Village of the Damned (1960)

"Excellent"

Village of the Damned (1960) Review


The creepiest moment in the recent horror film Godsend - maybe the only creepy moment - occurs when the boy around whom the action is centered informs his father, in a steady, vaguely threatening voice, that he doesn't think he likes him so much anymore. It's scary; the boy is in a sudden position of authority over his dad. The grown-ups in the audience don't like the way it sounds.

It's a good thing, then, that these same grown-ups weren't around in the British village of Midwich circa 1950. In that sleepy hamlet the entire population suffers from a brief blackout one day; a few months later, all the Midwich women of child-bearing age find that they were expecting, and the children, when they come along, are not exactly like the other boys and girls. They are, in fact, exactly like one another: blonde, rather too intelligent for our comfort, and possessed of a particularly icy stare. To say that they are aloof is an understatement. And, perhaps most tellingly, they have a hive mentality: They keep only one another's company, they communicate wordlessly, and when one of these children learns a fact, the others automatically learn it too.

Such is the premise of the 1960 horror classic Village of the Damned, which was the subject of a flaccid remake in 1995, and which is now available on DVD together with its sequel Children of the Damned (1963) along with a commentary track. Village of the Damned is a compendium of horror film virtues: It runs a tight 78 minutes, it's shot in a wintry black and white, its storytelling is economical, and it frightens rather than startles. Any hack filmmaker can throw a barking dog into the frame and jolt an unsuspecting audience. But in Village of the Damned director Wolf Rilla builds dread of these strange children through insinuation and mood, and the audience gets the real thing: fear.

Best of all, Village of the Damned demonstrates a surefire horror principle that's as simple and effective as it is underused: it never explains its central enigma away. Where most thrillers fall off the screen with dumbass, climactic justifications and explanations that strip them of their mystery ("It turned out to be a spider!" "Voodoo people did it!" "Pammy got a virus that made her want to eat brains!"), Village of the Damned has the class and the savvy to let what went wrong in Midwich ride.

The primary action of the film centers on the children at school age, as they react to the mounting fear and hostility they elicit from the grown-ups of the village. There's the matter of the children's utter coldness, their alarming intelligence, a few unexplained deaths among their peers at school. But it's only when an unlucky resident narrowly misses one of the children in his car that we see what these kids can really do - what they can do when they put their mind to it, that is, and they only have one among them. Think of the film as the British uncle to Brian de Palma's The Fury and you'll begin to see what we mean.

Based on a book called The Midwich Cuckoos. (Hey, why'd they change that great title!?)



Facts and Figures

Genre: Horror/Suspense

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