VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED
(director: Wolf Rilla; screenwriters: based on John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos/Stirling Silliphant; cinematographer: Geoffrey Faithfull; editor: Gordon Hales; music: Ron Goodwin; cast: George Sanders (Gordon Zellaby), Barbara Shelley (Anthea Zellaby), Laurence Naismith (Doctor Willers), Michael C. Gwynne (Alan Bernard), John Phillips (General Leighton), Richard Vernon (Sir Edgar Hargraves), Martin Stephens (David Zellaby), Bernard Archard (Vicar), Peter Vaughan (Gobby); Runtime: 77; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ronald Kinnoch; MGM; 1960-UK)
“Village of the Damned remains an intelligent creepy tale that has not lost its luster over time.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A splendid sci-fi film adapted by director Wolf Rilla from John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos. What seemed to be missing from the book, were the cuckoos. It was made for under $300,000, and the film’s only recognized star at the time was the suave 54-year old George Sanders. He’s Professor Gordon Zellaby, a happily married resident in the small English village of Midwich. His perfectly charming wife is the 27-year-old Anthea Zellaby (Barbara Shelley). One day for several hours everyone in Midwich mysteriously blacks out, and just as suddenly as they went under they awaken from their trance. Two months later all the village women (12 of them) who can bear children find they are pregnant from an unnatural force that possessed them during their fainting spell when the village was cut off from the rest of England. The children are all born healthy and look similar: they are all golden-haired robot-like aliens with super-intelligence, no human emotions, strange eyes that have the power to stare at someone while putting them under a spell, the ability to read minds and communicate telepathically, and all are of one mind–so if you teach one of them something they all learn it even if they weren’t physically present.
As the children grow to school age, the mere presence of them in town and how oddly cold they act makes them outcasts with their peers as well as with the adults. Also, disturbing to the locals is that a few village children have died from unexplained causes. But the incident that shows how the children will not adjust to humans, is when a motorist nearly runs down one of the children and the Zellaby child, David (Martin Stephens), the ringleader, gets a group of alien children to stare down the motorist as their eyes devilishly glow. The motorist goes into a spell and crashes his car deliberately into a wall, which kills him as the car goes up in flames. The inquest rules it an accident. When the motorist’s brother tries to use his shotgun against the children in revenge, they stare him down and he instead blows his head off.
Gordon argues with the local military commander, General Leighton (John Phillips), that the children shouldn’t be imprisoned but science should have a chance to study their super powers. The high ranking British government official, Sir Edgar Hargraves (Vernon), decides to let Gordon be responsible for the children and gives him a year to get some results. The children now all live together in the schoolhouse and Gordon is their teacher, and is the only adult in town whom they respect.
When the men in the pub decide to burn down the schoolhouse with the children in it rather than wait for the children to destroy them first if they don’t act, it only results in all the village menfolk being forced into burning themselves with their own torches by the children’s use of their kinetic powers. When Gordon’s brother-in-law, Major Bernard (Michael C. Gwynne), tries to intervene to get the children to behave properly, they paralyze him into a state of temporary shock to warn the others of their growing powers. Gordon realizes that it’s up to him to handle these uncontrollable “damned children,” because calling in the army will not help–the children who are determined to survive will only brainwash the troops to fire on each other. He gets his chance when the children request that he secretly help them escape from the village. Gordon meets them in the schoolhouse with a briefcase packed with dynamite and his mind fixated on an image of a brick wall to act as a shield so the children can’t read his mind.
By keeping everything elementary and not relying on gimmicks or special effects, Village of the Damned remains an intelligent creepy tale that has not lost its luster over time. This sci-fi horror story may not make much sense if analyzed as no explanations for what happened were made by the filmmaker, but it sets a spooky atmosphere and the film’s sinister tone is superbly presented–the children make for wonderfully creepy monsters. It’s also easy to speculate that the animosity between the village’s adults and the alien children is a generation gap thing, or just a typical response to outsiders as invaders, or just another alien as-the-enemy film leftover from the plethora of such 1950s sci-fiers. Three years later came a sequel “Children of the Damned.”
REVIEWED ON 11/2/2002 GRADE: B