Comfortable and Furious

The Gleeful Slaughter of Children

Being an ex-teacher, I naturally hate kids.

For almost four years I had to endure their relentless energy, selfishness, demands, spite and mediocrity, leaving me with the impression that the average child shares a lot in common with a small, intoxicated, unruly visitor from outer space. Think of a half-cut E.T. kicking your shins and then retreating to a corner to snigger with its mates. That was my working day. Honestly, there’s no better contraceptive out there than classroom contact.

Those four long years also left me baffled why people reproduce. For a start, I can’t think of anything worse than having to spend money on stuff like nappies. You’re literally handing over precious cash for someone else to shit on what you’ve just bought. That’s why I’m amused by those Facebook groups set up for parents who regret having taken the plunge. Sure, most of ’em still love their crotch spawn, but they can’t help recalling what life was like before the pitter-patter of tiny talons. Parenting, they feel, is an expensive, exhausting and unfulfilling slog. Or as Johnny Rotten once muttered: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” Such simmering discontent sure does allow me to indulge in a smug smile or two, fueling the belief I’ve dodged a bullet rather than face the fact that no woman in her right mind would sleep with me.

Anyhow, you only have to look to the cinema for confirmation of how irritating the average kid is. How many flicks have they polluted with their wholesomeness, whining or woeful lack of acting ability? Sure, we occasionally get Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, River Phoenix in The Mosquito Coast or the magnificently creepy siblings in The Innocents, but most of the time we’re lumbered with the equivalent of that irritating fuck-wad Short Round in Temple of Doom. Look at Terminator 2. It’s a fine movie that boasts the shape-shifting T-1000, a pumped-up Linda Hamilton and some ultra-cool stunts, but it has one abiding flaw: Mankind’s future savior, John Connor, is a dick. After spending a few minutes in the company of this pubescent cunt dropping, in which he forbids Arnie from killing anyone, I can’t help praying for the machines to triumph.

I also get irked by filmmakers shying away from (or plain refusing) to kill the wee ones. Things started so well back in 1931 when Frankenstein’s monster innocently chucked a girl into the drink to see if she’d float like a flower, but it wasn’t long before that scene was hacked out by those child-revering censors. What the hell’s so bad about splatting kids? Why’s it still such a taboo? Look how James Cameron wimped out by not killing the doll-clutching Newt in Aliens, even when the xenomorph reared up behind her. When are we going to see the renowned child killer Freddy Krueger carve up a poppet rather than a bunch of over-aged teens? Am I the only one gutted by Tom Cruise’s hateful daughter in War of the Worlds escaping the aliens’ desiccating ray guns?

Thankfully, there are some directors happy to serve up soggy children on toast in flicks like Don’t Look Now. Romero did his bit by having two zombie kids shot at close range during Dawn of the Dead. Irwin Allen upped the ante by getting into double figures in The Swarm. Graham Baker struck a momentous blow for good taste while butchering hundreds of newborns in Omen III: The Final Conflict. Then again, someone like Alfonso Cuaron got awfully confused in 2006’s dystopian Children of Men by thinking he was presenting human infertility as a bad thing.

Ladies and gentlemen, a dearth of kiddi-winks is exactly what we should be aiming for.

Timmy failing to get a wriggle on in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

What would you do if you popped inside your house to freshen up for an al fresco lunch to welcome your new step mom and came back outside to find your dad and older siblings lying dead in the dust?

Well, poor little Timmy (Enzo Santaneillo) doesn’t do much at all. He just stands there clutching a bottle of drink as the hired gun Frank (Henry Fonda) and his four cohorts emerge from the bushes and advance.

Timmy obviously can’t get a handle on what’s happened, no doubt oblivious to the value of the bloodstained land he’s standing on and what some men in big business will do to get their grasping hands on it. A few minutes earlier he’d been running around the arid terrain collecting grouse his father shot down. Everything was cool, even if his sister had just warned him not to touch that yummy, freshly baked apple pie.

And now… this?

OK, there were those odd couple of moments when the incessant cicada song stopped, as if the insects knew something bad was afoot, but that wasn’t much of a warning for such carnage.

Timmy remains frozen to the spot as director Sergio Leone gives us a trademark close-up of his freckled, uncomprehending face, accompanied by a typically brilliant burst of searing guitar and harmonica to heighten the suspense. The lone survivor seems to know there’s not much point fleeing. He’s never gonna outrun five armed outlaws anyway. All he can do is rely on his tender age being a case for mercy, but given the look in Frank’s ice-cold blue eyes his chances appear slim.

“What are we gonna do with this one, Frank?” a fellow gang member asks. Frank merely glances at him and spits. “Now that you’ve called me by name…” he replies, pushing aside his coat to unholster his pistol while subtly shifting the blame for what he’s about to do.

Two things are for sure: Leone knows how to direct and Frank’s one pitiless motherfucker.

Alex the floating fish bait in Jaws (1975)

The second killing in Spielberg’s classic isn’t quite in the same horrifying league as the half-drunk, early-morning skinny-dipper who gets chomped in the opening five minutes, but its victim (in a PG movie) is still a lovely surprise.

Alex is your typical kid enjoying a day out at the beach. Clearly a water baby, his mom is already expressing concern that his hands have gone prune-like as he begs her to go back in. “Just ten more minutes,” she tells him. Well, honey, a great white the size of a submarine sure as shit don’t need that long. And so, Alex returns to the calm sea on his yellow airbed, paddling out as his mother watches.

Spielberg is smart enough to show other potential victims, such as a stick-retrieving mutt and a fat old biddy floating on a rubber ring with her toes out of the water. We even get a couple of red herrings in the form of an old guy’s fin-like, bathing cap-clad head breaking the surface while a girl lets out an excited scream as her playful boyfriend grabs her underwater and upends her.

None of this amuses the uptight Chief Brody (Roy Schieder), who’s re-opened the beaches under pressure and against his better nature, and is now torturing himself by pointlessly sitting on the sand. After all, what can he do on dry land observing the frolicking townsfolk in a vaguely paranoid way?

Shit or get off the pot, son.

The first sign that something’s up is the dog owner pacing the shoreline calling his pet’s name. Said dog is nowhere to be seen and appears to have retrieved its last stick. Then a load of young kids take the plunge, giving us those eerie submerged shots of dangling, kicking, and eminently bite able legs as John Williams’ iconic score makes the hairs on the back of our necks stand up. We see the airbed’s blurry underside and the music increases in intensity. Spielberg switches to the surface, there’s a flurry of fins, Alex’s arm shoots up into the air and a picturesque geyser of blood erupts. Cue a mass exodus before the shredded airbed forlornly washes up on the beach.

Christ, doncha love the movies?

Little Buddy getting the mother of all headaches in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

It goes without saying that any attempt to kill off America’s children in their entirety is bound to get a double thumbs up from me. What makes it better in this much-derided but fun third part of the Halloween franchise is that our Irish arch-villain Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) doesn’t even possess an intelligible reason. Sure, he mumbles something about ancient Celtic forces, the planets having aligned and a pagan blood sacrifice from three millennia ago, but… well, I can’t work out his motive or how the hell this hugely successful, Halloween mask-making businessman is going to benefit. Perhaps hating kids is all the grounds a man needs.

Nevertheless, Conal’s insane level of misanthropy has seen him not only stay a bachelor but surround himself with obedient, non-smiling, super-strong androids at his hi-tech Californian factory, Silver Shamrock Novelties. He clearly prefers the company of plastic, rubber and stone to something as repellent as nourishing relationships and warm human flesh. Not that he doesn’t have a sense of humor. After all, we’re told this is the guy who invented ‘sticky toilet paper’ and the ‘soft chainsaw’.

The japester.

So, how’s he going to pull off this much-needed, snigger-inducing annihilation of youth? Well, he’s nicked a chunk of Stonehenge and sneakily brought it back to his factory to harness its mystical power. (You’d think someone might notice the theft of a ten-ton standing stone from the world’s most famous prehistoric monument, but never mind). Utilizing his genius with electronics, he’s built a microchip containing a tiny piece of Stonehenge and attached it to the back of the masks. All the kids have to do is wear their masks while watching a TV ad campaign on the 31st and hey presto, the device is triggered and they’re history.

Like any bona fide megalomaniac, Conal loves giving a demonstration of his power. This is where Little Buddy (Brad Schacter) plays his memorable part. Ushered into Test Room A with his stupid, chirpy mum and dad, he delivers the line “I have to go to the bathroom” with such aplomb you can see why he was the natural choice eight years later to play a parking attendant in an Ally Sheedy flick. But Little Buddy has taken his last piss. Faced with a locked door and nothing else to do, he slips on a jack-o-lantern mask as the TV commercial plays. “Honey, don’t get too close,” his mum says. “You’ll ruin your eyes.” Before long he’s clutching his head and falling to the floor in front of the glowing TV set, hands shaking, as his parents wonder what the hell’s going on. A whole load of insects spill from his ruined head, mummy faints, and rattlesnakes start slithering out.

Brilliant. Like just about everything else in this amusingly bonkers flick it makes no sense whatsoever, but brilliant.

The pint-sized gangster boss in RoboCop 2 (1990)

Robocop 2 might be a loud, overlong headache of a movie, but at least it provides some respite by splatting a kid. What a shame we first have to suffer through an hour and a half of Hob (Gabriel Damon) swearing, dealing drugs, trying to garrote Nancy Allen, shooting cops and generally avoiding having his naughty little botty smacked.

Of course, Robocop can’t shoot juveniles as that’s against his programming, even though Hob is introduced loosening off a round into his half-metallic head. Not that the smirking Hob even thinks about apologizing. Or as he gloatingly informs Robocop: “Can’t shoot a kid, can you, fucker?”

At no point is it explained how a cocky brat can rise so high in Detroit’s main criminal gang, let alone take it over. The script tries hard to make him devilishly charismatic, but he just reminds me of a precocious classmate I had in 1981 who could do the Rubik’s Cube in two minutes flat in front of admiring girls. Alas, my prayers for a pedophilic abduction back then were never answered but at least Hob ends up eating lead.

However, considering he’s the main villain and this is an R-rated flick, it’s odd how we aren’t treated to the sight of bullets thudding into his stick-thin frame. Instead, Robocop has to deal with a hideously clumsy metaphor, finding the tedious shit lying fatally wounded on a pile of bloodstained money in the back of an armored van. Weirdly, their personal history, in which Hob enthusiastically helped dismember the law enforcer with a sledgehammer and pneumatic drill (“They say he’s got a brain. I wanna see it!”) is forgotten. All we’re left with is Hob grabbing a concerned Robocop’s hand and pleading: “Don’t leave me.”

This might’ve been forgiven if Robocop had then drowned him in vomit.

The little girl in red in the otherwise monochrome Schindler’s List (1993)

Is the spotlight placed on a cute toddler during a sustained sequence of barely comprehensible savagery a brilliant directorial decision that lyrically encapsulates the Holocaust’s horror?

Or is it a gimmick?

Frankly, I’m not sure, but I’ll tell you one thing: it fucking well works. I’m not even sure why, but it might have something to do with tapping into the wisdom allegedly espoused by that cuddly ol’ mass murderer Joseph Stalin: One death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic.

Whatever the case, this unnamed, dark-haired child (Oliwia Dabrowska) is first spotted by Schindler (Liam Neeson) as he sits astride a horse on a hilltop looking down at the Krakow Ghetto’s chaotic liquidation. Here we get enraged Nazi demands for ID, sewers being clambered into, agonizing separations, the euthanasia of bed-bound hospital patients, mass panic, and brains being blown against walls.

Then into this murderous maelstrom comes a little girl wearing a distinctive red coat. Neither the terrified Jews nor their Aryan aggressors appear to notice her unsteady gait. It’s a vaguely surreal moment, as if Schindler is imagining her. She just keeps wandering alone, providing an eye-catching focal point for one of history’s most violent storms.

Later, Schindler is talking to Amon Goth (Ralph Fiennes) as the concentration camp boss complains onsite that the ‘party’s over’ because all those incriminating bodies need to be dug up and incinerated. Schindler holds a handkerchief against his lower face to blot out the stench, but lowers it in surprise when he sees the little girl’s exhumed body on a handcart being hurriedly wheeled toward a crematorium pit, her red coat caked in filth.

He has no words.

Sick Boy’s doomed kid in Trainspotting (1996)

Alice Cooper could do little wrong between 1971 and 1976 as exemplified by his top album, Killer. Here we get classics like Halo of Flies and the title track, as well as the ditty Dead Babies, in which Alice condemns selfish, hedonistic parents neglecting their little ones. ‘Dead babies can’t take care of themselves…’ he trills in his typically mock-serious way. ‘Well, we didn’t want you anyway.’

Such a message might resonate with Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), a person described by a mate early on as someone who’s ‘always been lacking in moral fibre’. Indeed, he’s a parasite, happy to steal, rob, deal drugs and reel off his knowledge of Connery-era Bond all day long. Oh yeah, he’s also a long way from being the world’s best father. Well, why go to the trouble of changing nappies, reading bedtime stories and everything else when you can zone out on skag?

Or as he concisely explains: “Heroin’s got great fucking personality.”

Maybe things would’ve turned out differently if he hadn’t given the equally blameworthy mother her first hit in a drug den, but at least she shows consistency by pleading for another loving spoonful after their infant child is discovered dead in its crib. Sick Boy might weep, but it’s up to Renton to suffer hallucinatory withdrawal symptoms of the wronged kid crawling across the ceiling.

James Bone Jr. getting gunned down in City Hall (1996)

Children should be seen and not heard, so the saying goes. Now I agree with this sentiment, although I like to give it a quirky twist: Children should be seen to be shot in the back and not heard. For that’s what we get at the start of the all right Al Pacino vehicle City Hall, a somewhat surprising development given the film is saddled with perhaps the dullest title of all time.

The kid in question is six-year-old James Bone Jr. (Jaliyl Lynn). He’s being led to school hand in hand with his dad. The weather’s shit but at least his raincoat and his father’s umbrella are keeping him dry. Meanwhile, a no-nonsense Brooklyn detective is getting ready to ambush a mobster. James passes the unshaven scumbag waiting on a corner and turns to see the guy wink at him. A few seconds later the cop arrives, there’s a gunfight, and it’s an imminent case of smoked pork. Somehow the cop manages to shoot back while lying fatally wounded on the drenched pavement, causing the baddie to stagger and fire wildly.

Oh, dear.

Little James hasn’t even managed to cross the road when a stray bullet catches him smack bang between the shoulder blades. A thrilling jet of blood spurts out, leaving a scarlet trail down his bright yellow jacket. His anguished father can only cradle his body and turn to try to work out what the fuck just happened.

It’s a tragedy, but at least New York’s mayor (played by Pacino) finds a fitting perspective: “It costs a lot of money to have our children slaughtered in the streets.”

Steak and Fries experiencing a little indigestion in City of God (2002)

City of God excels at showing unbridled bloodshed feeding on itself. It drops you headfirst into a Brazilian hellhole in which hope has long been abandoned. Poverty’s rampant. Jobs are scarce. Honest people are routinely trampled upon. Sexual harassment and worse are the norm. The corrupt cops are just as likely to kill you as the bad guys. Drugs have a stranglehold. Guns are everywhere. Death can blindside you at any moment. And trigger-happy gangsters like Li’l Ze (Leandro Firmino) rule this particular Rio ghetto.

Life is not so much cheap as a lousy bet.

When a gang of prepubescent kids known as The Runts start pissing everyone off with their holdups, muggings and general lack of respect, Li’l Ze decides it’s a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. On the way to find them he drops by the home of a newly recruited teen gang member called Steak and Fries (Darlan Cunha). “Mom,” Steak calls out while closing the front door, “I’m going out with my friends.”

Dressed in a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, he could be off to the park to kick a ball around, but Li’l Ze is keen to find out what he’s made of. Meanwhile, The Runts have gathered to joke and boast about their latest robbery. Perhaps these little buggers are hardcore perps in the making or maybe their minor league crimes are nothing more than a game, something to relieve the dead-end boredom. What’s clear is they’re at an age where burping on cue still provokes group laughter.

When Li’l Ze and his cronies arrive, they appear happy to good-naturedly break up The Runts by doling out a few insults and slaps until two of the transgressors are cornered. In an instant Li’l Ze is asking them to choose between being shot in the hand or foot as an unsettled Steak slinks to the back of the group. A few missing toes later Li’l Ze demands Steak execute one of the wounded children. The gun looks huge in his unsteady hand as the others laugh and urge him on. Steak is at a pivotal point in his short life, although he doesn’t really have any choice. Now all that’s left of his rapidly ebbing morality is the decision to select the older boy, close his eyes and wordlessly carry out his boss’ command. With the initiation over and the child slumped lifeless in a corner, the camera stays on the back of Steak’s head. We don’t get to see his face. Has Steak blown a hole in his own soul as well as the kid’s chest?

This well-directed scene has no score, no possibility of a dramatic last-minute intervention, and no howling, hand-wringing aftermath. Instead, it’s presented as run of the mill, leaving you with the sense that a child killing a child is nothing much to get excited about in the City of God.



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