Then again, folks, that's why they call it "exploitation." I call it a terrific find.
Narciso Ibàñez Serrador's film follows expectant couple Tom (Lewis Fiander, "Dr. Phibes Rises Again") and Evelyn (Prunella Ransome, "Far from the Madding Crowd") vacationing in Spain. Tired of crowds and the hustle and bustle, they venture to the nearby island of Almanzora, which they're told is "almost empty."
En route, everything is all sun, smiles and strings on the soundtrack. Evelyn, twirling a flower, says, "Ah, I think we're going to enjoy it there."
Yeah, they won't.
The island offers quiet, but no peace. The terrors start small, with an unmanned ice cream stand containing melted treats that are anything but. How quickly they escalate, as the village's children — the place is crawling with them — use a feeble old man for a spirited round of piñata. (What are they cheering for on the final whack? We know it's not candy.)
Serrador's work clearly is as influenced by MGM's "Village of the Damned" as he in turn influenced Stephen King's "Children of the Corn." The kids' lyricless "la-la-la" musical refrain chills straight to the bone like Krzysztof Komeda's theme to "Rosemary's Baby." Appropriately, music and mood achieve palpable unease among viewers more than anything; Serrador's camera holds back initially, forcing your mind to paint the picture of characters' suffering.
But nothing is held back in the chiller's final five minutes. In a word: wow.
Both Fiander and Ransome (pale-complected and freckled, she resembles a proto-Suzy Amis) are well-cast and worthy of audiences' sympathy. Unlike so many cinematic tourists, they're not out to scoff at locals or piss on traditions; they just happen to make one really poor decision. You're with them all the way, to the point that you're waiting for one of them to utter the film's title so you can scream at the screen, "You can! You can! Do it!"
Super-crisp widescreen print aside, the disc from Eureka! (the label is like the UK equivalent of our Criterion) isn't jam-packed with extras, but it includes an interview with Serrador, whose most interesting point is how his script differed greatly from Juan José Plans' original novel; the author opened his book attempting to explain away the kids' abnormal, animal behavior by having a mysterious yellow powder fall over the city. The director was correct in nixing that element right away, as it's far more unsettling not to know. —Rod Lott