I had this feeling that watching The Child, the 1977 lo-budget flick about a li'l girl who telekinetically controls a li'l zombie army, would be a life-changing event.
There's a chance my expectations were too high.
And yet, this outing from a bunch of "nobodies" and producer de sleaze extraordinaire Harry Novak (Rituals, Please Don't Eat My Mother, Midnight Plowboy, Sexual Kung Fu in Hong Kong, and Mantis in Lace, which features my great uncle!) is actually pretty good and downright creepy.
Alicianne (Laurel Barnett) is to be the new nanny/governess for Rosalie Nordon (err...Rosalie Cole), whose mother died under mysterious circumstances- she may have been murdered by a tramp! Or perhaps something else happened. After all, Rosalie's mom was a nutter and spent most of her life in and out of mental institutions. Although the Nordon's elderly neighbor Mrs Whitfield (Ruth Ballan) says Rosalie is as wacked out as her mom was, that remains to be seen. The physical resemblance Rosalie bears to her late mother, however, is positively striking- Rosalie tells Alicianne that folks were always commenting how the mom and daughter even had the same exact hair. It's so true- see for yourself!
I must say, things get going right away with The Child. Alicianne is suspicious of Rosalie before the kid has even done anything weird- why, even Rosalie's dad (Frank Janson) and older brother Len (Richard Hanners) talk about the fact that she's a total kookadook. It doesn't take long before she proves them right.
Mrs Whitfield makes one too many comments about how Rosalie shouldn't be playing in the cemetery after dark and the next thing you know, she's got a basement full of crusty old zombies!
The zombies drag the poor old woman away and rip her face off, totally undoing her tightly-wound bun in the process. The Child doesn't skimp on the low-budget gore, that's for sure, and Rosalie's zombie army means business.
But how do we know that Rosalie is responsible for the zombie on elderly violence? Why, because she drew a picture of it in her sketchbook, that's how!
Yep, Rosalie's sketchbook is like a visual diary into her twisted little mind! She draws pictures of herself feeding kittens to zombies in the graveyard, then we see her feeding kittens to zombies in the graveyard. She draws a bunch of people laughing and crying around a giant book...
...and then we flashback to Mrs Nordon's funeral, where Rosalie promises something to her mother but I couldn't understand what it was exactly because of the overbearing echo effect. Those 'x'es get the point across, though- it's Rosalie's hit list- she's taking down all the people she thinks are responsible for her mother's death.
The dude in the middle of the drawing, the Asian gardener, gets a visit in his shed from Rosalie and a friend one fateful evening. The friend is actually a scarecrow wielding a shotgun, and although the gardener responds to Rosalie's accusations of "You killed my mother!" with "No! Mama crazy!", the scarecrow shoots him dead. Surprisingly enough, the glimpse we get of the scarecrow is more spooky than silly.
Alicianne finally confronts Rosalie about her midnight trips to the graveyard, but the girl insists that she only goes there to visit her mother. When Alicianne says that's impossible because her mother is "gone", Rosalie says "Gone? Gone where?" and then laughs for thirty seconds straight. Literally.
At this point, it occurs to me that perhaps Rosalie is retarded rather than telekinetic.
Halloween arrives, however, and the holiday proves once and for all that the kid has eerie mental powers. Alicianne blows out the candle in a jack-o-lantern carved by Rosalie. Then the lights go out, the candle re-lights, and the pumpkin turns to follow Alicianne as she wanders around the room...and dammit if I wasn't getting all creeped out despite myself. What can I say, it's a really effective scene.
Rosalie finally 'fesses up about her graveyard pals- they "do favors" for her because she's the only person who's not afraid of them. When these favors extend to ripping off Mr Nordon's face, Alicianne and Len decide to hightail it outta there.
Before they get far, of course, the car dies...and here come the zombies!
Len and Alicianne manage to make their way to a shed; the former works at boarding up the door while the latter stands, wrings her hands, pulls her hair, and whines a lot. The creepiest eye EVARRR peeks through a hole in the wall and the next thing you know it's time for the zombie siege- how long can Len hold them off while Alicianne remains useless?
About four minutes, that's how long. The zombies come up through the floorboards and rip off Len's face, which is apparently their MO. Then Rosalie shows up...will the brat get what's coming to her or will Alicianne still remain useless and get her face ripped off?
There's a word that keeps coming to mind when I'm talking about The Child: creepy. It really is an atmospheric, spooky little flick. Until the final siege, we only get glimpses of the zombies- peering from the bushes in a foggy cemetery, for example, or maybe a grasping hand or two. They're not fully revealed until the final ten minutes of the film, but they're totally worth the wait. The makeup is fantastic, especially considering the low budget- if anything, they remind me a bit of the undead Conquistadors in Fulci's Zombi. It's nice to see zombies that really look like rotting corpses for once, rather than regular people who have been out in the sun a bit too long.
So if The Child was so very chilling and I liked it so much (and I really did), why wasn't it "life-changing" as I'd hoped? Sure, the dialogue is weird and feels a bit like a bunch of non-sequiturs strung together, but the real culprit, in a word, is sound. Or, in several words, the sound was fucking atrocious with a capital Oh My God The Sound Was Fucking Atrocious. The entire film is dubbed and the voice acting is some of the worst I've ever heard. Add to that truly terrible sound effects, a discordant Moog-based soundtrack that's irritating and distracting after the first three minutes you hear it (aka the first three minutes of the film), and choppy sound editing (music comes and goes from cut to cut- hell, the music even stops halfway through the end credits) and this boat is sunk before it leaves the dock. It's a real shame, too, because The Child could have been great. As it stands, this flick is primo '70s drive-in fare, and I highly recommend you seek it out. Just don't expect anything life-changing.