1 Hr., 17 Mins.
Village of the Damned August 23, 2019
funny thing happens at the beginning of Village of the Damned (1960). One overcast afternoon, everyone living in Midwich, a lethargic British hamlet, faints. Not because something’s in the water, not because everyone has been melodramatically shocked by the latest episode of Coronation Street (1960-present). Something unexplained has infected the air, it seems. If someone enters the
region during the few hours of nonconsensual bedtime, they, too, would pass out as if they’d ingested a bit too much Motrin before throwing in the towel for the day. We know this — because why shouldn’t the movie’s writers, Stirling Silliphant, Wolf Rilla, and Ronald Kinnoch, lean heavily into histrionics — in part because of an early scene in which the pilot of a military reconnaissance plane flies into the area and predictably falls asleep at the wheel. The aircraft crashes into a thicket of trees and then blows up like an H-bomb.
Eventually everyone in Midwich wakes up. No one remembers passing out in the first place. A brief investigation ensues, but no definitive answers come out of the woodwork. For a time it seems like the whole thing was a sort of freak occurrence. It can’t be explained and will never be explained, like water turning into wine or Spring-Heeled Jack freaking out other British denizens. Speculation, in a way, thus becomes its own kind of conclusion.
But even that doesn’t last. Two months after the episode, every Midwich woman capable of bearing children is suddenly pregnant. “B-but that’s not — ” a virgin stutters during a checkup. Adding to the suspicion, the babies, once they're born, grow incredibly fast. They're seven-months-developed after just five months have passed; they’re more than 10 pounds out of the gate. By age 3, the children in question appear 12. They all look and act exactly the same. They travel in packs. Their clique only welcomes in those with pearl-white skin and big heads encircled with coronas of shiny white-blond hair. They all speak in an exacting monotone; they are incapable of feeling. “You suffer from emotions,” the creepiest kid in the bunch flatly tells his father (George Sanders). A mother tells her non-alien (?) offspring to stay away from "them"; a shop-owner thinks to herself that she wishes these children would simply go away — something they promptly call her on, since they can read minds.
Is it a surprise when the kids all turn out to be certifiably evil? Keeping in mind both the movie’s title and the ways in which they came to Earth to begin with — though the movie never reveals who or what they are, I’m wont to assume these kids are aliens or some sort of a demonic manifestation — it’d be unwise to think optimistically. But it’s hard to deny that it isn’t startling when it becomes clear that the children can both read and control minds, both of which are talents that start being used for nefarious purposes. To add insult to injury, their eyes glow while they do it. No wonder their pupils look like pools of ink in situ.
Village of the Damned, which slyly manages to end both ambiguously and conclusively, is an anomaly in the killer-kid horror subgenre in that its evils happen pluralistically. Consider that, in The Bad Seed (1956), a pigtailed creep preferred killing to recess and lollipops. In The Omen (1976), a brunette cherub wanted everyone to know, if they weren’t hyperbolically calling him that behind his back, that he’s the antichrist. All these kid menaces operated alone. But here the menacing is collaborative.
More prepubescent monsters shouldn’t be conflated with more terror per se, as the more-sinister-than-scary Village of the Damned shows. Most of the time we’re partial to laughing just before the goosebumps settle in. Still, there’s something about a fleet of probable demons infecting a defenseless small town that can turn blood into ice water, especially when everyone in it has the same personality and face. And, especially, when you have a director like Rilla so chillily and tensely scene-setting.
The movie got a sequel, Children of the Damned, in 1965. I haven’t seen it, but I can’t say, finishing its predecessor, that popping it into the DVD player is all that appealing. What works about Village of the Damned is its economy and unwillingness to explain itself. It functions, almost, as a filmic equivalent of a campfire story you didn’t expect to be so spine-tingling. A funny thing happened in Midwich a few years ago, it might begin. After that, things went back to normal … but, to this day, no one knows what really happened, it might end. When you get a finale like that one, which is tidy but also sticks with you, why would you want to muck it up? B