The Night Child DVD Review
Directed by Massimo Dallamano
Written by Massimo Dallamano, Franco Marotta, Laura Toscano
1975, Region 2 (PAL), 88 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
DVD released on 29th October 2012
Richard Johnson as Michael Williams
Joanna Cassidy as Joanna Morgan
Ida Galli as Jill Perkins
Nicoletta Elmi as Emily Williams
Edmund Purdom as Doctor
Ricardo Garrone as Police Inspector
Smoking, answering back and acting up something terrible – is young Emily suffering from a garden variety case of demonic possession or something far more terrifying – puberty? Whatever the case, documentary maker Michael Williams has his work cut out for him in The Night Child, a particularly creepy Italian version of The Exorcist in which the poor fellow finds himself menaced by his own young daughter and the demon which lies within.
When her mother dies in exceptionally horrible circumstances, Emily is left traumatised and clings to daddy dearest for support. Where there was nothing particularly gruesome about wee Reagan prior to her possession in The Exorcist, little Emily looks terrifying right from the get go. She's the scariest ginger since the one in the “gingers have souls too” video. She is the reason such prejudice exists. It doesn't help that the English dubbing (although the DVD occasionally forgets and lapses into Italian with subtitles) makes this little girl sound like a thirty-year-old psychopath. Emily's inner monster is unleashed when her eager-to-please father gifts her a haunted medallion.
The Night Child is the latest re-release from Arrow films, a company quickly becoming very reliable in amassing a catalogue of underrated cult trash. Along with Super Bitch, the film it has been released alongside, The Night Child definitely lies at the trashier end of the spectrum. 70s' Italian cinema is infamous for its rip-offs of popular American movies, but it's more restrained and atmospheric than the Exorcist influences might suggest. With its little brat of a child, it's actually more of a precursor to The Omen than anything else. As Michael continues making his documentary, investigating spooky old paintings on the side, Emily runs rings around her babysitter. As with most possessed child movies, it's always the Nanny who comes in for a battering. Unfortunately, the scenes of Nanny torture in this are funnier than they are scary, involving a croquet mallet and a waterfall. As Jack Torrance discovered when Stanley Kubrick changed his murder weapon of choice from a mallet to an axe in The Shining, there's nothing threatening about croquet mallets.
Not that Michael has to worry too much about being murdered, with a croquet mallet or otherwise. Emily seems much too dedicated to daddy dearest to ever harm her old man. We all love our dads, but Emily takes it too far. It's effectively a film about a girl who decides to stalk her own father and murders anyone who gets between them. Emily's brand of evil is more subtle than Reagan or Damien, but she's more than a match for them. I'll be hearing that husky simpleton's voice in my nightmares tonight. Also, that fantastic, tremendously infectious score.
The Night Child is a surprisingly watchable Evil Child horror film. The story is slow and a mite predictable, but it has at its heart a great musical score and a very memorable villain. It's not a patch on the films it's inspired by, but it will certainly put you off having children for a while.
Video and Audio:
It looks fine; the colours rich and deep, although it's often a little foggy around the edges. As with most 70s' Italian flicks, the music is where the film is at its most special. It ranges from being inappropriately cheerful (which is appropriate in its own way) to spooky and memorable.
Two trailers, and a featurette entitled Exorcism Italian-Style. The latter does little to allay accusations of the film being an Exorcist rip-off. It spends more time talking about William Friedkin's classic than it actually does The Night Child. It's an engaging documentary, but does The Night Child no favours. The talking heads' excuse for emulating Friedkin's great movie? Well, everyone else was doing it at the time.