I wonder what was going on the media zeitgeist in the early 1960s where two prominent works of media focused on creepy children with terrifying powers. In December 1960 MGM released “Village of the Damned” a big screen adaptation of the 1957 John Wyndham novel “The Midwich Cuckoos.” Then in 1961, Rod Serling’s seminal TV series “The Twilight Zone” aired an episode in November that year called “It’s a Good Life.” About a small town terrorized by a young boy who has powers over, well, everything.
“Village of the Damned”—starring beloved British character actor and leading man George Sanders, along with Barbara Shelly—was a sleeper hit for MGM on both sides of the pond, being a full production of MGM’s British studios, audiences and critics both reacted positively to the film. The image of the children using their powers is one that has entered into the pop culture lexicon, and the film itself was remade by John Carpenter in 1995.
One morning the people of the British village of Midwich suddenly fall unconscious—something that is confined inside the borders of the town. Those crossing from the outside into the town suddenly drop as well. Nothing mechanical is affected—pipework, electronics, they all still function. Yet, all the living inhabitants—including animals—are out for hours. The military comes to see what is going on. There’s no trace of gas, or radiation, or of any other kind of cause for an entire town to suddenly be knocked cold for hours.
A couple of months later all the women of childbearing age in the village discover that they are pregnant. This leads to massive gossip and suggestions of infidelity and what not around the sleepy town. When the children are born months later—all on the same day—they all share eerie similarities. All the children have odd eyes, narrow fingernails, and platinum hair. They also are able to develop at a rapid rate, far faster than most children their age.
As the children grow they all appear to share a hive mind, being able to communicate telepathically with one another. Professor Zellaby (Sanders), whose wife (Shelly) was one of the women to birth a child, meets with British Intelligence who informs him that there have been similar incidents of children like the ones in Midwich born across the world. Zellaby begins to act as a teacher for the children, who are feared by most of the villagers.
To go any further into the story would be to go into the world of spoilers for those of you who have never seen “Village of the Damned.” Over fifty years later “Village of the Damned” still holds up as an effective little chiller. Packed in at a brisk 77 minute running time, the film does not feel padded in any way. Every ounce of the story is effectively told in a well-constructed film. For a sci-fi themed chiller, there’s only one visual effect in the film—and it’s a dandy! That would be the eerie glow that emits from the children’s eyes when they begin to use their powers.
Under Wolf Rilla’s direction, “Village of the Damned” is a true class in effective filmmaking, without having to restore to over the top tricks (not that I mind that, mind you, I just enjoy these sort of British ‘60s scare films that use brain over jumps—“The Innocents” comes to mind as another example). Sanders is great as both a man of science wanting to understand the children and their motives, plus as a concerted villager weary of their powers as well.
“Village of The Damned” is one of those movies that pings a memory in my brain to life in vivid detail. It was a New Years Eve of my early 20s and I was quite miserable over the lack of a date for the night. My folks had plans, my friends had plans, I had no plans. Being still in my early 20s I put way too many bagel bites into the oven and flipped the TV onto Turner Classic Movies. The late and much missed Robert Osborne, clad every so dapper in a tux, introduced a night of British sci-fi thrillers—the first of which was “Village of the Damned.” It was the first time I ever saw the film, and I had a really fun night watching movies and eating pizza on a bagel.
Warner Archive brings “Village of the Damned” to blu-ray for the first time, in a really impressive 1080p transfer that was created earlier this year. The black and white image is sharp and clear, it looks truly impressive. Honestly, I’d be more shocked if Warner Archive released a blu-ray that didn’t look amazing. They’ve well established themselves as being sticklers for quality. The beautiful HD image is accompanied by an equally impressive 2.0 DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack.
In addition to the film’s original theatrical trailer, this blu-ray of “Village of the Damned” includes a commentary track with author Steve Haberman—the track a carryover from the 2005 DVD release of the film. Haberman’s track is lively and informative, going into the history of the film, its cast and crew, and even the history of MGM’s British studios. It’s a solid commentary overall.
Warner Archive has put together a great blu-ray for the beloved thriller, combined with a stunning image, clear audio, and an informative audio commentary, “Village of the Damned” is a great hit on blu-ray! This one comes recommended, with Halloween this week, I hope you’ll take time to check this one out. See you next week.