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Village of the Damned (1960)

by on 2011/10/13

“If you didn’t suffer from emotions, from feelings, you could be as powerful as we are.  You’ll never reach our minds.”

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“Children!” cried Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) in Tim Burton’s biopic, Ed Wood. “I love children!” I was pretty sure he didn’t really, that it was the morphine and Demerol talking. But why wouldn’t he — or anyone — love children? Perhaps he’d read an early draft of John Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos. Having died in 1956, he certainly couldn’t have seen its feature adaptation, Village of the Damned.

Set in Midwich, England, it tells its tale in three distinct segments. In the first, a mysterious force descends on the small town, rendering its inhabitants unconscious for several hours. In the second, about two months later, the local women are all revealed to be pregnant. In the third, later still, we meet their unusual offspring, who keep the townsfolk in thrall with their menacing ways.

Its horror felt more akin to Cat People than something like Devil Bat, with complexity, greater depth, and less spectacular monsters. It was one of those movies which reminded me of others. In its early moments, I thought of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), particularly in the use of the “time-out” device. Next I was reminded of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), where surreptitious forces take possession of family and friends.

Ultimately, I thought the most of a Twilight Zone episode adapted from 1953’s “It’s a Good Life”, the story of an omnipotent young boy who holds an eerily cheerful sway over his community, possibly his entire world. Terrified by his potential to destroy their lives, his acquaintances feign a strained sense of happiness, a fate possibly worse than death.

In its time, Communism would have informed our interpretation. However, with that paranoia virtually banished today, Village continues to support other themes, and prompts equally relevant questions. What does it mean to be human? Is it physiology, psychology, or maybe something else? What is the nature of a relationship, and what strength does it possess, particularly if it can be undone in an instant? What debt do we owe to our children and what, if anything, do they owe us?

However, while I appreciated the questions of subtext and most of the experience in general, there were notable distractions. I was left dissatisfied by hints of alien involvement mentioned, left unexplored, and frankly unnecessary. Neither was I completely sold on the children’s psychic abilities. For of a tale of such nuance, I found the blunt force explanations out-of-place.

From a technical perspective, I didn’t care for the glowing eyes. Too often they didn’t “fit” the irises they overlaid. Couple them with the creepy voice effect and . . . perhaps their ability to off-put worked well after all.

A more subtle issue involved the function of transitional edits. I recall a few different uses of dissolves: one (poorly) buried in a pan before the titles, standard cross-fades, and a soft straight wipe across the screen. I may have missed various others as well. What bothered me was that they drew attention to themselves, but seemed arbitrary, and served no purpose.

Conversely, there were scenes when time jumped forward by multiple months, yet were separated only by a standard cut. The viewer then has no indication of the relative jump in time. Why not maintain straight cuts within each time period, and use dissolves to suggest longer gaps?

Editing aesthetics notwithstanding, Village of the Damned was impressive. A good story, well told, with plenty of grist for the mind’s mill, it remains as entertaining and relevant in our day as I suspect it must have been in its own. I should point out, good as it might be, it probably won’t win any converts to parenthood.

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Rated PG

77 minutes

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