The Night Child (1975)

Rating: C

Dir: Massimo Dallamano
Star: Richard Johnson, Joanna Cassidy, Nicoletta Elmi, Lila Kedrova
a.k.a. Perché?! or Il medaglione insanguinato or Together Forever or The Cursed Medallion

So, take your pick of these titles. Under any of them, this is a somewhat atmospheric yet, in the end, not very exciting entity. It’s the story of documentary film-maker Michael Williams (Johnson), who is bringing up his daughter, Emily (Elmi), after the death of his wife in a fiery accident. He heads to Italy to do some research, and begins an affair with the documentary’s production manager, Joanna Morgan (Cassidy). Unimpressed by this, for different reasons, are both Emily and her nanny. Emily’s behaviour, never great since witnessing her parent’s demise, has become increasingly erratic since taking possession of a medallion that belonged to her mother. Is she acting out, or has she… oh, I dunno, been possessed by the spirit of a murderous young girl from the 18th century?

Fortunately for the plot, Countess Cappelli (Kedrova) is on hand, a psychic who can provide the necessary exposition, as we proceed through a series of fairly low-key accidents around the family, such a statue in a villa, crashing to the floor. Among the debris is a double-ended sword which will be left lying around for future relevance to the plot, and a medallion, exactly like the one Emily wears. The little girl is plagued by nightmares of her 18th-century self being pursued by a mob of villagers with pitchforks, and the Countess finds a letter detailing how the previous child killed her family in the throes of demonic possession. If you suspect this is not going to end well, two points.

It’s a slightly-different variant, among the slew of Exorcist knock-offs that appeared out of Italy in the mid-seventies. You have the same innocent, prepubescent female conduit for the evil entity, and a single parent who refuses to believe in the supernatural, to their cost. However, the devil seems to be adopting a rather more hands-off approach here, operating from a distance of a couple of centuries, and in a way that is never clearly explained. More or less what we know is entirely dependent on Countess Cappelli, and she’s not exactly citing her sources. It’s all a bit frustrating, not helped by some of the worst “fall to your death” effects I’ve seen, and a soundtrack which extends to one (1) tune, remixed differently.

There are positives, fortunately, The photography is nice, with good use made of the local landscapes and buildings around the historic city of Spoleto. Elmi is also good, portraying Emily in a way that’s surprisingly sympathetic. She had a slew of roles in Italian horror movies of the seventies, from Flesh For Frankenstein (where she played the Baron’s daughter) to Deep Red – she was also the usherette in Demons. However, the rest of the film still struggles to keep your attention, with things like the romance between Michael and Joanna foundering on the pair’s lack of chemistry, and bringing proceedings to a halt as a result. The devil here is not in the details.