“Village of the Damned” (1960) – “I’ve seen it all in a small town.” – John Mellencamp, “Small Town”
At first glance, the residents of Midwich, a small British village, seem to be living a comfortable Norman Rockwell-existence, as this country town is complete with a local general store, friendly neighbors and is surrounded by green, rolling hills.
When we first meet Professor Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders), he is enjoying a pleasant morning. The good professor is conversing on the phone in his study with his handsome dog Bruno by his side, when suddenly, he passes out. So does Bruno. Are they dead? It turns out that Zellaby and his pooch are not the only ones afflicted. Thus begins director Wolf Rilla’s eerie picture that leads the audience down an uncomfortable narrative and eventually engenders fear via the town’s children. A small group of them, anyways, because these kids cause massive anxiety!
How do we navigate from a bizarre Midwich incident to scary children terrifying the town? (Well, this critic will not reveal how Rilla navigates from Point A to Point B.)
Let’s just say that Professor Zellaby and his wife Anthea (Barbara Shelley) are terribly apprehensive about their son David (Martin Stephens), as he oddly possess similarities with many other local kids. He has bleach-blond hair, strange-looking eyes, is vastly intelligent, and carries an emotional distance from family and friends. David and the others are just plain weird….and dangerous.
By 2018 standards, “Village of the Damned” is not a particularly dangerous film. It’s hokey with an almost-overwhelming “Leave It to Beaver”-like sentiment, as Caucasian neighborhoods are free from duress. It’s a setting where creature comforts and pleasant-talk usually fill the air. The film definitely feels like a one-act serial matinee for a Saturday afternoon, and that makes sense, because its 1960-release is not that far removed the previously congenial decade.
What the film lacks in vicious ghoulishness and gore, Rilla and writers Stirling Silliphant and Ronald Kinnoch pen some real surprises, and perhaps they had some influence on the future of children-antagonists in horror. In fact, “Village of the Damned” could be the celluloid-parent that gave birth to Larry Cohen’s “It’s Alive” (1974), David Cronenberg’s “The Brood” (1979) and Fritz Kiersch’s “Children of the Corn” (1984) – which is based on a Stephen King short story, of course.
Well, the Midwich residents certainly mind the sudden birth of local stress and carnage, and maybe the townsfolk have not quite experienced it all, but they’ve witnessed a lot more than we wish to ever see.
Image credits: Metro-Golden-Mayer; Trailer credits: Movieclips Classic Trailers