Village of the Damned (1960 film)
|Village of the Damned|
|Directed by||Wolf Rilla|
|Produced by||Ronald Kinnoch|
|Screenplay by||Stirling Silliphant
|Based on||The Midwich Cuckoos
by John Wyndham
|Music by||Ron Goodwin|
|Edited by||Gordon Hales|
|Running time||77 minutes|
Village of the Damned is a 1960 British science fiction film by German director Wolf Rilla. The film is a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) by John Wyndham. The lead role of Professor Gordon Zellaby was played by George Sanders. This film was #92 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments. A sequel, Children of the Damned, followed in 1963.
A remake was released in 1995, also called Village of the Damned.
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 reported that he had 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.
Although only three years old, the children are precocious, being 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 had the effect of most of the villagers fearing and being repulsed by them.
They begin to exhibit the power to read minds when expedient, or 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 (such as the drowning of an expert child swimmer), and it is the opinion of some that the children are responsible. This is later confirmed when they are shown making a man crash his car into a wall, killing him and then later (following an inquest concerning the crash wherein the children were cleared of responsibility) forcing 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.
- George Sanders as Gordon Zellaby
- Barbara Shelley as Anthea Zellaby
- Martin Stephens as David Zellaby
- Michael Gwynn as Alan Bernard
- Laurence Naismith as Doctor Willers
- Richard Warner as Harrington
- Jenny Laird as Mrs. Harrington
- Sarah Long as Evelyn Harrington
- Thomas Heathcote as James Pawle
- Charlotte Mitchell as Janet Pawle
- Pamela Buck as Milly Hughes
- Rosamund Greenwood as Miss Ogle
- Susan Richards as Mrs. Plumpton
- Bernard Archard as Vicar
- Peter Vaughan as P.C. Gobby
- John Phillips as General Leighton
- Richard Vernon as Sir Edgar Hargraves
- John Stuart as Professor Smith
- Keith Pyott as Dr. Carlisle
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, deeming it inflammatory and controversial because of the sinister depiction of virgin birth. 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, 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 iris 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 being the scene where 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 in fact 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.
Alternative UK prints without the 'glowing eyes' effects exist, which 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 obviously 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. According to Peter Preidel who played one of the children in the film the initial UK release in June 1960 had no glowing eyes; they were added for the American release in December 1960. The Guardian newspaper claimed in an article in 2003 that the British censors precluded the use of glowing eye effects in the initial UK release as being too horrific.
"And now we come to the nitty-gritty: why didn't the Children's eyes glow in the recent BBC screening? When I originally saw the film back in Australia as a kid I was particularly taken (i.e. scared witless) by the way the Children's eyes glowed whenever they used their mind powers. I'm sure I've seen the same version since but, as with the last BBC screening, I've also seen the movie sans glowing eyes. Why two versions?" from a review by John Brosnan, Starburst Magazine No.173 January 1993, after a screening of the film on BBC2 in 1992.
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 (interviewed in 2003 by the BBC), it soon attracted audiences, and cinema goers queued round the block to see it. The 18 June 1960 edition of The Guardian had this to say:
The story is most ingenious and it is told by Wolf Rilla (director and co-author of the screenplay) with 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"; The People (by Ernest Betts), "As a horror film with a difference it'll give you the creeps for 77 minutes"; and Dilys Powell 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.
The American critics were also in favour of the film. Time magazine, December 1960:
Apparently assuming that a picture with only one star (George Sanders) of second magnitude could not possibly be any good, M-G-M is hustling Village around the neighborhood circuits without even bothering to give it a Broadway send off, it is missing a good bet. Based on a clever thriller (Midwich Cuckoos) by John Wyndham and made in Britain for around $500,000. Village is one of the neatest little horror pictures produced since Peter Lorre went straight.
Positive reviews also appeared in the New York Times (by Howard Thompson) "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" and Saturday Review (by Hollis Alpert) in January 1961: "An absorbing little picture that you may yet be able to find on some double-feature bill."
Pittsburgh's Loew Penn Theatre ran Village of the Damned from 18 January 1961, even in the UK the film was still playing in cinemas such as the ABC Regal in Levenshulme, Manchester in March 1961, on a double bill with The Hand (1959) starring Derek Bond.
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.
Sequel and remake
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 into an American setting. It was not well received by critics.
Home media release
- 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, 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 13th Nov 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
- 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.
- 'Beware the Stare' (2003) BBC Radio 4 Documentary (11/12/03) (Wolf Rilla interview).
- 'Return of the Cuckoos' (2003) Guardian newspaper article (5/12/03). retrieved (25/05/09)
- Cinema, TV and personalities from the Levenshulme Area website (newspaper clipping of cinema listing March 17th 1961 ABC Regal.) retrieved (28/05/09)
- Cinema Treasures website (list of films that played at the Pittsburgh Loew Penn theater from June 1958 - September 1964) retrieved (28/05/09)
- Skyrack Newsletter No.20 dated (20/06/60) bottom of page this note - *** Ritz, Leicester Sq. showing VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (Midwich Cuckoos)(Archive website of Skyrack newsletter published between April 1959 and July 1971) also No.10 dated (01/12/59) this note# MGM-British are to make the Midwich Cuckoos with George Sanders. And a short positive review of the film in No.21 dated (25/07/60)by George Locke.
- The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television website (original 1960/61 press reviews) retrieved 28/05/09)
- The New York Times website (Harry Thompson review December 8, 1960, page 43)
- Exclamation Mark website (comment posted by Peter Preidel April 30, 2009) retrieved (25/05/09)
- Starburst Magazine No.173 (Vol.15/No.5) January 1993 issue, page 50. (John Brosnan review of 1992 BBC2 screening sans glowing eyes.)
- Off air VHS of BBC2 1992 screening without glowing eyes.
- Off air recording of TCM 2009 screening (in 4:3 ratio) with glowing eyes.
- BBFC website VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED rated A by the BBFC, 2 May 1960. retrieved (16/06/09)
- www.uncut.dk//Videoteket, Danish website - details of Danish DVD and original Danish film titles. retrieved (17/06/09)
- The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
- Mark Burman (2003-12-05). "Mark Burman on John Wyndham biography Beware the Stare | Film". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-05-29.
- "Village of the Damned (1960) - Press @ EOFFTV". Eofftv.com. Retrieved 2010-05-29.
- "Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts". Cinema Treasures. Retrieved 2010-05-29.
- "Cinema". Levyboy.com. Retrieved 2010-05-29.
- "Village Of The Damned Has Mediocre Plot, Acting"
- Wilson, John (2000-08-23). "1995 Archive". Golden Raspberry Award Foundation. Retrieved 2011-01-10.
- Village of the Damned at the Internet Movie Database
- Village of the Damned at the TCM Movie Database
- Village of the Damned at AllMovie
- Village of the Damned at Rotten Tomatoes
- See Letchmore Heath then and now