Village of the Damned
village of the damned | wolf rilla | stirling silliphant | ronald kinnoch | george sanders | barbara shelley | michael gwynn | alien | aliens | sci-fi | sci fi | based on | novel | jon wyndham | united kingdom | laurence naismith | john phillips | martin stephens | children
Film: Village of the Damned
Director: Wolf Rilla
Writer: Stirling Silliphant, Wolf Rilla and Ronald Kinnoch
Starring: George Sanders, Barbara Shelley and Michael Gwynn
This is another movie that I actually watched the remake long before I got around to this one. I know my mother spoke very highly of it as this is an era from when she was growing up and loves these older films. It is also one that I’ve been intrigued to check out as I’ve heard it is superior. The synopsis is in the English village of Midwich, the blonde-haired, glowing-eyed children of uncertain paternity prove to have frightening powers.
We start this off in the idyllic town of Midwich. We have Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders) talking to his brother-in-law Major Alan Bernard (Michael Gwynn). Alan is due up to the town soon, but Gordon falls asleep on his end. This causes concerns to Alan who goes about figuring out what happened. The operator can’t get through, causing him to go to his superiors.
They soon learn that everyone in this village has fallen asleep. This goes on for a few hours and a military operation takes place to figure out what is happening. They see there’s an odd perimeter that anyone who enters it also passes out. They even figure out that it reaches into the air when an airplane they’re using to scout crashes. Just as mysterious as everyone falling asleep, everyone wakes up.
Things seem to go back to normal, aside from being a bit cold and the fact that every woman of maturity to have children is now pregnant. Gordon and his wife, Anthea (Barbara Shelley), are elated. Others are not so much. There is one man who is returning from a year long tour in the military to find his wife is pregnant. We also have Evelyn Harrington (Sarah Long) who is only 17. Some don’t believe that they were conceived immaculately. What helps them to believe though is the vicar in the village confirms that at least 4 women are also pregnant.
The people in the village become scared when all of the children are given birth within hours of each other. They all look the same with blonde hair and Gordon discovers they think in a hive mind, where if you teach one of them something, the rest know. He tests this theory with a Chinese puzzle box with his own ‘son’ David (Martin Stephens). He then goes around to others and they also solve it quickly.
This isn’t just happening here though. The military learns of a few other areas where similar children were born from an incident like we saw here. What really scares them though is that these children seem to be harboring a power. Their eyes glow and they can make us do things. They also can read our minds. Gordon is convinced though this could be something good for science to teach and then learn from them, but what they are capable of is even more terrifying to society and the world.
Now that I’ve actually seen this I really dig what this movie is doing here. Seeing when this came out it makes a lot of sense. Where I want to take this first are a couple things that I picked when I learned there was a novel to this movie. The novel goes by the name ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’. What I like here is the cuckoo bird will lay their eggs in a nest of other birds and then will take most of the food, resulting in killing its ‘siblings’. There is an interesting allegory here to what these children are doing to this village. They really only kill when someone attempts to hurt them. The issue that I could see arising, what is stopping them from eliminating others when they lose their usefulness? Keep in mind, they are only children still.
Something that also struck me was that this is during the ‘Red Scare’. We get to learn that there were two different groups of these children that were born in the Soviet Union. What is interesting though, I’m from the United States and it is well documented the fear here over the Soviets and communism. I’m not sure to the extent of other countries, but there does seem to be at least in part some of this fear in the United Kingdom. I could see most democracies or republics being scared of communism. Taking this farther, it does feel in part that the government allows Gordon his experiment when they learn that one of the villages is keeping their children alive to study them. Since there were different competitions like the space or arms race, then I could see if this happened being another one. It is interesting as well with what happens to this other grouping.
We also never really learn what the cause here is as well. It is thought to be aliens. Gordon tries to figure out and they’re much too smart as to what he’s doing. This is a tense scene which in normal cases you wouldn’t expect from them. What we’ve seen these children force others to do though already, including I believe Anthea when she tries to give a bottle of milk that is too hot. These children are just creepy with how put together they always are, how they dress similar and just so polite. Together it adds just a feeling that eerie.
I feel next I should take this to the acting. First, I love the voice of Sanders. It took me only a few minutes to realize he’s from the Disney animated version of The Jungle Book from back in the day as the voice of Shere Khan the tiger. He’s interesting as the only person who wants to study these children while those who are on his level are in fear of them. It should be pointed out, the town he lives is also scared of them for the most part. Shelley is solid as well. She doesn’t get a lot in this movie, but we get to see her maternal instincts toward David. I also thought Gwynn was solid as the military man who sides against his family. Stephens is good as David, the leader of the children. They’re all just so creepy for what I said above. The rest of the cast I thought was fine for what was needed.
Speaking of how creepy the children are, I should shift this over to the effects. We don’t get a lot of them, which a lot of that is from the era. The best effect though is the children’s eyes when they’re using their power. Their stare is creepy to start. There is just something about children doing that for one thing, but we get their eyes glowing. I did read about how they did the effect which is interesting and that it was removed from prints early on as it was too frightening for an ‘A’ classification. Aside from that we get a car accident and punishing Anthea. We cut away without seeing anything, but we do know what happens which is effective. Really the only effect I have issue with would be the ending and it doesn’t ruin the movie. The cinematography though is solid in my opinion.
The last thing to go over would be the soundtrack. For the most part it doesn’t really stand out and is fine. What I wanted to comment on is the sound that is used when the children are using their power is great. It just gives off an eerie vibe and makes me wonder if the people can hear it as well. It doesn’t really matter if not, but it would be uncomfortable. It really a play with the concept of them having a hive mind as well as it does feel kind of like the vibrating you get with bees wings.
With that said, I really ended up digging this movie, but I don’t love it. It is much better than the remake, but that is also not saying much. I really like the concept of these children being possible from space or that we just have an evolutionary jump that is an anomaly. Being that they’re like ants or bees with their hive mind and the idea of the children being like cuckoos. Seeing how powerful they are is scary for what they can become. I think the movie has an interesting allegory to aliens/those just different from us. The acting is good and the limited effects used are solid for the most part. I think the sound effects work in general. I think a bit more as the movie is short could flesh it out, but not necessarily needed. To me this is a good movie and really worth a viewing. I will say this is from 1960 and is in black and white. If that’s an issue, avoid it.
My Rating: 8 out of 10