Review: The Night Child / Cert: 18 / Director: Massimo Dallamano / Screenplay: Massimo Dallamano / Starring: Richard Johnson, Joanna Cassidy, Ida Galli, Nicoletta Elmi / Release Date: October 29th
In the '70s, the phenomenal success of The Exorcist spawned a legion of imitations, many of them cranked out by the Italian exploitation industry, which in those days was still in overdrive. Among these pasta-possession flicks was The Night Child. Directed by Massimo Dallamano – best-known for his spicy S&M movie Venus in Furs – it mixes an Omen-style demon kid with an ancient curse, and plays the whole thing out against some gorgeously crumbly scenery. It's not The Exorcist, but it's still pretty buono.
The bambina in question is Emily (Italo-horror child star Nicoletta Elmi, and very scary she is too). Daughter of TV art historian Michael Williams (Johnson), Emily is deeply troubled following her mother's accidental (yeah, right) death in a fire. Concerned, Michael decides to take her with him to Italy, where he's making a documentary. There, he becomes fascinated by a mysterious painting whose imagery seems to echo what happened to his wife. Not so fascinated, though, that he doesn't find time to hop into bed with his very comely producer, Joanna (Cassidy). Emily resents Joanna, and before you know it weighty objects are toppling off shelves and at least one person goes hurtling off a cliff.
To be frank, the movie could do with a meatier pay-off and better-developed set-pieces, and for this reason gorehounds might well find it a disappointment. But it still has a lot going for it. Dallamano stirs some tasty ingredients into the pot – Freudian subtexts, reincarnation, an evil amulet, and a splendidly gloomy Contessa (Kedrova) who's good for tarot readings, murky exposition and dire warnings. The adult leads (one of those only-in-B-movies pairings) add to the charm with a surprisingly bubbly chemistry, with Cassidy (at this stage of her career somewhat like a slightly butch Sharon Stone) looking a treat in form-fitting pant suits and knee-high boots.
But then everything looks a treat. Dallamano started off as a cinematographer, and the film has some very distinctive visuals which show up nicely on this DVD release. An autumnal melancholy infuses all of the exterior scenes, shot on location in Umbria, and the interiors are just as good, especially the derelict castello which houses the satanic artwork – a place of weird, monumental furnishings half-hidden under rotting dust sheets. And for once in a horror film, the painting that all the fuss is about manages to appear reasonably authentic, too, a cut above the usual props department daub.
If you're after masses of sex and violence you've come to the wrong villa, but if you fancy checking out the work of one of the period's more thoughtful and technically adept Italian directors, then The Night Child should provide a decent evening's entertainment.
Extras: Exorcism Italian-Style, Original Italian trailer, Collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by author and critic Calum Waddell, Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys