Color, 1978, 89m.
Directed by Massimo Dallamano
Starring Richard Johnson, Joanna Cassidy, Nicoletta Elmi, Evelyne Stewart, Lila Kedrova
Code Red (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Arrow (UK R0 PAL), Raro (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
While preparing for a BBC TV special called Diabolical Art, English historian Michael Williams (Zombie's Johnson) is disturbed by the nightmares and emotional problems plaguing his young daughter, Emily (Baron Blood's Elmi), who can't seem to get over the fiery death of her mother. Under the advice of a psychiatrist, he takes her with him to the Italian town of Spoleto for the next wing of his program along with his assistant, Jill (The Psychic's Stewart), who harbors a secret crush on her boss. Upon arrival they rendezvous with his new production manager, Joanna (Blade Runner's Cassidy), with whom Michael begins having an affair. Meanwhile Emily's erratic behavior increases as she suffers from visions of accusatory villagers which only become more intense thanks to a mysterious medallion that seems to be connected to an important local painting depicting a young girl under the influence of the devil. Soon mysterious deaths begin to occur, and Michael must finally uncover the macabre truth about his own child.
More of a tragic gothic fantasy than a traditional horror film, The Night Child is part of a wave of '70s Italian films inspired by The Exorcist and The Omen. While some like Beyond the Door tried to out-sensationalize their inspiration, by the late '70s the imitations had become more experimental and melancholy. This film is more akin to the same year's wildly underrated Damned in Venice as it focuses more on mood and romantic fatalism than outright shocks, which are limited here to a quick murder by croquet mallet, some fairly innocuous nightmare scenes, and a bit of mayhem involving a double-bladed knife.
The real attraction here is the star presence of Elmi, a magnetic child actress in films like Deep Red and Bay of Blood here given the rare opportunity to carry the entire film. It's also fascinating to see a young Cassidy fresh off of The Outfit and Bank Shot in an Italian horror film, and yes, she disrobes for a couple of fairly lengthy love scenes. Technical credits are all top notch including a wonderfully lush score by Stelvio Cipriani, methodical but inventive direction by Massimo Dallamano (What Have You Done to Solange?), and striking cinematography by Franco Delli Colli (Zeder). The end result isn't remotely the unrelenting terror fest you might expect, but anyone willing to enjoy a more meditative, poetic look at the evil kid genre will find this quite rewarding.
The Night Child was originally released in the United States by the notorious Georgia-based outfit Film Ventures International, a major trash film presence undone by the scuttled release of Great White. Their English language version differs significantly from the original Italian version, Il medaglione insanguinato, in numerous respects. The US print contains a different, much tackier opening titles sequence; Elmi's opening nightmare/flashback is cut and restructured considerably with musical alterations and a superimposition of her sleeping face added throughout; some of Johnson's dialogue with an occult expert played by Lila Kedrova is trimmed down; two entire scenes (totalling around three minutes) are cut following the mallet murder in which Johnson is interrogated by the police and then compares his story with Cassidy's; and the final voice over from Elmi questioning the necessity of evil is dropped from the soundtrack. On the other hand, the English version also adds some footage not in the Italian cut, as Johnson's Diabolical Arts program is shown in much more detail and an additional scene is included with Elmi exploring the new villa upon her arrival in Italy. None of the variations are terribly substantial either way, but it's interesting to see what kind of tweaks were made when it crossed the ocean.
The Night Child first appeared on DVD as a Region 2 release from Raro containing the international cut in Italian with optional English subtitles. (The English dub obviously couldn't be included as there's no way it would come close to matching this version of the film.) This transfer contains the Italian title at the beginning and its more obscure alternate title, Perché?!, with the end credits. It's a colorful but fairly soft presentation but more than acceptable given the film's history. On the other hand, Code Red's DVD from 2010 presents the American version in an HD-sourced transfer from a CRI negative and looks noticeably sharper, with slightly different framing at 1.78:1. Colors are also strong and comparable to the Italian disc, though more print damage is evident in a few scenes. The English track also sounds much clearer than the terrible VHS version from the '80s, which was almost inaudible. For some reason a random bit of wacky transition footage pops up after the end of the film before returning to the menu, so brace yourself. Speaking of menus, this is yet another "Septic Cinema" design with the usual baffling toilet-oriented design, which makes no sense in the case of this film. Extras include the American theatrical trailer and the Richard Johnson interview previously contained on their release of Beyond the Door, along with trailers for Family Honor, The Carrier, Horror High, Slithis, and Light Blast.
Following that release, Arrow offered a UK DVD option carrying over the Italian transfer (with identical colors and framing) and English subtitles while compositing in the English track to more or less match that different cut. Released in 2012, the disc also contains the American and Italian trailers as well as a 12-minute featurette, "Exorcism - Italian Style," with Luigi Cozzi, writer Antonio Tentori, and critic Paolo Zelati covering the wave of exorcism-themed cash-ins pouring out of Italy during the '70s.
In 2015, Code Red gave the the film another go-round for a Blu-ray release that swaps out the Johnson interview for a new 8-minute one with Cassidy, who's as charming and lovely as always as she runs through the early days of her career including a slew of directors and actors including Robert Duvall. The personal notes here are quite nice, and though she only has a few scant memories of this film in particular, it's a worthwhile new addition with mentions of lesser-known titles like Stunts and her stint on the TV show Codename: Foxfire. The US trailer is tucked as sort of an Easter Egg, too, and the film can also be played in "Bucket List Theater" mode with hostess Katarina Leigh Waters offering comedic wraparounds as she runs through pertinent facts about the film (in alter ego mode as her conniving twin sister Antoinette), clowns around with Mr. Pickles in a bumblebee outfit, and tries to sort out the meaning of the ending before doing an Egyptian lounge dance number. The feature itself is the American English-language version, of course, with the usual framing and cooler color timing normally associated with it, and the level of detail bumps up several notches compared to the DVD.