Village of the Damned (1960)
I’m a fan of “creepy kid” films, i.e. movies where children are possessed, murderous, aliens, what have you! Oddly enough, the British seem to have a hold of this genre as they’ve made some crazy forays into it. Just recently I saw the Deborah Kerr film The Innocents which treads spookier ground in this genre. The last film I saw that hooked me was the 2008 film The Children (it’s a far gorier and creative take on Village of the Damned worth seeking out). The 1960 Village of the Damned is a classic that I’ve officially seen. I’ve seen snippets of the 90s remake with Christopher Reeve and Kirstie Alley that I’ve heard is atrocious so I won’t be seeking that out anytime soon. Suffice it to say, this movie is a perfect introduction to British horror with a fantastic performance from George Sanders.
In the small English village of Midwich, everyone mysteriously passes out for several hours. When they all come to the town tries to move on until several women turn up pregnant. The question of paternity arises, especially considering one of the girls is a virgin. When the children are born they all possess blonde hair, weird eyes, and move as a herd. The father of one of these bizarre children, George Zellaby (George Sanders) starts to think the group are aliens from another planet.
The 1950s/1960s was a time where science-fiction and horror played up to threats of Communism and conformity coming from “beings from beyond” trying to pervert things from within. A slew of films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers came out during this time and by the 1960s the genre was slowing down. Village of the Damned has the same premise of a small town, being one of several that experiences this, come to be invaded as part of a larger scheme. The perversion of motherhood and the emasculation of the town’s males is also intriguing. George and the other men of the town start to doubt their wives and even George doesn’t take to his son David (Martin Stephens) because he’s “not the father.” Obviously, audiences are meant to take away the idea that invaders from the outside come inside and destroy the sacred bonds of matrimony.
The film is a brisk 77 minutes so once the town passes out and wakes up it’s all bound up in what is up with the kids. For the 60s, I don’t consider this a “horror” film. Sure the kids are creepy and do bad things with their mind but it’s pretty tame. Their agenda also doesn’t seem as planned out as expected from such extraordinary beings. You find out several towns throughout the world have had similar events, yet the menfolk of these towns went crazy and killed the children. I’m not sure if you’re meant to see the British as “civilized” for not going nuts and killing these kids, or furthering the theme of male emasculation because the men didn’t take matters into their own hands. Either way, wouldn’t these aliens want to be birthed in locales where they wouldn’t be killed. I just don’t believe they’d look at the map and think “a small town in Alaska sounds like a great place to have alien babies birthed.”
There isn’t a whole lot going on and my writing about it makes it seem like nothing really happens, it’s just the movie is so short it doesn’t SEEM like much happens. Martin Stephens continues to excel at playing the “creepy kid” which he would do again in the aforementioned The Innocents. He talks like he’s 40, probably the first child star to act in the vein of being wise beyond their years, while the rest of the kids just fade into the background. I would have enjoyed more debate on if David comes to love his parents and maybe distance himself from the pack but it’s not fully fleshed out.
Village of the Damned is a strong, atmospheric film but I wouldn’t jump to calling it a horror classic because it’s not that scary.
Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
I watched The Children a year or two ago, kind of randomly, for Shocktober and also found it to be pretty great. Glad to know I’m not the only one who’s seen it.
Gotta love the British, they keep it classy even during Halloween!
I actually prefer the remake, believe it or not. I just watched both back-to-back not that long ago. The original is very atmospheric, but I like how the characters and some of the horror elements are handled in the remake.
Thus why I’m going to compare! I’ve heard REALLY mixed things about the remake and it’s always those films that are the most interesting to watch!