The Night Child (2012)

The Night Child is a haunting, bizarre little horror film from Italian giallo director Massimo Dallamano. It has an infectious score and a creepy performance from lead actress Nicoletta Elmi, but it never quite exceeds expectations. Not really conforming to giallo tropes, The Night Child suffers from a slow pace and obvious plotting, but is inoffensive and genuinely enjoyable.

English documentary filmmaker Michael Williams (Richard Johnson) convinces his employers to send him to Italy, to a small town that contains a very unique painting. The painting depicts a horde of angry villagers attacking a child whilst the devil looks on and Michael decides to research this painting and its origins (local folklore claims it appeared overnight!).

Having been recently widowed thanks to a nasty house-fire, he takes his doting daughter Emily (Nicoletta Elmi) with him and this proves to be a terrible move. As the research deepens it seems to suggest a link between Emily and the long-dead girl featured in the painting, apparently murdered for being a witch…

As people begin to die in inexplicable ways and a local psychic constantly speaks of impending doom, Michael begins to realize the painting, his daughter and a strange medallion might be linked to a brutal and terrifying past… which might be repeating itself in the present.

The Night Child is surprisingly enjoyable. Although the story doesn’t exactly ooze with originality, the characters and locations always ensure you’re never bored. There are some nostalgic scenes in 70’s London and some beautiful Italian scenery on display, so it’s always watchable. This is no surprise considering The Night Child is directed by renowned cinematographer Massimo Dallamano, who worked on A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More.

Despite being directed by giallo auteur Dallamano (most famous for 1972 pure giallo flick What Have You Done To Solange?) The Night Child isn’t a typical giallo film but does share some if it’s common tropes, keeping the psychological themes of madness, alienation and paranoia at its core. It is also poorly dubbed and – like any good 70’s giallo flick – has random moments where the dubbing inexplicably stops and the English-speaking characters converse entirely in Italian (subtitled, thankfully)!

Strangely – and surprisingly – Dallamano dispenses of the excessive, bloody murder sequences and usual glut of nudity that you’d normally associate with giallo and his other films (like the brilliantly-named 1973 flick Super Bitch). It’s a good thing too, because The Night Child benefits from Dallamano’s unusual restraint.

This is one of Massimo Dallamano’s last films, made a year before he died in a car crash in 1976. At the time the release of The Night Child was viewed as ‘another Exorcist rip-off’ but that’s simply an unfair fallacy. Yes, it features a possessed child, but Dallamano dispenses with theatrics and replaces spinning heads and gloop-puking with vivid hallucinations and one seriously disturbed child. Acting out like a confused Damien from The Omen, ‘evil child’ Emily seems lost and vulnerable as well as being occasionally psychotic.

Although her acting is sometimes below-par in The Night Child (although she is dubbed by an adult actress, for some insane reason) Nicoletta Elmi certainly looks the part as the deeply troubled Emily. With a deeply memorable face she excels in her wide-eyed madness and is genuinely quite disconcerting. Incidentally Elmi quit acting in the 80’s to become a doctor. And why not?

Richard Johnson – hailing from my birth-town of Hornchurch in Essex (good man!) – is excellent as Emily’s persistent father, and despite being in this Italian classic he’s mostly had a career in very British productions and is still a prolific TV actor (most recently appearing in Spooks and Lewis). Horror fact fans might also know him from The Haunting and Zombie Flesh Eaters too. One for a pub quiz.

Overall The Night Child is a decent but uninspired piece of 70’s horror from a well-respected (and sadly long-dead) Italian filmmaker. It certainly won’t appeal to some audiences but if you enjoy light giallo with some stunning visuals then The Night Child should certainly suffice. And you’ll be humming the damn score for days after…

Rating: ★★★★★★★½☆☆

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