“Child Eater” (2016) Directed by Erlingur Thoroddsen. Starring Colin Critchley, Cait Bliss, Melinda Chilton and Kara Durrett. A young boy and his babysitter are pursued through the night by the carnivorous specter of a long dead serial killer, who plans to make a meal out of the kid.
The title is an attention grabber, for sure, but can “Child Eater” live up to its name? It begins with a very young redheaded girl wandering through a beautifully lensed forest at sunrise, holding her princess dolly. As she finds her way to a neighborhood bordering the woods, we realize her right hand is dripping blood. And so is her empty eye socket. A concerned woman approaches the girl, who opens her crimson stained hand to reveal the eyeball missing from her head. So that would be a yes. It lives up to its nightmarish premise.
25 years later, we meet waitress Helen Connolly. She recently discovered she’s pregnant, and is agonizing over telling her boyfriend, Tom. Her best friend Casey just became a cop, and is working for Helen’s sheriff father. Dad gets her a babysitting gig on a night when she’s lost in her own thoughts and not feeling up to facing the world. She’ll be watching Lucas, the son of a family that just moved to the area.
On the forested outskirts of town, Lucas builds bird houses and sets them up throughout the woods. While exploring an old wooden observation deck bordering a lake, Lucas spies a black clad figure standing in the distance on the opposing shore’s deck.
The moment reminded me of the chilling scene in the 1978 scarefest “Rituals” when Hal Holbrook notices the killer standing on a hill a couple hundred feet away, staring at him coldly.
Lucas flees after scoping out the stranger watching him, and we learn that he’s seen the stranger several times. His father thinks it’s just some old man birdwatching in the woods, and he’s very wrong.
Home again, Lucas’s dad directs him to run down to the darkened basement to fetch something.
What’s he trying to do, get this poor kid eaten?
While down there, the boy discovers a large shadowy hole in the concrete wall that appears to be some kind of tunnel.
On the drive to the babysitting gig, Helen passes a haggard, one-eyed woman who bears a striking resemblance to the red-haired child in the opening scene. We learn about the local legend of Robert Bowery, a petting zoo operator stricken with degenerative vision loss. As the world around him faded from his sight, Bowery went mad and began stealing the eyes of children in an effort to regain his vision. As if that wasn’t bad enough, guess which house Bowery used to live in?
Lucas’s father tries to keep his son from finding out that a crazed serial killer once roamed their humble abode.
At the police station, Casey gets a phone call from Geraldine, the woman Helen saw on the road. It’s short and to the point:
“Tell the sheriff he’s awake.”
Lucas and Helen watch horror movies over dinner. He tells her that his mother died many years before, and that he wears a silver bird pendant she gave him that protects him from monsters. Helen also learns that he’s been seeing an old man in the woods near the house, and fears that the stranger may be able to enter through the tunnel in the basement wall. She assures him that can’t happen and puts Lucas to bed. Her boyfriend Tom shows up, excited to see the inside of the Robert Bowery’s house after hearing all the legends. He also cracks a joke about being the boyfriend who shows up at the wrong time in a horror flick. As the couple discuss Helen’s pregnancy, upstairs Lucas watches his closet door slide open.
After discovering that the boy is missing, Tom and Helen track him into the deep woods and find themselves in the ruins of the Widow’s Peak Game Park, where the Child Eater once preyed. Eventually, Geraldine pops up with warnings about Robert.
“He may not be able to see, but he can smell blood a mile away and he knows these woods like the back of his hand. Do you want the boy here with us, or out there with him?”
She explains that there was a great evil in these woods long before Robert went mad, and that it led to his resurrection. He hunts by sound and smell, sniffing away until he’s right on top of his victims. His friend is the darkness, allowing him to creep up unseen.
There’s a scene where he’s exposed in the light and attempting to swing an axe at Helen and Casey, which doesn’t connect due to his blindness. Giving a supernatural killer a limiting weakness is always wise, because omnipotent bad guys don’t create drama.
If you’re looking for creepiness, there’s plenty to be had:
- Bowery perched in a tree, sucking out the eyes of a victim and splashing blood down on a cop.
- A wonderfully scary moment inside a dark closet. It involves sniffing, face licks and grinning.
- A makeshift surgery room complete with eye gouging instruments.
- Geraldine’s gauze shrouded collection of eyeless dolls. It’s extremely normal.
- One of the most disturbing stories about a stork I’ve ever heard. (Yes, the bird.)
The anticipation of staring into pitch black doorways, our eyes straining to make out the shape of an enemy. Show someone a monster, and they’ll be scared. Confront them with the dark unknown where monsters can come from any direction, and they’ll be terrified. When it comes to generating fear, the unknown and the projections of our imaginations take the top prize every time.
For every roaring chainsaw, machete and loud homicidal brute in the world, nothing is scarier than the quiet moment in a shadowy hiding place when all you can hear is your heart pounding as you slowly realize that the monster you’re hiding from is right next to you, grinning silently.
All the blood soaked massacres ever filmed can’t compare to that kind of horror.
Since the fall of the slasher boom of the 1980s, horror directors and screenwriters have attempted to strike gold by creating a memorable icon of terror with the lasting power of Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers. And with the possible exceptions of commercial successful and popular baddies Ghostface and Jigsaw, they’ve failed. Throughout the late 80’s and 90’s, thousands of long forgotten madmen have come shambling out of the dark to crush some teenager’s chances of getting laid, but it takes a rare charisma that inspires an audience to embrace a terrifying villain and his or her mythology.
With his black glasses, rotting Nosferatu visage and hungry grin, Robert Bowery has charisma. He’s an effectively freakish ghoul with a depraved passion for gnawing on your peepers, and I was surprised by how much I was afraid of him.
Nobody wants to wake up in the middle of the night to find someone who is both dead and smiling standing over them. Like Pennywise from “IT,” the Child Eater has no problem gruesomely slaughtering adults who get between him and his preferred victims. He also has a unique weakness in that he’s blind. I wouldn’t mind seeing him rise up again for a sequel, provided the story is on point and the film is made with the kind of attention to detail and craftsmanship as this one obviously was.