Village of the Damned (1960) [31 Days of British Horror Review]

Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January, Jules is at it again in March, treating us to a chronological run through the classic era of British Horror, from the late ’50s to the end of the ’70s, with one review every day for the entire month.

You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of British Horror” by CLICKING HERE.

Starring: George Sanders, Barbara Shelley
Director: Wolf Rilla

Based on John Wyndham’s 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos, Village Of The Damned smartly stays fairly close to its source material, taking its time to build up the tension with a series of ever-escalating incidents.

Despite its lean 77 minute run time, director Wolf Rilla’s film is in no hurry to get to the sinister child action, going instead for a creeping sense of dread as information is drip fed to us, slowly building up the horror of what is growing in the village. And it’s nothing good.

The sleepy English village of Midwich one day becomes quite literally that, when every single person in the area suddenly pass out en masse, with the effect so localised and powerful that it even affects an Air Force pilot sent for a recce once the military establish an exclusion zone.

Two months later, all females of child-bearing age in the affected area are discovered to be pregnant, resulting in everything from joy and elation to accusations of infidelity and a suicide attempt. It soon becomes clear that these children aren’t normal though. Their development is precociously fast, both physically and mentally, while their growing hive mind, platinum blonde hair and “affecting eyes” only add to their strangeness.

The children are mentored by Professor Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders), whose wife Anthea (Barbara Shelley) gave birth to one of the children, after being given a year to see what he can do with them by the authorities, wary of the growing threat in their midst. There’s only so much Gordon can do though, as the deaths in the village start to mount up, with the children seemingly growing in power and ambition every day…

While the real credit for such an inspired idea has to be mainly given to John Wyndham, this disturbing tale of a (possible) alien invasion with a difference is brilliantly brought to life and is fairly gripping throughout.

The very definition of a slow-burner, we’re a good half way through the film before the real action starts and it’s all the better for it. While not giving any definitive answers, Village Of The Damned makes a big effort with the world-building, making Midwich feel like a living, breathing village populated by real people with real lives that go on when the camera isn’t on them. Not only that, there’s a world outside it, one that has had its own visitations at exactly the same time, which add an extra layer of horror to the situation when you hear what has happened in each location.

The great George Sanders is typically fantastic here, patient and kind with the children and determined to tech them, but clearly broken-hearted at the knowledge that his son David is his in name only, while Barbara Shelley is, as usual, a wonderfully charismatic screen presence.

Naturally it’s the children who steal the show though. Not just in the horrific set pieces where they telepathically force people to drive their car into a wall, shoot themselves in the head or set themselves on fire, but in the quiet moments when they just tell the adults what they’re thinking and why there’s no point resisting. From an adult it world be upsetting, but from angelic child, it just doesn’t feel right at all.

Village Of The Damned is a remarkably effective horror, full of ideas you don’t want to think about for too long, but ones that linger long in the mind after the final, devastating finale. Wonderful.

Rating: 4.5/5.

JULESAV The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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