A lot of things have changed over the past 60 years. We have phones that can play movies. We have a system of electronic communication that allows my refrigerator to order pizza for me. You wanna know something that hasn’t changed? Blonde children that are wise beyond their years are still creepy as fuck. Village of the Damned may not be talked about frequently, but its pop culture tendrils run deep into the genre. How does Wolf Rilla’s adaptation of The Dunwich Cuckoos hold up? Well, you can just read right through to get our spoiler filled break down.
Reviewed by: Mark
Village of the Damned really breaks down into two halves. As the movie opens we see an entire town of people mysteriously collapse unconscious. Before long the British military become aware of the situation and begin testing the boundaries of the town to figure out what the hell is going on. Before long (but not before they manage to crash a plane into the woods) everyone in the town wakes back up, confused but otherwise unscathed. As time moves on and the villagers get back to their daily lives, but soon come to find out that all of the women that were in the town at the time of the event are pregnant and at roughly the same gestational age. Weird, right?
Flash forward a few months and all of the babies have been born. They have very specific and strange physical attributes (blonde hair, thin nails, and rapid aging) that make them all look very similar (and creepy). From an early age they also exhibit very high intelligence and a psychic connection to each other. As people either accidentally or intentionally cross them they are compelled to do things that they do not want to do, often resulting in self-harm. As the kids continue to grow, and the numbers of inexplicable casualties among the townsfolk also increase, sentiment regarding the children turns from bad to worse and the town tries to figure out a way to rid themselves of this blight.
Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders), the father of the children’s leader continues to try and teach them and earns their trust. As he realizes that their collective will could damn all of civilization he sacrifices himself by hiding a bomb in his bag, disguising his thoughts, and blowing up the schoolhouse with all of the children inside. The spirits of whatever it was that inhabited the kids can be seen floating away into the night as the film fades to credits.
What the Movie Does Right
The uniqueness of the story is something that immediately caught my attention. It’s so purely bizarre and interesting that I was sucked in immediately regardless of the fact that it’s an obviously dated black and white movie. Could you imagine what would happen today if an entire town simultaneously passed out and then all the women woke up pregnant?
Beyond the actual conceit of the movie, the script itself is also very solid. Often times with movies coming out of the 50s and 60s the narratives feel forced and driven clumsily forward via unbelievable exposition, but the progression of Village really felt organic. The characters made mostly sensible choices and the question that the film seems to posit is actually an intriguing one.
Additionally, the truly iconic way that they illustrate the kids psychic powers is entertaining and fun. The tagline of the movie “Beware the Stare” highlights that any time the kids control someone their eyes glow a mysterious white color. Within the film I think it looks generally good, but it’s also worth noting that they essentially invented a brand new film editing process in order to overlay the visual effect on a moving (sometimes) background. Gotta love that film history shit.
What the Movie Does Wrong
I think this is a bit of a cheap shot considering it’s basically just a function of the technology that was available to them at the time, but the audio dub of the character’s speech (especially David, the children’s leader) is awful. Seriously. We’ve seen some bad dubbing on this site before, but this easily ranks near the top of that list. Sometimes the audio doesn’t even match the motions of the actors mouths. In general I was immersed in this thing pretty heavily, but when there were any dialogue heavy scenes I really had to concentrate on not being taken out.
Lastly, although I love the eye effects they do for the kid, I should note that it was not a unanimously held opinion. Speaking frankly, the effect is pretty cheesy. If you’re willing to appreciate it for what it is then you might find it charming like I do, but it is objectively bad looking. Beyond that, because this was a brand new process there were a few technical issues that presented themselves. Perhaps the most glaring of which is the duplication of one of the children’s shoulder in a scene where only half of the frame freezes for the effect.
Story: 7.5 - The combination of a unique premise, interesting villains, and generally believable characters makes for an imminently watchable movie.
World-Building / Immersion: 5 - This is always a tough category for older movies. The film looks pretty good, but it sounds terrible. As interested as I was in the script, more often then not I found myself pulled out a bit by the audio dub.
Scare-Factor: 4 - Another tough category. Psychically induced self harm is one of those tropes that I will always rate highly. That shits pretty creepy. Also just the general weirdness of the circumstances and the kids is enough to keep this out of the bottom of the scale.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 4 - I’ll start by saying I totally appreciate the campiness of the eye effects and the technological improvement that was developed for the movie. That being said, it does look objectively bad. It’s clear the eyes are just laid over a static image and there isn’t even always that much alignment between the effect and where the kids’ eyes actually are. You also have the issue of the duplicated shoulder to deal with when the whole frame isn’t frozen.
Overall: 6 - Despite its age and technical challenges I enjoyed this movie, and I’m not one to go back and stand behind films from multiple decades ago. I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I expected to.