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Thursday, October 11, 2012

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2012-Day 11: VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960)

There are certain films that could ostensibly be classified as part of the science-fiction genre and yet cross over full-blown into the horror department — ALIEN (1979) being a textbook example — and the original VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED sure as hell fits the criteria. For sixteen years before THE OMEN pretty much cornered the market when it came to the "creepy kids" sub-genre, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED stood as the ne plus ultra of the form and if you ask me, it still has yet to be bested.

Based on legendary British horror/sci-fi author John Wyndham's novel THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS (1957), the film matter-of-factly chronicles the events spiraling outward from a day when several locations on the Earth are suddenly cut off by an invisible field that renders living beings unconscious for several hours, after which all wake up, apparently none the worse for the experience. Fine, whatever. But things take a very disturbing and dark turn when every woman in town who's capable of bearing children inexplicably turns up pregnant, and the story proper follows how this scenario plays out in the rural British village of Midwich. While there are cases where the unexpected pregnancies are treated as nothing out of the ordinary in the case of married couples, it's another matter entirely for wives who have been separated from their husbands for long stretches of time (one such case involves a husband who's been away at sea) and the poor young teenage girls who have never known the grownup pleasures to be had with boys their own age, let alone grown men. While such a situation may have worked out well for the Virgin Mary, it holds an horrific power that's the polar opposite of the miraculous when it happens en masse in the mid-20th century.

All of this leads to considerable misery and suspicion, but it's soon determined that all of the pregnancies can be tracked to having been conceived during the time of the village's unexplained mass-unconsciousness. The sole couple who are shown to be at first overjoyed by this happenstance is comprised of late-middle-aged professorial type Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders) and his much younger wife, Anthea (Barbara Shelley), who had both given up hope of ever having a child due to Gordon's age, but that elation soon turns to a growing sense of dread once their child and all of the others are born on the same day, after developing much more rapidly than average embryos. The children all possess a disturbing uniform look, each having "striking" eyes, "unusual" fingernails, and nearly-white blonde hair, but the most disturbing thing about them is that they manifest powerful telepathic abilities and the ability to control the minds and actions of those who displease them (which is an incredibly dangerous trait for infants to wield). The emotionless kids also share a hive mind that allows what one learns to be absorbed by all. Needless to say, that's all pretty fucking creepy, and as the children grow to the physical equivalent of perhaps age seven or eight, virtually the entire town is understandably terrified of them. Only professor Zellaby wants anything to do with them, motivated by his "parental" connection to his eerie son and leader of the kids, David (Martin Stephens), and by his overwhelming scientific curiosity. As the children's powers escalate, so does their detachment from and disregard for the lives of those around them, and their mind-controlling abilities lead to a number of horrifying, decidedly one-sided confrontations with the village's adults. But when faced with a gaggle of kids who can literally make you blow your own head off with a double-barreled shotgun, a "time out" just isn't gonna do it...

So where did these cold, creepy children come from? Why are they here? What in god's name will happen to the world when they are fully grown? And don't forget that they are just one of a number of groups of these kids born around the world...

A solid, taut winner from start to finish, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED has been one of my all-time favorites since I was a kid, and I'm happy to say that it holds up perfectly well. (I just watched it again four nights ago.) The 1995 American-set remake is okay for what it is, but the black and white look of the original and its remote, rustic British location make for a timeless shocker that also depicts its events with great, almost clinical intelligence. If you only see one "creepy kids" movie in your lifetime, this is the one I most heartily recommend.

Original theatrical release poster.

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