We first encountered The Child at a Halloween party thrown at the palatial Mexican War Streets home of Mr. Groovy Doom himself, Bill Van Ryn. While some folks drank in the kitchen or enjoyed the mix of Goblin and My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult blasting in the sitting room, I was entranced by a film that was playing on the TV. The sound wasn’t turned up, the images all felt like transmissions from beyond and nothing really added up in the movie. “What the hell is this,” I asked. “Oh, The Child!” exclaimed Bill, hurriedly running in to try and explain why he was growing more and more obsessed with multiple rewatches of the film.
Every print I’ve ever encountered of this film has been beaten to hell and back. So when it was announced that Arrow Video was about to clean it up and release it was part of their American Horror Project series, I was excited. For me, it was the main selling point of the entire second volume.
Sometime in the 1930’s — which you’d only know from the old cars, as this film feels like an anachronism lost in no particular time — Alicianne has been hired to be the caretaker for Rosalie Nordon, the titular child, who has just lost her mother. Along with her father and brother Len, she lives in a house on the edge of the woods.
Even the trip to the house is strange, with Alicianne’s car breaking down after she drives it into a ditch. A journey through the woods brings her to Mrs. Whitfield, who warns her about the Nordon family. She probably should have listened, as everyone in this family — hell, everyone in this movie — is touched, as they say.
When Alicianne first meets Rosalie, he jack in the box suddenly moves by itself. It’s a very subtle scene that hints that things might not be right here. After all, people have seen Rosalie wandering the cemetery late at night, a place where she brings kittens so that her friends there will do anything she asks. And even dinner is strange, as her father relates a story of Boy Scouts eating a soup stirred with oleander that caused them all to die. Father and daughter have a good laugh at that while Len just seems embarrassed by his family.
Then there are the drawings — Rosalie has been sketching everyone who was at her mother’s funeral, marking them for death. And if she does have psychic abilities, is she using them to reanimate the dead or control them? Or do they just do whatever she wants? The Child wasn’t made to give you those answers. It just screams in your face and demands that you keep watching despite your ever-growing confusion.
Mrs. Whitfield’s dog is taken first, then that old busy body pays the price, with her face getting ripped off as the zombies mutilate her. That gardener has some of mommy’s jewelry, so he has to pay, too. And Alicianne, who was supposedly here just for Rosalie, has started to spend too much time with Len. She’s next on the list.
There are some really haunting scenes as we get closer to Halloween, like a scarecrow come to life and a jack-o-lantern that keeps relighting itself and following our heroine around the room.
Finally, Mr. Nordon starts to discipline his daughter, which leads to Rosalie unleashing all of her powers. She decimates her father, crashes Alicianne’s car and sends zombies to chase her governess and brother all the way to an old mill. Len tries to fight them while Alicianna just screams and screams, but he can’t stop them from dragging him under the building and tearing his face to bloody pieces. As the attack of the zombies stops, Rosalie walks through the door just as our heroine hits her with an axe. She walks outside into the dawn’s light and everything is still. The threat is over.
Written by Ralph Lucas as Kill and Go Hide, The Child isn’t a great movie, but it’s an interesting one. If you ask me, that’s way more important. Some people will get tied up in things like narrative cohesion, good acting and a soundtrack that makes sense. None of those people should watch The Child with you, as they’ll just ruin what can be an awesome experience. This is the kind of movie that takes over, kind of like one of those dreams you have and try to write down the moment you wake up, but it gets lost in the ether of reality. For most of the film, the zombies are barely glimpsed, just seen in the shadows, so they really could just be tramps that live in the cemetery. Or something much worse.
Producer Harry Novak acquired this film and made his money on it, even if director Robert Voskanian and producer Robert Dadashia saw no profit. It’s a story we’ve seen hundreds of times — an interesting movie taken, used and abused by conmen who have no interest in art.
This new version of The Child simply looks amazing. I’m used to VHS level or worse copies of the film that obscure everything in the movie. That said, there’s something about a battered copy of a movie like this that makes you love it even more.
This release also includes an appreciation of the film with Stephen Thrower, who also moderated audio commentary on the film with Voskanian and Dadashian. There are also interviews with the creators of the film, which discusses how the movie was shot on heads and tails of film stock, which were sometimes left in an ice box until they afford to send it out for developing.
My favorite part of The Child is that there’s a dream sequence. Just think of that — a dream scene in a movie that completely feels like one big dream. If that doesn’t make you run out and find a copy of this, I don’t know what else will. Or come over to my house, where we can do an all-night movie watch of this, Cathy’s Curse and The Children.
You can learn more about the American Horror Project vol. 2 box set on Arrow Video‘s web site.
DISCLAIMER: Arrow sent us this set for review, but we were already planning on buying it. That had no bearing on our review.