For the next review for this month’s genre Grandeur – Aliens, here is a review by Niall of Village of the Damned (1960). If you don’t already follow Niall’s site, I strongly urge you to do so. I love his in-depth insight into movies, his book reviews and of course his infamous Royale with Cheeseathon.
If you’re interested in submitting a review this month, just shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the review of your favorite movie featuring an alien and I’ll post it. Get it to me by 25th of July in order to be included. If you plan on sending one, please just give me a heads up so I’ll know to look out for it.
Cant wait to see what you all have in mind.
Here’s Niall’s review of Village of the Damned (1960)
How can a film manage to be both quite hokey and rather terrifying at the same time? Such is the case with Village of the Damned, the justifiably classic British science-fiction film.
Based on John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, the film is about a peaceful English village that is invaded by aliens, not with flying saucers and laser guns, but with children. Very odd children with bright blond hair, weird eyes, telepathic powers, and a peculiarly grown-up way of speaking.
The film opens with a very well-done, mostly silent sequence where all the residents suddenly pass out at the same time and remain comatose for around an hour. A gramophone records spins and skips. An iron burns on the ironing board. A bus drives off into a ditch. A tractor circles a field before crashing into a tree. Watching it, I was reminded of some of the early, eerie scenes in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening.
Two months later, all of the women of child-bearing age find themselves in the family way. The word “pregnant” is never used in the film. One of the women is the wife of a sailor who’s been away at sea for a year, and who thinks his brother has done the dirty deed. Even the virgins are expecting. MGM, which made the film cheaply under its British division, wanted that plotline removed as it feared the Catholic Church would object to a parallel of the Immaculate Conception (!)
Also pregnant is charmingly pretty Barbara Shelley (future Hammer Horror icon), who is thrilled at the prospect, as is her much older husband, George Sanders, who is the film’s hero. Sanders is an odd choice for the hero of a sci-fi flick; you keep on expecting him to deliver a quip about extra terrestrials in his distinctive, upper class, caddish tones. Sanders, if you don’t know already, was the voice of Shere Khan in The Jungle Book. Even odder is the thought of who the original star was supposed to be: Ronald Colman.
But then again, this is an odd sci-fi flick, considering it was made in 1960. A lot happens, but there isn’t really much action. It’s closer in tone to the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers then to, say, The Blob or Them! In other words, this is a movie for grown-ups, with all sorts of Cold War allegorical possibilities.
Once it becomes obvious that the children are aliens, the grown-ups dither about what to do. Several villagers want to kill them, leading to a mob scene with burning sticks (lifted from Frankenstein). Others want to study them – particularly Sanders, who is some sort of professor, and who thinks the children’s intelligence will be a benefit to mankind. The army, of course, would prefer to destroy them “before they destroy us”. There’s an unintentionally hilarious moment with several Whitehall types arguing over what is to be done, and the army guy says “this isn’t a police state … yet.”
The reactions and behaviour of the adults are very odd. In the middle of the crisis, Sanders and Shelley still take the time to dress for dinner and have drinks with guests around the fireplace. And it’s always nice to see a film where the doctor chain-smokes. And although people are concerned, there’s little in the way of sheer panic. This is a very calm alien invasion movie.
It’s the children, of course, that are the best thing about the film. They are led by Martin Stephens, and he is chilling. They dress alike and are remarkably polite; they all look and sound like well-bred Etonians. The special effect of making their eyes glow when they use their powers is quite shoddy-looking today, of course, but was remarkably effective at the time. It’s not really clear what the children want (to spread out and breed, presumably), only that they regard the humans as inferior (which they are), and the relationship between Stephens and Sanders is strange but well-played. The film also benefits from having much of its violence happen off-screen, and for only using its score occasionally.
I’ve seen Village of the Damned several times, and although I groan and chuckle at one or two moments, I still think it’s a very effective, intelligent film, well worth seeing for anyone interested in the development of cinematic science-fiction. Fans of Game of Thrones will be happy to see a young, chubby Peter Vaughan (Maester Aemon, the old blind buy at the Wall) playing the local bobby.
Village of the Damned was a big success, leading to a very inferior sequel, Children of the Damned.
Thanks again to Niall for this excellent review, be on the lookout for anther entry from him in the next few days.