midnight trips to the cemetery to visit her "friends." Her "friends" turn out to be a bunch of zombies that she's summoned forth and controls to do her bidding. And her bidding is basically to kill anyone who rubs her the wrong way.

Why Rosalie even wants everyone dead is one of many muddled story points you'll encounter in this film. I've seen this advertised as a revenge picture, but I could never quite figure out just who exactly the little psycho was going after, or why she was going after them. We never learn for sure if the mother had actually been murdered or just died of natural causes. However, I'm willing to accept that Rosalie could just be mad about her mother's death and doesn't know how to cope. Or she's simply just evil. She basically just comes off like a whiny little beotch who uses her zombie pals to punish people who don't let her get her way. And her powers (vague and unexplained as they may be) extend beyond just the zombies, as she's also able to make inanimate objects move, including a scarecrow that she brings to life to kill when the zombies are too busy eating kittens.

What I can't accept is the horrendous acting and dialogue. It's difficult to blame the actors so much because it appears that their dialogue was all dubbed in later. Still, you'd be hard pressed to find more stilted, awkward and unnatural- sounding dialogue readings than you'll find in this film. Nothing that comes out of anyone's mouth is delivered with the least bit of believability or conviction. And I mean nothing. The editing is done with the same level of ineptitude, and it has a habit of switching from night to day back to night again in the same scene. The film has a early America period setting for some reason, which seems to be the 1920s, though not all of the clothing and home decor really bespeak that era.

It's not all bad news, though. The film does have some nice atmospheric, foggy moments here and there, and a couple of the dialogue-free sequences (such as when our heroine has a nightmare where she's dancing with Len and he turns into the scarecrow) are effective. There's enough gore to please (faces ripped off, an eyeball gouging, a head getting chopped with an axe, etc.), the zombie designs by Jay Owens (mostly saved for the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD-inspired finale) are pretty good and I quite liked the bizarre polymoog synthesizer soundtrack. It's pretty slow-going until near the end, when Alicianne and Len are besieged by a horde of zombies and try to barricade themselves inside a shed. Even these scenes are partially spoiled because our "heroine" proves to be utterly useless and just stands around shrieking the entire time, refusing to be of much help to poor Len as he tries to fight off the ghouls.

Released theatrically by Boxoffice International (and executive produced by Harry Novak), this title has been well-serviced on both VHS (Paragon, Best and Monterey were but a few of the distributors) and DVD (by Something Weird). The Canadian release title was Zombie Child.


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