December 7, 1960
Stirling Silliphant, Wolf Rilla, Ronald Kinnoch and John Wyndham (novel)
George Sanders as Gordon Zellaby
Barbara Shelley as Anthea Zellaby
Martin Stephens as David Zellaby
Michael Gwynn as Alan Bernard
Village of the Damned arrived in cinemas in 1960 – a popular time for horror. Much of its thunder was stolen by its more memorable and ground-breaking competitor – Psycho (1960). Yet, Village of the Damned also had audiences lining up around the block in both the US and Britain. Both films were precedent-setting milestones that marked the beginning of new sub-genres, yet Village of the Damned has attracted fewer disciples – just about leaving it as a standalone work (it has a sequel and 1998 remake). Injustice! This is a piece of horror legend, which confronts humanity with its fear of the unknown. Its storyline is unique and well-executed.
The setting is the small English town of Midwich. Although the story employs a diverse cast of characters, the Zellabys are involved in most scenes and the audience is left with allegiance to their interpretation of events. Gordon Zellaby is a professor who provides the audience with a scientific dissection of events. David Zellaby is an army officer who is privy to national security decisions regarding Midwich. The film begins with everyone in the town falling unconscious some time before mid-day. After multiple attempts by those outside to reach various individuals inside, an army unit conducting exercises in the area investigates the phenomenon. Through trial and error they determine that anyone who passes through the perimeter of the town loses consciousness then regains it once pulled out. Inexplicably, everything returns to normal in the community by mid-afternoon. About a month later, it is discovered that several women of child-bearing age all became pregnant during the episode. Their children, once-born, mature rapidly and develop similar appearances (which include blond hair and strikingly magnetic eyes).
The psychic connection the children share with each other and their eerily precise interpretations of the intentions of others unnerves people, many of whom either wish for their demise, or greater control over their movements. The audience is at times sympathetic and at times unsympathetic to the children. They are torn, much as the other characters, due to the children’s solidarity, great mental capacity (which may compel the actions of others) and a lack of knowledge regarding their intentions.
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. The 1995 John Carpenter remake isn’t bad, if you absolutely cannot sit through a movie that does not have modern photography, or special effects. Yet, all else equal, the original is the better film. 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 a.k.a. Duke of Terror