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Still from Village of the Damned, 1960

From the DVD case: We have met the enemies and they are our children. Well, perhaps not our children, and that’s the problem: they are the offspring of aliens who secretly impregnated human women!

That’s the riveting premise of Village of the Damned, a science-fiction classic rife with paranoia and set in England’s tiny Midwich. There, the glow-eyed humanoids develop at an alarming rate and use astonishing powers of mind to assert their supremacy. Woe to parents or anyone who defies them. Yet one intrepid soul (George Sanders) does. (1960, b&w)

Mark says: This is another marvelous film saddled with an unfortunate title. It is based on the John Wyndham novel, Midwich Cuckoos. Cuckoos being birds that lay their eggs in foreign nests to be raised by foreign parents. Wyndham also penned the novel, Day of the Triffids, which was used as a basis for another B film.

What I admire so much about Village of the Damned is how understated it is. The events unfold in a tiny town populated with predominantly common people. There is something about ordinary people dealing with extraordinary circumstances that naturally draws our interest.

The children, led by Martin Stephens (The Innocents, The Witches), are effectively cool and creepy. The simple effect of their glowing eyes is supremely chilling, as well as efficient. As a kid you both fear and envy these children with their ruthless control over the adult world.

The protagonist of this movie is Prof. Gordon Zellaby, played wonderfully by George Sanders (The Picture of Dorian Gray). He is not only a scientist assigned to the matter, but the “father” of the lead child. Barbara Shelley (Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Quartermass and the Pit) plays his much younger wife, Anthea, who struggles between a maternal love and justified fear of her son. You may also recognize Michael Gwynn (Revenge of Frankenstein, Scars of Dracula) as Prof. Zellaby’s brother-in-law, Maj. Alan Bernard.

Besides a strong cast, who play their parts without a hint of campiness, Village of the Damned also possesses powerful direction from Wolf Rilla. The scenes are crisp and subtle. There is very little onscreen violence, but suspense and suggestion are used competently. Even without a lot of action, we never lose interest in the story. It is more than a little refreshing to watch a film of this genre that holds our attention by the use of ideas rather than overblown effects and violence.

Village of the Damned gets a hearty recommendation from me.

Scene to watch for: Always test the temperature of the milk on your wrist first before feeding it to your alien child.

Line to listen for: “You have to be taught to leave us alone.”

Note: If you happen to come across the Warner Bros. DVD featuring Village of the Damned combined with the adequate but inferior sequel, Children of the Damned, buy it. Not only will you get a good price for two films, but film historian Steve Haberman’s commentary on Village of the Damned is full of interesting facts and tidbits.

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ! ! out of 5.

IMDB Link

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3 Comments

  1. Mark: About a year ago I bought the double feature you referred to. I was surprised when my wife and son wanted to watch it. My wife usually doesn’t’ like science fiction and generally goes to another room when I watch my favorite Hammer films. My son doesn’t like anything British, because he doesn’t like their accent. On the other hand, I love to hear them speak. In fact, I’ve loved to listen to George Sanders ever since he voiced the tiger in Disney’s The Jungle Book. As it turned out, my wife liked the first movie and even gave a nod to the sequel. I think my son liked the titles more than the movies, since it allowed him to say the “D” word without getting in trouble, but the creepy kids with those eerie glowing eyes scared him enough to where he didn’t want to sleep alone that night.

    I haven’t listened to the commentary yet, but thanks for pointing it out. I’ll be sure to listen to it the next time I pop the DVD in.

  2. i was one of those ‘creepy’ kids and in the original version there was no glowing eyes – they were added later in america ! ! !

  3. Hi Peter! It’s an honor to have you drop by. I didn’t know that tidbit about the glowing eyes. Thanks! In your estimation, did the film suffer for this addition? ~ Mark


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