Directed by Massimo Dallamano
Distributed by Arrow Video
Arriving on screens amidst the glut of Italian possession movies fueled by the success of The Exorcist, director Massimo Dallamano’s The Night Child (aka The Cursed Medallion) went relatively ignored on international shores. Now, however, this unfortunate fact is to be rectified by way of an impressive restoration and DVD release by Arrow Video — showcasing a film that actually has much more to offer than a cynical head-spinning cash-in.
Richard Johnson stars as British documentarian Michael Williams, a man struggling to maintain a balance of working on his latest documentary (on Satan, no less) and spending time with his troubled young daughter, Emily, who saw her mother perish in a house fire. On the recommendation of a psychiatrist, Michael takes Emily to Italy with him, where he intends to study a mysterious work of art insinuated to have potentially been painted by the Devil himself. When Emily begins wearing a large medallion that used to belong to her mother, however, her worrying behaviour rapidly escalates to violent heights. Eventually people start turning up dead, and Michael finds himself involved in a supernatural battle for the future of his family.
Filled to the brim with lavish Italian style (not to mention a wonderfully mournful, affecting orchestral score), The Night Child is a (very) slow burn affair that’s much more concerned with generating haunting atmosphere than it is with bloodshed, profanity or projectile vomit. Heavy characterisation and carefully measured direction is the order of the day here, with director Dallamano (most easily recognised for giallo What Have You Done To Solange?) exercising a serious amount of restraint throughout. While it takes too long to fully come up to speed (the first half of the film is fairly meandering), The Night Child finds itself populated with well-rounded, sympathetic characters and a very impressive turn by young actress Nicoletta Elmi as the fractured Emily. While unhinged, needy and increasingly disrespectful, the young girl is also vulnerable and desperate as she is subject to distressing visions and driven to acts beyond her will. Emli keeps us well on her side right up to the inevitably tragic finale.
Filled in with beautifully lensed locations and the occasional dash of visual daring, The Night Child tells a strong, if not entirely unpredictable, story that should come as a shock to anyone who has previously written it off as just another Exorcist-fueled cash grab. Riffing on Friedkin’s classic, it also sports touches of Don’t Look Now and a consistently chilling, ethereal construction. Well worth checking out for fans of Euro style, but anyone expecting a hasty pace, gruesome possessed child makeup or gore-strewn set pieces will be sorely disappointed.
Arrow Video’s DVD release of The Night Child delivers an extremely pleasing restorative transfer of the film in the original aspect ratio with an audio track that easily does the evocative, swelling score justice. On the disc we have the original US and Italian trailers along with a quick featurette (around 12 minutes) entitled Exorcism Italian Style, which takes us on a short journey across the world of Italian possession flicks via interviews with director Luigi Cozzi, screenwriter Antonio Tentori and critic Paolo Zelati. Some nice discussion appears here, with Zelati in particular being a serious appreciator of The Night Child and Dallamano in particular.
Inside the box, there are a reversible sleeve featuring a choice of original and new artwork and a collector’s booklet featuring an essay on the film by Calum Waddell. These were not included in the review set, however.
• Exorcism Italian-Style featurette
• Original Italian and US trailers
• Collector’s booklet
• Reversible sleeve featuring choice of original and newly commissioned artwork
3 1/2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5