Infamous at the time of release, this shot-on-video shocker finally gets a decent release. Those who have heard of it will be curious and highly rewarded, but there’s little to appeal to modern audiences.
At Sullivan’s Children’s Home, things begin to take a turn for the sinister following the arrival of new orphan, a young mute girl named Elizabeth (Diana). Dumped on the home’s doorstep, her appearance coincides with a visit from a former inhabitant, Mick Philips (Honranz), who happens to be a big pop star now. The excitement soon turns to horror when a series of ‘accidents’ point to a malevolent influence among the kids.
Purporting to be a reconstruction of real events, this is an ultra-low budget affair filmed by a drama school and directed by the former owner of the Brixton Academy. With little knowledge of basic filmmaking, one would expect this to be an unmitigated disaster, but for all its flaws, there’s something strangely compelling about Suffer Little Children. Perhaps it helps if one recalls the state of British independent filmmaking at the time. Video cameras had just become available for homes, and it appears to be one of these early enormous monsters that director Briggs has used. The sound mix is rudimentary, bordering on non-existent - it’s either music or dialogue, whenever it’s both, the latter is completely obliterated - and scenes stop dead; no slick dissolve fades here! Couple this with the wonderfully crude title overlays and it provides a definition of amateur hour. Yet, as said, there’s a charm to the film that is undeniable. Anyone who has come across the similar homebrew efforts of Cliff Twemlow will warm to this more than people expecting something from Hammer.
What Suffer Little Children does well is utilise the drama school kids - particularly Nicola Diana as the cause of all evil, Elizabeth. Silent save for some dodgy devil-voice effects later on, her steely stare and Goth look are perfect. What Briggs’ film lacks in talent and budget it makes up for in enthusiasm.
Although today’s audiences are used to low-budget ‘found footage’ efforts that go out of their way to look lo-fi, they may not quite be ready to accept a home movie pretending to be a feature film. The transfer is about as good as we could expect. Which is to say, we get tracking lines and the occasional video tape glitch. Retro hipsters could even pretend they’re watching it on VHS (or Betamax if they’re ultra-trendy). It’s certainly not essential, but as an example of what you can do with a bit of ingenuity, it’s worth checking out.
Extras: School of Shock - interview with director Alan Briggs / Seducing the Gullible - John Martin interview
SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN (1983) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: ALAN BRIGGS / SCREENPLAY: MEG SHANKS / STARRING: COLIN CHAMBERLAIN, GINNY ROSE, JON HOLLANZ, NICOLA DIANA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW