(Air Date: Week Of 4/26/95)
Wolf Rilla's vintage chiller, "Village Of The Damned" is based on John Wyndham's novel, "The Midwich Cuckoos". The film was shot in creepy black-and-white and focused on the efforts of an unlikely married couple to humanise their weird offspring. Well, if you were 27 years old, gorgeous, brilliant and sensitive like Barbara Shelley, would 54-year old GEORGE SANDERS be on YOUR short list of husbands?
The opening shots are beautifully done: The inhabitants of the quiet village of Midwich simply fall asleep mid-activity. The military gets wind of the unexpected afternoon siesta and, predictably, botch the investigation. Nine months later, any woman who's capable of bearing an infant delivers a precocious baby who quickly evolves into a genius demon child with straight blonde hair and spooky eyes. Spookiest of the bunch is Martin Stephens as David, Shelley's son. Stephens made a dozen films in his twelve-year career, becoming less frightening as he entered his teens, but luckily for horror fans, "Village of the Damned" and 1961's "The Innocents" were filmed when Stephens was at his blood-curdling best. You didn't need to have a bunch of great child actors with Stephens as the ringleader.
In the film's finest moments, the grown-ups fight a losing war of nerves with their cool, well-spoken would-be conquerors. The smash status of Rilla's film is partly due to the universal mutual distrust between adults and kids and mostly because he stuck to basics and kept things simple. Three years later, Anton Leader tried to duplicate the success with "Children of the Damned". Ian Hendry and Alan Badel (both wearing obvious rugs) run around town trying to figure out what an international batch of alien-spawned children has in mind. Barbara Ferris is around to translate because none of these whiz kiddies can really act. To make a story like this work, you really have to go for the audiences' visceral connection with the material. Long military strategy sequences and endless philosophising just don't cut it. The lack of a deeply impassioned protagonist (which, yeh, even snide George Sanders could be when he halfway tried) ultimately scuttles whatever dreams the producers may have had for ten more damned children sequels.
But both "Village" and "Children" are well worth a look on video, especially for ten or eleven year old fantasists who'd love to terrify their caretakers into doing everything they say with the help of one cold lethal stare.
Copyright 1995 Monica Sullivan
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