Friday, May 13, 2011

Village of the Damned (1960)
UK --- science fiction/ horror

Dir: Wolf Rilla

Just what is it with cinema’s long sad history of antagonizing young children? Maybe it’s because we see them as so innocent, no wrong can be done from their precious little minds. Or perhaps there is a deep dark fear that with everything our forefathers and we have built and strived to create in our world, the next generation could easily rip down everything and destroy it.

Somewhere around the mid 1950's and on into the present, there has been a quaint little sub-genre of horror cinema that specifically involves evil children. I'm not sure anyone has pin-pointed when it started, but I would suggest it began with the 1956 Leroy Mervyn film "The Bad Seed". Along with that movie, "Village of the Damned" appears to be a post-World War II commentary on what exactly lies in the future minds of our youth. It's apparent to note other films of a similar ilk like "Blackboard Jungle", "The Wild One" and "Rebel Without a Cause" which focused more specifically with rebellious teenagers. But I digress, this "evil children" phenomenon seemed to deal specifically with the unnerving feeling of having birthed an almost demonic force that adults fear. Television even picked up on this when "The Twilight Zone" adapted Jerome Bixby's tale "It's A Good Life" to the airwaves. So there is definitely something to this. I suppose one can simply find the origin of this in a reversal of the immaculate conception of Jesus Christ. Instead, of course this is probably pointing to (as the film "The Omen" did) specifically the anti-Christ.

Based on science fiction novelist John Wyndam's 1957 novel "The Midwich Cuckoos", the film "Village of the Damned" weaves a terrifying tale of a town that is slowly destroyed from within, by a new found breed of peculiar children. When Maj. Alan Bernard (Michael Gwynn of "Revenge of Frankenstein") places a phone call to his brother-in-law Professor Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders), he loses him. We see him and everyone else in the small town of Midwich pass out. We then see that it's not just him, but the entire town including animals has passed out. For several hours the residents of Midwich are secluded within a mysterious "time out", that has no scientific explanation.

Upon investigation, Maj. Bernard finds that it is only the town from a certain perimeter that has experienced this phenomenon. They set up a quarantine around the town with the town doctor standing by to discern just what has happened. With no real signs of anything malignant, everyone eventually does awaken. Professor Zellaby and his wife wake up hours later with odd effects such as a chill and numbness. However, not too long later, all the women of  child-bearing age who experienced the "time-out" discover that they are mysteriously pregnant, including Mrs. Zellaby. The doctor and town parishioner find that they have no explanation whatsoever for this event. When the children come on the scene, the townsfolk realize they are all related by strange eyes, platinum blonder hair, an apathetic demeanor, a shared high intellect, and most of all they exhibit the capacity for Extrasensory Perception and even mind control.

At the rapid pace of these children's aging, Professor Zellaby, the town doctor, and Maj. Bernard realize they may need to study these children more closely. In a meeting with some scientific minds and the military, they also learn that the same "time-out" occurred in other countries, including the Soviet Union, Australia, and an Inuit tribe in Canada which killed their children. With the exception of the Soviet Union who were training their children, most of the other children did not survive, which leads Zellaby to a sympathetic stance, feeling there could be unexplored assets to studying them further. He bargains with this small council to keep them under close watch for one year under his watch. They all agree, and thus trouble begins.

The Zellaby child, David, seems to position himself as the ringleader of the children, which makes the Professor even more eager to explore their prowess. However, when they begin to kill some of the villagers out of self-defense and then just plain old eliminating anyone of a threat, things become more hairy. When news comes that the Soviets destroyed their children in one village like Hiroshima, the Professor has become aware that drastic actions must be taken one way or another.

"Village of the Damned" is an excellent science fiction film. Unfortunately, over the years it has, as mentioned, turned into a horror cliche, and all remnants of sci-fi are gone. In fact the only mention of aliens is in one scene in the film. Clocks figure prominently in the theme of "Village of the Damned" appropriately. The novel is called "The Midwich Cuckoos", as in the cuckoo bird which we associate with the cuckoo clock. However, the title is insinuating more than that, as the nature of the cuckoo bird is to lay its eggs in the nest of another birds species. The mother will feed the the young cuckoo birds unbeknownst of their lineage. Interestingly, the spooky eyes used in the film, look strikingly similar to the cuckoo birds eyes.

There was a remake of the film in 1995 by horror master John Carpenter. The film transported Midwich to New England, America, and concentrated more on the horror aspect of the story, and threw in a government conspiracy. In fact the only mention of extraterrestrial possibility is in a classroom scene in the original film where Professor Zellaby asked the children about life on other planets. The idea of abortion was brought up in this version of the film, which is interesting since the original film sparked controversy from Catholic anti-abortion groups, even though there was no mention or hints about the subject. "Village of the Damned" is a classic science fiction film that goes beyond the Cold War nightmares of science gone wrong, and hits more at the heart of our own psyche. As opposed to nuclear threats, there's the threat of the minds behind those who could potentially hit that button in the first place. The look of the children is a clear homage to Hitler's ideologies of an Aryan Übermensch (translated "Super Man"). The Nazis actually recruited Aryan women for a program called Lebensborn and impregnated them for this purpose. They also kidnapped thousands of blonde-haired blue-eyed children. It's safe to say, John Wyndam was definitely inspired by these true events when putting "The Midwich Cuckoos" to paper.