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In this stylish and atmospheric psychological thriller reminiscent of Henry James's Turn of the Screw, a widowed English writer brings a young, glamorous new bride to his bleak, isolated home in rural Spain. She soon becomes obsessed with her 12-year old stepson, who she learns has just been expelled from school for mysterious offenses; while the boy enjoys, exploits, and feeds her increasing paranoia about him. That he is a brilliant and lonely child is obvious. But is he the victim of a neurotic woman's overwrought imagination-- in Shakespeare's words, the innocent flower, or the serpent under it? Written by
Paul Emmons <firstname.lastname@example.org>
NIGHT CHILD (James Kelly and, uncredited, Andrea Bianchi, 1972) **1/2
I'd always been intrigued by this controversial film, given its cast and subject matter; being an international production between Spain, Great British and Italy, it was released under various titles DIABOLICA MALICIA in Spain, LA TUA PRESENZA NUDA in Italy and several more in English-speaking countries, but perhaps most popularly as the obscure NIGHT HAIR CHILD (which is how I knew it) and the lurid WHAT THE PEEPER SAW; the print I watched, then, omitted the middle word from the former and left it at that!
Anyway, the film is notorious for turning Mark Lester, the cute protagonist from the musical OLIVER! (1968), into a true nightmare of a child: liar, sadist, voyeur, lecher, murderer! As I said earlier, he's surrounded by other notables: Britt Ekland (at the height of her beauty) is his bewildered stepmom; Hardy Kruger plays the boy's clueless and over-protective father; and, also appearing in bit parts, are Harry Andrews as the headmaster of Lester's school (who's forced to expel him due to gross misconduct) and Lilli Palmer as a psychiatrist (intending to analyze the boy, she ends up checking in Ekland for treatment!).
The film is undeniably sleazy, as we get to see Ekland stripping in front of Lester (at his behest, but to which she acquiesces in order to get at the truth of his mother's mysterious demise!) and even getting into bed with him stark naked (though this is presented as a mere hallucination on her part, witnessed by a cackling Kruger!); however, it's lifted out of the exploitation rut by all-round credible performances and a typically nice score by Stelvio Cipriani. The scene, then, in which Lester imagines his mother's corpse (whom he has callously killed in the film's very opening scene) in the pool is effectively macabre; the finale, too, is worth waiting for: the boy almost coerces Ekland (no sooner has she been released from the asylum) into murdering Kruger and becoming his lover since he tells her she's closer to his own age (Lester being 12 and Ekland 22, while Kruger's 42!); she gives him the impression of agreeing with this latest scheme of his but, realizing the kid will never change, Ekland immediately provides herself with the opportunity to get rid of Lester once and for all
Incidentally, co-director Bianchi would go on to make an even more explicit 'monster child' effort on his home turf with MALABIMBA THE MALICIOUS WHORE (1979); as for Britisher Kelly, his only other film was the passable Tigon production THE BEAST IN THE CELLAR (1970). By the way, I have two more of Lester's vintage films to check out MELODY (1971) and another Italian-made "Grindhouse" flick, REDNECK (1973); while I'm at it, I should try to get my hands on EYEWITNESS (1970), the well-regarded Hitchcockian thriller he starred in that was entirely filmed in Malta.
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