Village of the Damned (1960 film)

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Village of the Damned
Villageofthedamned1960.jpg
Film poster
Directed by Wolf Rilla
Produced by Ronald Kinnoch
Screenplay by Stirling Silliphant
Wolf Rilla
Ronald Kinnoch
Based on The Midwich Cuckoos 
by John Wyndham
Starring George Sanders
Barbara Shelley
Martin Stephens
Michael Gwynn
Music by Ron Goodwin
Cinematography Geoffrey Faithfull
Edited by Gordon Hales
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • July 1960 (1960-07)
Running time
77 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $320,000[1]
Box office $2,175,000[1]

Village of the Damned is a 1960 British science fiction film by German director Wolf Rilla. The film is adapted from the novel The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) by John Wyndham.[2] The lead role of Professor Gordon Zellaby was played by George Sanders.

A sequel, Children of the Damned, followed in 1963, and a remake was released in 1995, also called Village of the Damned.

Plot[edit]

All of the inhabitants (including the animals) of the British village of Midwich suddenly fall unconscious, and anyone entering the village also loses consciousness. The military arrives and establishes a cordon. The military send in a man wearing a gas mask, but he too falls unconscious and is pulled back by a safety rope. The man awakens and reports that he experienced a cold sensation just before he passed out. The pilot of a passing civilian plane is contacted and requested to investigate. When he goes below 5,000 feet, he loses consciousness, and the plane crashes. A five-mile exclusion zone around the village is established for all aircraft. At nearly that very moment, the villagers regain consciousness, seeming otherwise unaffected. The incident is referred to as a "time-out", and no cause is determined.

About two months later, all women and girls of childbearing age who were in the affected area are discovered to be pregnant, sparking many accusations of infidelity and premarital sex. The accusations fade as the extraordinary nature of the pregnancies is discovered, with seven-month fetuses appearing after only five months. All the women give birth on the same day, and their children's unusual appearance is remarked upon: They have "unusual", "arresting" eyes, odd scalp hair construction and colour (pale blond, almost white), and unusually narrow fingernails. As they grow and develop at a rapid rate, it becomes clear that they also have a powerful telepathic bond with one another. They can tell each other anything that they see from great distances. As one learns something, so do the others.

Three years later, village resident Professor Gordon Zellaby (Sanders), whose wife Anthea (Shelley) gave birth to one of the children, and who is linked to the military via his brother-in-law Alan (Gwynn), attends a meeting with British Intelligence to discuss the children. There he learns that Midwich was not the only place affected, and follow-up investigations had revealed similar phenomena in other areas of the world:

  • In a township in northern Australia, thirty infants were born in one day but all died within 10 hours of birth.
  • In an Inuit community in Canada, there were ten children born. Fair-haired children born to their kind violated their taboos, and all of them were killed.
  • In Irkutsk, RSFSR, the men murdered all of the children and their mothers.
  • In the mountains of the north-western Soviet Union, the children survived and were being educated to the highest possible level by the state.
The sinister children

At three years old, the children are precocious, physically and mentally the equivalent of children four times their age. Their behaviour has become increasingly unusual and striking. They dress impeccably, always walk as a group, speak in an adult manner, are very well-behaved but show no conscience or love, and demonstrate a coldness to others. All of this has caused most of the villagers to fear and be repulsed by them.

They begin to exhibit the power to read minds and to force people to do things against their will. The latter is accompanied by a glow in the children's eyes. There have been a number of villagers' deaths since they were born, many of which are considered unusual, and it is the opinion of some that the children are responsible. This is confirmed when the children are shown killing a man by making him crash his car into a wall, and again (following an inquest concerning the crash wherein the children were cleared of responsibility) when they force his suspicious brother to shoot himself.

Gordon, whose "son" David is one of the children, is at first eager to work with them. With government agreement, he attempts to teach the children while hoping to learn from them, and the children are all placed in a separate building where they will learn and live. While the children continue to exert their will, Gordon learns that the Soviet government has used an atomic cannon to destroy the village containing their own spawn of mutant children.

Gordon compares the children's resistance to reasoning with a brick wall, and uses this motif as self-protection after the children's inhuman nature and motive become clear to him. He takes a hidden time-bomb to what he expects to be a session with the children, and tries to block their awareness of the bomb by visualizing the brick wall. David scans his mind, showing an emotion (astonishment) for the first time: "You're not thinking of atomic energy, you're thinking of ... a brick wall!" The children exert force to try to break down Gordon's mental wall to learn what he is hiding from them. They discover the hidden truth just a moment before the bomb detonates, consuming the building in flames as his wife and brother-in-law look on in horror.

The final shot showing the glowing eyes of the children against the background of the burning building

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

The film was originally an American picture when preproduction began in 1957. Ronald Colman was contracted for the leading role, but MGM shelved the project, bowing to pressure from religious groups that objected to the sinister depiction of virgin birth.[3][4] Colman died in May 1958—by coincidence, his widow, actress Benita Hume, married actor George Sanders in 1959, and Sanders took the role meant for Colman.

The film was shot on location in the village of Letchmore Heath,[5] near Watford, approximately 12 miles (20 kilometres) north of London. Local buildings such as The Three Horseshoes Pub and Aldenham School, were used during filming.

The blonde wigs that the children wore were padded to give the impression that they had abnormally large heads.

The children were lit in such a way as to cause the irises and pupils of their eyes to merge into a large black disc against the whites of their eyes, to give them an eerie look.

The glowing-eye effect, when the children used their mental powers, was achieved by creating animated overlays of a bright white iris; this created a bright glowing iris with a black pupil when optically printed into the film. This technique was used mostly on freeze frames to create the required effect; the only sequence of live motion processed in this way was the scene in which David tells Alan Bernard to "leave us alone" where the eye effect appears as David speaks. The other time David's eyes go from normal to glowing on screen (after one of the girl children is nearly run down by a car), a two shot of the girl and David, is a composite shot split by a slightly jagged black line; the half with the girl is live motion, and you can see her hair moving in the breeze, whereas the half with David is a freeze frame with the eye effect added.

A similar split screen effect is used during the first scene of a boy and girl using their powers to stop their 'brother' stealing a puzzle box; the close ups of the mother holding the boy as his eyes begin to glow and she turns to look at him are achieved as above this time without a black line separating the freeze frames of the boy from the live motion of the mother. The final effect of the children's eyes zooming out of the flames of their burning school house utilized multiple exposures of a model head with glowing eyes which the camera zoomed in on.

For its original release in Britain, censors removed the glowing eye effects.[6][7] UK prints without the glowing eyes effects show that during the final sequence, in the close-ups, the kids widen their eyes as they attack Zellaby's mind, unlike the freeze frames with added glowing eyes used in the American prints. Another example is a slight smile that David makes after setting one of the villagers on fire in the UK print; the freeze frames of the American print do not contain such subtle detail. This print also has a credit for being filmed at MGM's British studios that is not on the American prints.

Release[edit]

Given an 'A' certificate by the British censors, the film opened in June 1960 at The Ritz cinema in Leicester Square, London. According to director Wolf Rilla, it soon attracted audiences, and cinema goers queued round the block to see it.[6] In December of the same year it was released New York and Los Angeles;[8] it became a sleeper hit for MGM in the US.[4]

Critical reception[edit]

The 18 June 1960 edition of The Guardian[9] praised the story as "most ingenious" and Rilla as applying "the right laconic touch". Positive reviews also appeared in The Observer (by C.A. Lejeune): "The further you have moved away from fantasy, the more you will understand its chill"; and The People (by Ernest Betts), "As a horror film with a difference it'll give you the creeps for 77 minutes". Dilys Powell said in The Sunday Times on 20 June 1960: "Well made British film: the effective timing, the frightening matter-of-factness of the village setting, most of the acting, and especially the acting of the handsome flaxen-haired children (headed by Martin Stevens) who are the cold villains of the piece."

American critics were also in favour of the film. The Time reviewer called it "one of the neatest little horror pictures produced since Peter Lorre went straight" and questioned the wisdom of MGM's low-profile release strategy. While not willing to call it a horror classic, Howard Thompson of the New York Times said, "as a quietly civilized exercise in the fear and power of the unknown this picture is one of the trimmest, most original and serenely unnerving little chillers in a long time".[10] The film received a small but positive mention in the Saturday Review which called it "an absorbing little picture that you may yet be able to find on some double-feature bill".[11]

Box office[edit]

According to MGM records the film earned $1.4 million in the US and Canada and $775,000 elsewhere resulting in a profit of $860,000.[1]

Sequel and remake[edit]

A British-produced MGM sequel, Children of the Damned, directed by Anton M. Leader, followed in 1963 with a smaller group of six children (each one from a different nation: China, India, Nigeria, the Soviet Union, the USA and the UK). Although their powers are similar, the theme and tone are nearly opposite, with the children in the sequel being portrayed as sympathetic characters.

A US-produced remake was released in 1995 by Universal Studios. Also titled Village of the Damned, the film was directed by John Carpenter and moved to a contemporary time period and an American setting. It was not well received by critics.[12][13]

Home media release[edit]

  • MGM/UA video released the film on NTSC VHS in the US in 1995; there was also a German VHS release. It has also been released in the US on VCD and with the sequel on Laserdisc.
  • Warner Home Video released the film on DVD as a 2 disc NTSC Region 1 set under the Horror Double Feature title with The Children of the Damned in August 2004. Both films were 16:9 ratio, and original trailers for both films were also included. A UK Region 2 PAL DVD release, initially exclusive to HMV, of this 2 disc set was released in 2006.
  • Village of the Damned (Den Fortabte By), was released on DVD in Denmark in October 2006, a single disc without the Children sequel. The original Danish title of the film (released on 13 November 1961) was Raedslen fra Himmelrummet which can be translated as "Horrors of Celestial Space"; the Danes also originally gave it the subtitle Satan Eyes. The subtitle used for this DVD release means "The Lost City" and was also the title given to John Carpenter's 1995 remake in Denmark.

In popular culture[edit]

The climactic scene in which the children break down Zellaby's mental brick wall was #92 on the Bravo miniseries 100 Scariest Movie Moments.[14]

  • In The Simpsons episode "Wild Barts Can't Be Broken" (1999), the kids go to a drive-in theatre to see a horror film called The Bloodening, a parody of Village of the Damned.
  • It is referenced in the Teen Wolf episode "Galvanize", in which William Barrow asks Kira if she ever saw the original movie and not the "'95 remake because nobody cares about crappy remakes".

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  2. ^ Goble, Alan (1999). The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film. Walter de Gruyter. p. 512. ISBN 978-3-11-095194-3. 
  3. ^ Brode, Douglas (2003). Edge of Your Seat: The 100 Greatest Movie Thrillers. Kensington. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-8065-2382-8. 
  4. ^ a b Bansak, Edmund G. (2003). Fearing the Dark: The Val Lewton Career. McFarland. p. 509. ISBN 978-0-7864-1709-4. 
  5. ^ Pykett, Derek (2008). British Horror Film Locations. McFarland. pp. 147–148. ISBN 978-0-7864-5193-7. 
  6. ^ a b Mark Burman (2003-12-04). "Return of the Cuckoos". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-05-29. 
  7. ^ Sumner, Don (2010). Horror Movie Freak. Krause Publications. p. 79. ISBN 1-4402-1564-2. 
  8. ^ "Village of the Damned – Original print info". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2014-12-13. 
  9. ^ "Village of the Damned (1960) – Press". Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television. 14 April 2009. Retrieved 2010-05-29. 
  10. ^ Thompson, Howard (8 December 1960). "Screen: Little Monsters in 'Village of the Damned'; M-G-M Film Opens at Neighborhood Houses". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-12-13. 
  11. ^ Alpert, Hollis (14 January 1961). "SR Goes to the Movies: Largely British". Saturday Review.  Archived at UNZ.org. Retrieved 2014-12-13.
  12. ^ Paseman, Lloyd (5 May 1995). "'Village Of The Damned' Has Mediocre Plot, Acting". Eugene Register-Guard. Retrieved 2014-12-11. 
  13. ^ Wilson, John (23 August 2000). "1995 Archive". Razzies.com. Golden Raspberry Award Foundation. Retrieved 2011-01-10. 
  14. ^ "Part 1, 100–76". The 100 Scariest Movie Moments. 26 October 2004. Bravo.

Additional sources[edit]

  • 'Beware the Stare' (2003) BBC Radio 4 Documentary (11/12/03) (Wolf Rilla interview).
  • Skyrack Newsletter No. 20 (20 June 1960), at the bottom of page this note: *** Ritz, Leicester Sq. showing VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (Midwich Cuckoos). Also, No. 10 (1 December 1959), this note: # MGM-British are to make the Midwich Cuckoos with George Sanders. And a short positive review of the film by George Locke in No. 21 (25 July 1960).
  • Off air VHS of BBC2 1992 screening without glowing eyes.
  • Off air recording of TCM 2009 screening (in 4:3 ratio) with glowing eyes.

External links[edit]