Cast Village of the Damned George Sanders
Children of the Damned Ian Hendry
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Village of the Damned / Children of the Damned (1960)
18th Feb 05
Plot Village of the Damned The sleepy town of Midwich actually falls asleep. When inhabitants awaken, all women capable of bearing children are pregnant. They all have their children, with disastrous results.
Children of the Damned A kind of urban, international follow-up to Village of the Damned. Medical / scientific professionals try to understand why 6 children, each from different corners of the globe, have gathered in an old inner-city church.
Review Village of the Damned (1960)
A beautifully English sci-fi tale, shot in gorgeous black and white in 1960, Village of the Damned is a film that everyone should see. At least once. It’s the kind of a film that everyone remembers from their childhood. I certainly did. It was shown as a matinee one afternoon in the late 1980’s and I don’t think I slept that night.
VOTD is a perfect example of the power of tight, crisp and concise storytelling of that era, it is intense and captivating in its power to chill to the bone without unnecessary use of cheesy special effects, unlike John Carpenter’s disappointing 1995 remake. While the original focused on male perspective, Carpenter thought to concentrate on the plight of the female characters. A sound idea, but alas, a waste of time despite a few decent scenes. Wolf Rilla’s original is more powerful in its willingness to take things at a more relaxed, English pace as the narrative unfolds comfortably and assuredly to depict what is an extremely frightening and creepy tale.
Based on John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos, the story is so-called because the cuckoo bird is known to lay its eggs in other birds’ nests. In Wyndham’s story, the town of Midwich is cut off from the outside world for a few hours one day. The entire population falls asleep and when the inhabitants awaken, all women capable of bearing children are pregnant with children that are not of this earth. When the children are born they develop at an alarmingly fast pace, baffling peers with their superhuman intelligence. They all look alike, wear the same clothes, have the same blond hair, know what each other knows and can read the minds of humans. Most terrifying off all, however, is their ability to impose upon human will. After their short period of physical development they only associate with each other and walk around in a pack, looking freakier and more threatening as the story progresses. Then, as the villagers begin to suffer unjustly at their alien kiddie hands, a real and threatening sense of fear begins to take a hold of Midwich.
This is when Professor Gordon Zelleby (George Sanders, playing an all round genius and “father” of the aliens’ leader, David) and his very male group of experts decide on an action plan to tackle the rather bizarre situation. While all other experts want to simply destroy the children, Sanders is more interested in their potential and trying to figure out why they are here in the first place. He becomes their teacher, as he is clearly the most academically accomplished man in the village and wishes not only to teach, but to be taught.
Sanders is quite brilliant in Village of the Damned, as is everyone else in the cast. Village of the Damned has a quintessentially English feel about it, despite the subject matter and a German director. Today, for this reason, it does appear dated but one could also argue that it adds charm to the picture - the beautiful prim and proper English accents of old complimenting the quaint town of Midwich with its surrounding countryside, complete with coppers on push-bikes and general practitioners who smoke in their surgeries. Strangely, this is one of the aspects of this picture which works best for me, like being taken back to a time when people spoke and acted like this.
The children in Village of the Damned really look the part. The success of the film in 1960 must have been a lot to do with the impact the sight of the children made on unsuspecting audiences. The young actors, unlike those in Carpenter’s remake, look the part. Their blond wigs were designed to make it look like their skulls were slightly larger on top than your average human, which is quite subtle and works a treat.
Anyone who remembers this film from their childhood will most certainly recall the children’s’ glowing eyes, which would probably give most kids nightmares. Martin Stephens, a talented child actor of the era plays the leader David, is far too convincing and above all, the kids are just so perfectly cast. It’s in their faces, and its in their eyes. And we believe it.
A few elements of this version of the tale could be improved upon, the final miniature being top of my list (never use miniatures with fire!!!) but overall it was always superior to John Carpenter’s 1996 remake and is a superior film of its’ time.
With a running time of 77 minutes, Village of the Damned is a short and economic film. With an excellent pace, an outstanding all-round cast and top-notch crisp black-and-white photography, this eerie 1960 sci-fi / horror tale will chill you to the bone.
Children of the Damned (1963)
1963 saw the release of the so-called sequel, Children of the Damned. Instead of continuing from where VOTD ended, it focuses on a new, international group of children, a sort of re-telling of a similar scenario with a bigger budget and more modern feel. Children of the Damned is to Village of the Damned what Evil Dead II was to The Evil Dead. You follow?
Each of the six countries involved (Britain, USA, India, China, Africa and Russia) are aware of their “prodigy” but are understandably cautious about sharing them with other significant powerful nations of the world. Each nation has tested each relative child with the same examination. Each child scores exactly the same score, because, like in the first film, what one knows, they all know.
The mandatory “experts” undertaking the testing in the UK are psychologist Tom Llewyllyn (Ian Hendry) and geneticist David Neville (Alan Badel). In this version, it's Llewelyn the psychologist who wants to study, protect, harness and learn from the children – like George Sanders’ Gordon Zellaby in Village of the Damned, while the geneticist feels only fear of the unknown powers. Unlike Village of the Damned, these children only hurt or kill others when they are threatened themselves and hence there is more ambiguity surrounding their ultimate intention. One of the most chilling moments in this film occurs when the children are asked why they are here – their leader Paul, simply answers, “We don’t know.”
While the children in Village of the Damned cocoon themselves in a school building, these pint-sized monsters take up residence in an old church in inner London where they assemble some kind of glowing machine. This bizarre contraption looks like it was borrowed directly from Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory - perhaps it looked more alien in 1963 than it does now. Any attempts of well-meaning liaison between the group of experts and the children ends in bloodshed, prompting the government to take military action even if it means that mankind ultimately learns nothing.
Children of the Damned focuses more acutely on professional speculation relating to where the children come from and what their purpose is, and this effort to transcend the theorising of Village of the Damned. This instalment serves up some food for thought instead of the rather wishy-washy conjecture of the first film. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting Village of the Damned down – it works just the way its supposed to, but in a different kind of way which more than compensates for a lack of theoretical focus. The ideas and theories explored here (assumptions based around theories such as evolution jumps, parthenogenesis and the like) simply seem bigger and more adventurous than in the first film and from this perspective alone, Children of the Damned is more than worthy not only to be associated with Village of the Damned, but to be credited as its sequel.
Sequences and events in Children of the Damned are well staged and powerfully acted. The photography is stunning, crisp and acutely striking, and when you see the glowing eyes this time around you will know the meaning of fear (or perhaps not – it totally depends on how much the concept affects you). The filmmakers do like to play with the image of the children, especially when they present a powerful force when they are all together, as one. These images do strike a poignant chord, not least in the final scene, when they all hold hands in front of the old church. Once seen, never forgotten.
With a brisk pace, a great look, everlasting, unique appeal and an offer of some ethical debate, both films stand the test of time. Classic stuff.
Both films feature a fairly decent and informative commentary track – Village of the Damned by Chronicles of Terror: Silent Screams author Steve Haberman and Children of the Damned by screenwriter John Briley.
“They’re not kids! Have you ever seen them laugh, run, play? No, by God, but you’ve seen them kill, violently and hideously! Have you thought about that, psychologist?”
Versions Village of the Damned is also available in a computer-colourised version.
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