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Village of the Damned (1960 film)

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Village of the Damned
U.S. theatrical release poster
Directed byWolf Rilla
Screenplay by
Based onThe Midwich Cuckoos
(1957 novel)
by John Wyndham
Produced byRonald Kinnoch
CinematographyGeoffrey Faithfull
Edited byGordon Hales
Music byRon Goodwin
Distributed byLoew's[1]
Release date
  • 7 December 1960 (1960-12-07) (LA & NYC)
Running time
77–78 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom[1]
  • United States[1]
Box office$2,175,000[2]

Village of the Damned is a 1960 British science fiction horror film by Anglo-German director Wolf Rilla. The film is adapted from the novel The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) by John Wyndham.[3] The lead role of Professor Gordon Zellaby was played by George Sanders.[4]

A sequel, Children of the Damned (1964), followed, as did a remake, also called Village of the Damned (1995).[5]



In the British village of Midwich, Professor Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders) is talking to his brother-in-law, Major Alan Bernard (Michael Gwynn), on the telephone when he, his wife Anthea (Barbara Shelley), and all the other villagers suddenly fall unconscious, as do the animals and other people entering the village. The military establishes a cordon around Midwich; Bernard and the military discover that a caged canary becomes unconscious upon being placed in the village's border, but regains consciousness when removed. They then send in a man wearing a gas mask, but he, too, falls unconscious and is pulled back with rope. The man awakens and reports experiencing a cold sensation just before passing out. The pilot of a military reconnaissance plane is contacted and asked to investigate. When he flies below 5,000 feet, he loses consciousness and the plane crashes. A five-mile exclusion zone around the village is established for all aircraft. After approximately four hours, the villagers regain consciousness, and all are apparently unaffected by the time-out that had temporarily cut Midwich off from the rest of the world.

Two months later, all Midwich women and girls of child-bearing age, including Anthea, are discovered to be pregnant, sparking many accusations of both adultery and premarital sex. Doctor Willers (Laurence Naismith) deduces that all the expectant women and girls conceived on the same day as the time-out. The accusations of adultery and premarital sex fade as the extraordinary nature of the pregnancies is discovered, with seven-month fetuses appearing after only five months. All the pregnant women and girls give birth on the same day. Their children have an unusual appearance, including "arresting" eyes, odd scalp hair construction and colour (platinum blond), and unusually narrow fingernails. As the children grow and develop at a rapid rate, it becomes clear they also have a powerful telepathic bond with one another. They can communicate with each other over great distances, and as one learns something, so do the others.

Three years later, the children are precocious, physically and mentally the equivalent of children four times their age. Their behaviour has become even more unusual and striking. They dress impeccably, always walk as a group, speak in an adult manner, and behave maturely, but they show no conscience or love, and demonstrate a coldness to others, causing the villagers to fear and shun them.

Zellaby, whose "son" David is one of the children, attends a meeting with British Intelligence to discuss them. There, he and Bernard learn that Midwich was just one of several places on Earth where time-outs happened, all on the same day and resulting in similar children: in a northern Australian town, all the children died within ten hours of birth; in an Eskimo community, the members killed the children, believing they were not theirs; in Mongolia, the men killed both the children and their mothers; in Russia, all the children survived and are being educated. The men theorise that the children themselves are of extraterrestrial origin. Zellaby is at first eager to work with the children, and gains permission to teach them in the hopes of learning more about them.

The Midwich children begin to exhibit the power to read minds and to force people to do things against their will. There have been a number of villagers' deaths since the children were born, many of which are considered unusual, and some citizens believe the children are responsible. This is confirmed when the children are seen killing a man-who had accidentally hit one of them with his car-by making him crash into a wall, and again when they force his suspicious brother to shoot himself.

The children are placed in a separate school building where they will learn and live. While the children continue to exert their will, Bernard informs Zellaby that the Soviet government has wiped out its country's population of children by firing a nuclear shell at the Russian village where they lived; the villagers were also killed as no warning had been given to deprive the children knowledge of the attack. A group of Midwich men form an angry mob and march to the school, only for the children to force one of them to burn himself to death. When Bernard confronts the children, they tell him nothing can stop them and use their power on him, sending him into shock.

Zellaby compares the children's resistance to reasoning with a brick wall and uses this motif as self-protection against their mind-reading after their inhuman nature becomes clear to him. When Bernard recovers, Zellaby sends him and Anthea on a road trip to London. Zellaby then takes a hidden time-bomb to a session with the children and tries to block their awareness of the device by visualizing a brick wall. The children scan Zellaby's mind, eventually breaking down his mental wall and discovering the truth seconds before the bomb detonates, consuming the building in flames and killing everyone in the house, including Zellaby. Anthea, upon realizing that Zellaby was planning something drastic, drives back to Midwich, and a distance away, she and Bernard watch the school explode.






Drive-in advertisement from 1960.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer acquired the film rights in June 1957, prior to the novel's publication. Milo Frank was assigned to produce[6] and John Lupton was announced as a possible star.[7]

By December, the title had been changed to Village of the Damned and Russ Tamblyn, who appeared as the lead in MGM's Tom Thumb (1958), was named as a possible star.[8] In January 1958, MGM president Joseph R. Vogel announced the film would be among the movies made by the studio that year.[9] Robert Stevens signed to direct.[10]

The film was originally intended as an American production, to be filmed at the MGM studios in Culver City, California. Stirling Silliphant wrote a script with Ronald Colman slated as the lead,[11][12][13][14] but Colman died in May, 1958. (His widow, actress Benita Hume, married actor George Sanders in 1959, and Sanders was cast in the role meant for Colman.)[15]

In September 1958, Michael Rennie said he was being considered for the lead.[16] In October, Mel Dinelli was reportedly working on a script.[17] In January 1959, Julia Meade signed to play a lead role.[18]

Move to UK


In November 1959, production of the film was transferred to the MGM-British Studios and George Sanders was cast in the lead role.[19]

Six weeks before filming was to begin, the project was passed to television director Wolf Rilla. He thought the script by Stirling Silliphant "needed a lot of work to make it realistic. It was written by an American who had not gained a great deal of knowledge concerning English life; it just rang false."[20] Rilla was told he had a single weekend to make changes so he and Ronald Kinnoch, now the producer, collaborated. "I still don't think the script was as good as it could have been but there simply wasn't time," said Rilla.[21]

The film had a shooting schedule of six weeks and a budget of £82,000.[21] Most filming took place at MGM's Borehamwood Studio but it was also shot on location in the village of Letchmore Heath,[22] near Watford, approximately 12 miles (19 kilometres) north of London. Local buildings such as The Three Horseshoes Pub and Aldenham School were used during filming.[23]

Rilla used a "very low-key documentary manner. It made, I think, the strange happenings even stranger... the horrors were so much more horrible because they were so much more normal.".[21]

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-frame shot 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.[24]

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.[citation needed]

For the original release of the film in Britain, censors required the glowing eye effects not be used in the British version of the film to get an 'A' certificate rather than an 'X'- so .[11][25] a UK version without the glowing eyes was produced, in which 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.[citation needed]



Theatrical release


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.[11] In December of the same year it was released New York and Los Angeles;[26] it became a sleeper hit for MGM in the US.[13]

Home media


MGM first released the VHS format on April 27, 1995. The film was also released on DVD by Warner Home Video on August 10, 2004, and on Blu-ray by Warner Archive Collection on July 21, 2018.

Box office


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.[2] Kine Weekly called it a "money maker" at the British box office in 1960.[27]

Critical reception


The 18 June 1960 edition of The Guardian[28] 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 in The Sunday Times stated 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."[citation needed]

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 wrote, "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."[29] 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."[30] Author and film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film three out of a possible four stars, calling it "[an] eerie, well-made chiller."[31] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 93%, based on 40 reviews, with an average rating of 7.6/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Chilling performances and a restrained, eerie atmosphere make this British horror both an unnerving parable of its era and a timeless classic."[32] The climactic scene in which the children break down Zellaby's mental brick wall is #92 on the Bravo miniseries 100 Scariest Movie Moments.[33]

Sequel and remake


An MGM-British sequel, Children of the Damned, directed by Anton M. Leader, was released in 1964 with a smaller group of six children (each one from a different nation: China, India, Nigeria, the Soviet Union, the United States 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.[34][35]

A US-produced remake was released in 1995 by Universal. 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.[36][37]

See also





  1. ^ a b c d e Village of the Damned at the AFI Catalog of Feature Films
  2. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger. Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, The Center for Motion Picture Study.
  3. ^ Goble, Alan (1999). The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. p. 512. ISBN 9783110951943. Archived from the original on 27 March 2017. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  4. ^ "Village of the Damned (1960)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 19 July 2018. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
  5. ^ "Village of the Damned (1960): Notes". Turner Classic Movies. WarnerMedia. Archived from the original on 19 July 2018. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
  6. ^ ADVENTURE FILM ON JAPAN IS SET: Commings Will Depict First Briton to Visit Nation-- Ladd and Son in Movie Gina Lollobrigida Cast By THOMAS M. PRYOR The New York Times. 1 July 1957: 19.
  7. ^ Rennie Twice to Star as Demolition Man; Mature's Lead Chosen Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 5 Oct 1957: B3.
  8. ^ Sci-Fic Yarns Taking Spurt: Brazzi in 'A Certain Smile'; Palance Gets 'SOS Pacific' Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 4 Dec 1957: C13.
  9. ^ MGM to Make Huge Schedule of New Films Los Angeles Times 22 Jan 1958: B20.
  10. ^ Fernando Lamas Gets Flock of Film Offers Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 21 Feb 1958: a3.
  11. ^ a b c Burman, Mark (4 December 2003). "Return of the Cuckoos". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Archived from the original on 19 July 2018. Retrieved 29 May 2010.
  12. ^ Brode, Douglas (2003). Edge of Your Seat: The 100 Greatest Movie Thrillers. New York: Kensington. p. 48. ISBN 9780806523828. Archived from the original on 27 March 2017. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  13. ^ a b Bansak, Edmund G. (2003). Fearing the Dark: The Val Lewton Career. Jefferson: McFarland & Co. p. 509. ISBN 9780786417094. Archived from the original on 27 March 2017. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  14. ^ "Silliphant's Journey". Starbust. 1978. p. 17.
  15. ^ "Overview for George Sanders". Turner Classic Movies. WarnerMedia. Archived from the original on 19 July 2018. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
  16. ^ Jerry Wald Paging Margaret Leighton Hopper, Hedda. Los Angeles Times 25 Sep 1958: C10.
  17. ^ Wald 'Task' Force Out to Sell Movie: 'Love, War' Stars on Road; Harris, Kubrick Hold 'Lolita' Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 21 Oct 1958: A9.
  18. ^ FILMLAND EVENTS: Roy Del Ruth Will Direct 'Alligator' Los Angeles Times 16 Jan 1959: 24.
  19. ^ Looking at Hollywood: Walt Disney Buys Story of Americans Abroad Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 27 Nov 1959: b8.
  20. ^ Taylor p 16
  21. ^ a b c Taylor p. 17
  22. ^ Pykett, Derek (2008). British Horror Film Locations. Jefferson: McFarland & Co. pp. 147–148. ISBN 9780786451937. Archived from the original on 27 March 2017. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  23. ^ "About: The Pub". The Three Horseshoes Country Pub & Restaurant. Archived from the original on 19 July 2018. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  24. ^ Taylor p 19
  25. ^ Sumner, Don (2010). Horror Movie Freak. Iola: Krause Publications. p. 79. ISBN 9781440215643.
  26. ^ "Village of the Damned (1960): Original Print Information". Turner Classic Movies. WarnerMedia. Archived from the original on 20 December 2014. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  27. ^ Billings, Josh (15 December 1960). "It's Britain 1, 2, 3 again in the 1960 box office stakes". Kine Weekly. p. 9.
  28. ^ "Village of the Damned (1960): Press". Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television. 14 April 2009. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 29 May 2010.
  29. ^ Thompson, Howard (8 December 1960). "Screen: Little Monsters in 'Village of the Damned'; M-G-M Film Opens at Neighborhood Houses". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 19 July 2018. Retrieved 13 December 2014.
  30. ^ Alpert, Hollis (14 January 1961). "SR Goes to the Movies: Largely British". Saturday Review.
  31. ^ Maltin, Leonard; Sader, Luke; Clark, Mike; Edelman, Rob (2013). Leonard Maltin's 2014 Movie Guide. London: Penguin Press. p. 1505. ISBN 9780451418104.
  32. ^ "Village of the Damned (1960)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Archived from the original on 6 October 2020. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  33. ^ "Part 1, 100–76". The 100 Scariest Movie Moments. 26 October 2004. Bravo.
  34. ^ "Children of the Damned (1964)". AllMovie. RhythmOne. Archived from the original on 19 July 2018. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  35. ^ Ferber, Sandy (13 June 2015). "Film Reviews: Village of the Damned (1960) & Children of the Damned (1964)". Fantasy Literature. Archived from the original on 19 July 2018. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  36. ^ Paseman, Lloyd (5 May 1995). "'Village Of The Damned' Has Mediocre Plot, Acting". The Register-Guard. Retrieved 11 December 2014 – via Google News.
  37. ^ Wilson, John (23 August 2000). "1995 Archive". Razzies.com. Golden Raspberry Award Foundation. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 10 January 2011.

Additional sources

  • Taylor, Al (1980). "Village of the Damned". Fangoria (5 ed.).
  • '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.