Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Off Script: Village of the Damned

Film: Village of the Damned
Format: DVD from Peru Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

I like a good horror movie, and the ones I tend to appreciate more than others are the ones that don’t go the full monty and show everything. Cerebral horror is hard to do well, so when it is, I tend to be very happy. Films like The Haunting are the type that (my opinion) scare smart people. Someone has to be willing to buy into the premise enough to actually think through implications and things that have only been hinted at. As I said, it’s difficult to do well.

The original Village of the Damned is a film that manages to keep things in the realm of the creepy without getting too terribly scary. The film is unnerving in many places, working on ideas of late 1950s and early 1960s paranoia, fears of science and invasion, and a host of disturbing children, and you’ve got something that, while not scary, is certainly thought-provoking and disquieting.

In the small British town of Midwich, on an otherwise ordinary day, everyone in town falls into a deep sleep. It’s not just the people—everything in town falls asleep. The dogs, the cows, presumably every living thing in town takes a siesta. This is discovered by Alan Bernard (Michael Gwynn) when he attempts to phone his sister and gets no answer. He goes to investigate and discovers that there appears to be a hard and fast border around the area. Anyone entering drops off to sleep. Eventually, everyone and everything wakes up.

We switch our focus now to Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders), a scientist who lives in Midwich, and the brother-in-law of Alan Bernard. Without much fanfare, Zellaby’s wife Anthea (Barbara Shelley) discovers that she is pregnant. And, it turns out, she’s not the only one. A total of twelve women in the village are pregnant, and several claim that there is no way they could be in the sense exactly as you are thinking. Eventually, all twelve of the children are born on the same day. All twelve mature at an incredibly rapid pace, and all are disturbingly smart. It doesn’t take long for Zellaby to determine that the children (all of whom are disturbingly blond and blue-eyed) share a sort of hive mind.

Zellaby convinces the British government to give him a year with the children, a year to discover what might actually be behind the presence of the children and their particular skills and qualities. The government grudgingly agrees, but then several important discoveries are made that cause a change in thinking. First, it becomes evident that the children are capable of taking over the minds of others and controlling their actions. This is evident when a townsman almost strikes one of the children with his car, and shortly after drives his car at speed into a wall. Later, when the man’s brother tries to take some revenge, he instead puts the gun under his chin and blows off his own head—a scene that works despite showing almost nothing. It also becomes apparent that Midwich is not the only village with such children—there are several other communities around the world with these weird wunderkinds. However, through accident or influence, the British ones are the only still surviving.

It falls to Zellaby to handle the problem, knowing that the children—by their own admission—can read at least his surface thoughts. This all culminates in his attempt to remove the problem completely without the children discovering how.

Village of the Damned is a B-movie, but it does everything right. Instead of giving us a great deal of gore and scare, it aims for creepy and disturbing and nails it right on the head. The children are similar enough in appearance to be sort of awful without being truly evil or terrifying. It’s the right tone to set for a film like this that wants the audience to be more concerned with the implications of these alien children than with specifically scaring the audience. The whole point is paranoia, of being unsettling rather than terrifying.

The biggest issue Village of the Damned has today is selling itself to a modern market. In a world where most horror movies not only show us the monster but all of the gore we can handle and more, a film that works much on a much more subtle level starts with a few strikes against it.

It’s not by any means a perfect film. For one thing, it’s far too short, and a bit slow to start. Still, few films tap into that Cold War paranoia as well as Village of the Damned.

Why to watch Village of the Damned: Creepy kids are always fun, and these kids rank among the creepiest.
Why not to watch: It should be longer.


  1. Dude, George Sanders is in this? I didn't know that. He's an actor who automatically makes anything better, at least for me. I suppose I should see this one day. All I know about this movie comes from its parodies on "The Simpsons."

    1. It's worth seeing. At 70 minutes or so, it's not like you need to set aside an afternoon for it.

  2. One of my personal favorites!

    I didn't like the remake as well.

    1. You should tell that to my podcasting partner Nick, who prefers the remake to the original.