‘Beware the stare that will paralyze the will of the world’
Village of the Damned is a 1960 British science-fiction horror film by German director Wolf Rilla. The film was adapted from the novel The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) by John Wyndham (Web). The movie stars George Sanders (Psychomania; The Lodger), Barbara Shelley (The Gorgon; Blood of the Vampire; Cat Girl), Martin Stephens, Michael Gwynn (Scars of Dracula; What a Carve Up), Laurence Naismith and Richard Warner.
A sequel, Children of the Damned (1963), followed, as did a remake by John Carpenter, also titled Village of the Damned (1995).
The film was originally a 1957 American project, to be filmed at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios in Culver City, California. Ronald Colman was contracted for the leading role, but MGM shelved the project, bowing to pressure from religious groups that objected to the apparently sinister depiction of a virgin birth.
Ronald Colman died in May 1958—by coincidence, his widow, actress Benita Hume, married actor George Sanders in 1959, and the latter was cast in the role that Colman was originally due to play. The film was transferred to the MGM British Studios.
The blonde wigs that the children wore were padded to give the impression that they had abnormally large heads. The children were lit in such a way as to cause the irises and pupils of their eyes to merge into a large black disc against the whites of their eyes, to give them an eerie look. The American release includes shots where the children’s eyes actually glow.
The inhabitants of the British village of Midwich suddenly fall unconscious, as does anyone entering the village. The military establishes a cordon around Midwich and sends in a man wearing a gas mask, but he, too, falls unconscious and is pulled back with rope. The man awakens and reports experiencing a cold sensation just before passing out. The pilot of a military reconnaissance plane is contacted and asked to investigate. When he flies below 5,000 feet, he loses consciousness and the plane crashes. A five-mile exclusion zone around the village is established for all aircraft. The villagers regain consciousness and apparently are unaffected.
Two months later, all women and girls of childbearing age in the affected area are discovered to be pregnant, sparking many accusations of infidelity and extramarital sex. The accusations fade as the extraordinary nature of the pregnancies is discovered, with seven-month fetuses appearing after only five months.
All the women give birth on the same day. Their children have an unusual appearance, including “arresting” eyes, odd scalp hair construction and colour (platinum blond), and unusually narrow fingernails. As they grow and develop at a rapid rate, it becomes clear they also have a powerful telepathic bond with one another. They can communicate with each other over great distances, and as one learns something, so do the others…
“As a horror film with a difference it’ll give you the creeps for 77 minutes.” Dilys Powell, The Sunday Times, 20 June 1960
” …as a quietly civilized exercise in the fear and power of the unknown this picture is one of the trimmest, most original and serenely unnerving little chillers in a long time” Howard Thompson, New York Times, 8 Dec 1960
“This is a horror milestone, not just for its unique concept, but also for the director’s willingness to push the standards of the day at the conclusion of film, which was (and remains) anything but formulaic … Any true horror fan must take a trip back through time once in awhile to remind himself/herself how the genre progressed through the ages and appreciate the particulars of a bygone era.” John Strand, Horror Freak News
“With a chilling performance from Martin Stephens as David, the outspoken leader of the children, Village of the Damned is an incredibly effective thriller. It helps that the film is focused on a group of mind controlling children, always a great choice to sends shivers up someone’s spine” The Film Reel
“The Village of the Damned succeeds mainly because of its unsensational, low-key approach to its subject – the horror is given extra impact by being so carefully understated – and also because of the eeriness of the children themselves.” John Brosnan, Future Tense: The Cinema of Science Fiction, St. Martin’s Press, 1978
“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.” Exclamation Mark
“The film is remarkably faithful to the novel, but Rilla’s direction is surprisingly pedestrian, failing to make enough of the enigmatic world Wyndham creates.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction
Cast and characters:
George Sanders … Gordon Zellaby
Barbara Shelley … Anthea Zellaby
Michael Gwynn … Major Alan Bernard
Laurence Naismith … Doctor Willers
John Phillips … General Leighton
Richard Vernon … Sir Edgar Hargraves
Jenny Laird … Mrs Harrington
Thomas Heathcote … James Pawle
Martin Stephens … David Zellaby
Richard Warner … Harrington
Sarah Long … Evelyn Harrington
Charlotte Mitchell … Janet Pawle
Pamela Buck … Milly Hughes
Rosamund Greenwood … Miss Ogle
Susan Richards … Mrs Plumpton
Bernard Archard … Vicar
Peter Vaughan … P.C. Gobby
John Stuart … Professor Smith
Keith Pyott … Doctor Carlisle
Alexander Archdale … The Coroner
Sheila Robins … Nurse
Tom Bowman … Pilot
Anthony Harrison … Lieutenant
Diane Aubrey … W.R.A.C. Secretary
Gerald Paris … Sapper
The village of Letchmore Heath, near Watford, in Hertfordshire. Local buildings, such as The Three Horseshoes Pub and Aldenham School, were used during filming. Letchmore Heath also the location for Fantatic (1965).
The climactic scene in which the children break down Zellaby’s mental brick wall is #92 on the Bravo miniseries 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
The film is parodied in “Wild Barts Can’t Be Broken,” the eleventh episode of the tenth season of the American animated series The Simpsons, as a horror movie titled The Bloodening.
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