Ever since the wife of television documentary maker Michael Williams (Richard Johnson) died in a tragic fire, his young daughter Emily (Nicoletta Elmi) has been having nighmares and suffering trauma from the dreadful event. He has help from the girl's nanny Jill Perkins (Ida Galli) to get her through her night terrors, but soon they are forced to take her back to the doctor's where they are told Emily has undergone another breakdown and it's advisable for her father to stay with her as much as possible. Now Michael must go to Italy for work, and decides to take Emily and Jill with him...
Italian cinema was littered with imitative works, especially once its own, closer to homegrown genres such as the sword and sandal efforts dried up, so when both Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist were the hits they were, it was natural for the filmmakers of that country to start creating their own versions for cash-in purposes. Of course, they were not alone in that as there were copies from all over the world, some (The Omen) more successful than others (I Don't Want to be Born), yet there was something about the way the Italians picked up the style and ran with it that drew the cultists. In this case, The Night Child was neither the best nor the worst of them.
At least it took in another hit horror movie as an influence, which was Don't Look Now, a work shot in Venice after all, and here they settled in another Italian town in Spoleto for their backdrop, one which includes all the culture necessary to lend this a touch of class. It actually began, as this was a British co-production, in London where we have the amusement of seeing Johnson go to work for the BBC at the legendary Television Centre, where he is attending to a new series called Diabolical Art. That doesn't mean he goes about lambasting paintings and sculpture with "Pah, this is dreadful, a child of five could have done better!", as here the "Diabolical" refers to The Devil himself.
That's right, Michael is dabbling in Beelzebub's domain, and in a fashion that continues much to this day in chillers, his refusal to believe in him and treat his project purely academically leads to the even then hackneyed sceptic gets in over his head plotline when it turns out he was wrong all along about eschewing the supernatural. So really you have a film that has few surprises even at the outset, though apparently recognising this director and co-writer Massimo Dallamano (who would be dead in a car crash within the year, sadly) emphasised the cultural aspects, much as Nicolas Roeg had done in his Venice movie. That many of these elements were unconvincing was not an obstacle to enjoyment, for there was enough mayhem to divert the jaded palate.
Though it did feel very familiar with red-haired, piercing-eyed Elmi doing her party piece as the creepy kid yet again, though Joanna Cassidy was a different face for this type of thing, an American import taking the part of Joanna Morgan, the assistant who is supposed to help out Michael and winds up in his bed, predictably. However, it wouldn't be a horror movie without someone dying, and before long the medallion she wears that used to belong to Emily's mother seems to be affecting the girl, and she keeps having flashbacks to some witchhunt of centuries before - is she imagining it or did this really happen? What she's not imagining is characters falling from great heights courtesy of not very good special effects, as the tendrils of Satan's meddling come to fruition, though quite what he gets out of this and why God doesn't step in to slap him down is not revealed. It ends with a farcical finale which works against the mood that has been built up, but then, there are misjudgements before that too. Music by Stelvio Cipriani.