Movie Discussion: Wolf Rilla’s Village of the Damned (1960)

  • Monthly Theme: Evil Childrenvillage_of_the_damned_xlg
  • The Film: Village of the Damned
  • Country of origin: U.K.
  • Date of U.K. release: July 1960
  • Date of U.S. release: December 7, 1960
  • Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer British Studios
  • Distributer: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
  • Domestic Gross: ?
  • Budget: $2o0,000 (estimated)
  • Director: Wolf Rilla
  • Producers: Ronald Kinnoch
  • Screenwriter: George Barclay, Wolf Rilla & Stirling Silliphant
  • Adaptation? Yes, of the 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham.
  • Cinematographer: Geoffrey Faithfull
  • Make-Up/FX: Tom Howard
  • Music: Ron Goodwin
  • Part of a series? There was a 1963 sequel named Children of the Damned.
  • Remakes? Yes, as John Carpenter’s 1995 film Village of the Damned, starring Christopher Reeve and Kirstie Alley.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Child actor Martin Stephens (The Innocents, The Witches, etc.).Hammer scream queen Barbara Shelley (Dracula: Prince of Darkness, The Gorgon, etc.).
  • Other notables?: No.
  • Awards?: n/a
  • Tagline: “Beware the stare that will paralyze the will of the world.”
  • The Lowdown: The quaint rural village of Midwich experience a strange crisis: everyone in the town passes out unconscious for a few hours at the same moment. Upon awaking, the villagers slowly realize all the fertile women in town are pregnant. Months later, they give birth to a gang of rapidly-maturing psychic Aryan children who strike back violently at anyone who seems to threaten a part of their group. Soon the villagers must decide – what should be done about the children?

If you haven’t seen Village of the Damned our discussion will include massive SPOILERS.

Sean: I was trying to imagine which set of characters in this movie would earn your sympathies and I could not decide. It seemed equally plausible that you’d hate the kids and be rooting for the adults, or that you would hate the adults and be rooting for the kids. So, which was it? Or could you not sympathize with anybody?

Kristine: I was with the kids all the way.

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Eeeney, meeney, miney moe, Evil Nazi eyes a-glow…

Sean: I see a theme emerging here… You loved Baby and the kids in Who Can Kill a Child? And now this?

Kristine: What can I say?

Sean: I was all about Anthea in this movie. She’s my everything.

Kristine: She is lovely. I did feel some empathy for her when David utterly rejects her and has no need for her maternal niceties. I feel that way about my cat sometimes… Like he’s all grown and secure and has no need for me. It’s true.

Sean: Regarding Anthea… She is gorgeous and dresses impeccably. I loved all her outfits to pieces.

Kristine: I loved her dresses. They all had the perfect hem length.

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Fabulous mother, petulant spawn

Sean: She also brings some much needed diva realness that the rest of this movie is sorely lacking, most notably when she bites her driving glove after the kids force Suspicious Brother to eat his shotgun. Also, I was so mad at all of the times she was asked to leave the room by practically every other person in the movie. Even David was like, “Sigh. I want to speak to my father…”

Kristine: How about the slap Gordon delivers that snaps her out of her (justified) hysteria? I know my boyfriend was thinking, ‘If only I could get away with that…’ And yes to David being all, “Women are the silliest. Where is my RIMA father?”

Sean: It was too much. I was like, ‘Stop telling Anthea to leaving the room, bitches!’

Kristine: Back to fashion for a sec.  I loved that all the kids wear black tot trenches and knee-high black boots. In general, I was really into the mod/Nazi-death-squad fusion of the kids’ look (not to mention the blunt bangs on all the gals). All of that was awesome. Surely there has been a two boy/two girl band that has fully embraced and rocked this look.

Sean: Village of the Damned is a great band name actually.

Kristine: It is.

Sean: Yeah its like, ‘Could this movie be any more about the Nazis?’ No, it couldn’t be.

Kristine: Yeah, It’s always about the Nazis.

Sean: So much of this movie feels like its a purging of lingering British anxieties about the WWII years – gas masks, sinister Aryans, villages in crisis, British planes falling out the sky while horrified soldiers/civilians watch helplessly below… Can I ask, overall, what did you think of the movie?

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The Jam or the Hitler Youth? Who can tell?

Kristine: I thought it was pretty good, but it almost felt more like a really good episode of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents than a full-on feature film. Does that make sense? Maybe it’s the relatively short running time or the movie’s British restraint (that is, a lack of the obvious emotional manipulation that is the hallmark of American movies like It’s Alive).

Sean: Right. As far as classic B&W 1950s/’60s sci-fi movies go, it doesn’t get much better than Village of the Damned, as far as I’m concerned. The overall premise and the first thirty minutes of set-up are so brilliant. Plus, the filmmaking is top notch, like how the score drops completely out of the movie while everyone in Midwich is passed out. Just eerie silence for fifteen minutes of running time.

Kristine: Agreed.

Sean: This movie features a lot of purely visual sequences with little to no dialogue, like the night the children are born and all the men gather at the local pub, or the visual motif of the brick wall to represent Gordon’s attempts to block his thoughts from the children, with the wall slowly crumbling as they probe his brain. So great.

Kristine: I also liked the little touches like the canary test during the blackout incident. The film does a great job establishing the assorted village denizens with both precision and economy, without using a lot of dialogue, as you pointed out.

Sean: The genre elements of the movie are such a great metaphor for so many things – the alienation of being a parent, the suspicion and paranoia of fatherhood, misunderstanding and fear between the previous generation and youth culture, etc.

Kristine: Is Pink Floyd’s The Wall the perfect pop culture companion to this movie? You’ve already said that Anthea was your MVP. Did you also like the kiddies? C’mon, they were badasses.

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The Ancient Mariner watches.
Sean: I sort of hated the kids, even though I realize that they’re supposed to be these femme/queer Others and usually I am all about it. But these kids are Nazis, so….

Kristine: Remember when Anthea overhears Gordon saying, “[He’s] Anthea’s son. I have no proof that he’s mine”?

Sean: I love that moment. Poor Anthea. All the stuff about everyone reacting to the mass pregnancieswas awesome. How that one couple is in a huge fight because the husband was away for two years and thinks she cheated, and then there’s the teenage girl who is dying because she’s a virgin but the doctor is like, ‘Uh huh, sure you are….’

Kristine: I know. And yes to the duality of the kids being The Other but also being Nazis. Overall, I’m kindly disposed towards the kids, despite their Aryan-ness. David was the leader, but there was generally great equity amongst them, regardless of gender or the status of their respective “parents,” right? And there was not only power in their group dynamic, but also in how they possessed and shared knowledge between each other. I loved how the hive consciousness amongst the kids operated, especially at the beginning when they all know how to solve the Chinese box after Gordon demonstrates how it works to David.

Sean: Don’t you mean “boxes of Oriental ingenuity”?

Kristine: Oh gross. Gordon is sort of the worst. But why did you hate the kids?

Sean: I just hated their smug, pellucid faces.

Kristine: Who cares about face when you have fashion? No, you hate them because they bummed out your girl Anthea and made her scald herself on a pot of boiling water.

Sean: I actually thought that scene was really brutal and horrible and it made me sick to my stomach. The kids were an oi band who go romper stomping after teatime. Did you recognize David as the boy from The Innocents?

Kristine: I didn’t recognize him. Dang. Can you imagine a childhood of starring in these psychologically twisted horror movies?

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Eugenics fashionplate.

Sean: I got a childhood full of psychologically twisted horror and didn’t even get the fame and fortune for it.

Kristine: What about all the poor women being herded into some kind of horrid Quonset hut to have their uteri x-rayed? All I’m saying is, the village folk weren’t the most lovable, either. When Gordon first finds out that Anthea is pregnant and says something alone the lines of, “You’ve given me this gift, you’ve given me perfect happiness,” I was disgusted, just as much as I was by his later denial of paternity. I hate that bearing a child is either “a gift” to the father or a shameful burden the mother has beset on the father, depending on the day and/or male mood swings.

Sean: I know. The whole way the village reacts to the mass pregnancies, like I said before, is amazing in its complexity. I also really like how so much of the premise is left a mystery (like “the riddle of the universe” George is accused of wanting David to solve). We never really know why the children exist, where they came from, or what the mass blackout was caused by.

Kristine: Yes, I love the uncanny mystery, too. And I love how the blackout is called a “time out” by the villagers. I think it would be pretty easy to interpret the fact that the pregnancies occur as being related to Midwich’s total removal from the rest of society (i.e. without the influence and control of social contracts, then Nature or magic or alien forces or whatever can and will take over). After all, the children act much closer to animals than humans, right? They are well-mannered (another big up for them in my book) but aren’t truly influenced by social constructs or mores. They are of one hive mind and work collaboratively and equally to a common end that is beneficial and desirable to all. But as for what causes the timeout that enables all this to happen, I have no idea.

Sean: Notice how all the other places where the “time outs” occur are also remote: Siberia, an Eskimo village, Outer Mongolia, the Australian Outback (which is probably the Yabba from Wake in Fright).

Kristine: I wouldn’t be surprised if the kids appeared on Summerisle from The Wicker Man.

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The helpless men feel things.

Sean: The children’s collaborative, egalitarian nature is part of what makes them uncanny – and also what makes them Nazis (though they also read very easily as Marxists). “One mind to the twelfth power.”

Kristine: Or, as Gordon puts it, they are the people of the future.

Sean: Did you catch David’s extremely perverted and oblique reference to sex when he said, “Soon we will reach the stage where we can establish new colonies”? Meaning, ‘soon we will all fuck each other.’

Kristine: You are so base. David is much higher minded than you.

Sean: He wants to fuck, he said so himself.

Kristine: Only to re-colonize.

Sean: This movie reminded me of The Bad Seed when they’re all debating what makes the kids one way or the other and Alan says, “People, especially children, aren’t measured by their IQ. What’s important about them is whether they’re good or bad…” I thought that statement was extremely naïve and, also, not actually the way our society judges people. And George is like, “Children are not born with a sense of moral values, they have to be taught!!” And, of course, he considers himself to be Just the Daddy to Do It.

Kristine: Oh, I had the same thought. Alan’s statement is just not true, because all children are little psychopathic pack creatures.

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Matching driving gloves a couple make.

Sean: The age difference between Gordon and Anthea was something. One time he’s even like, “And I’m so wicked fuckin’ old!” when he first learns she’s pregnant. I would suggest that – similarly to It’s Alive – that David is a metaphorical result of their inappropriate coupling. It is ‘unnatural’ and so is he.

Kristine: But then Gordon is like, “It makes me especially awesome and well-suited to being the best father ever because I am 30 to 40 years older than my gorgeous wife.” Classic example of male overconfidence versus female under-confidence.

Sean: It also gives a new urgency to the symbolic ways in which the movie opens and closes with a clock. Time is the Reaper coming, but also, the importance of space/time to the plot. The movie opens with that chiming clocktower. Is that every woman in the town’s biological clock ticking? Or is it Gordon’s (and every other father’s) mortality? Then the movie ends with the mental image of the clock on the brick wall, which Gordon projects only in order to hide the true clock – the timer on the bomb, or, that is, the face of death. Heterosexual panic about procreation and the relationship of death to the successive generations is really what this movie is all about.

Kristine: It does seem to be a sign of reckoning, right? There is a sense that, despite the children springing from a force utterly apart from society, society is somehow responsible for their existence. Some type of folly or hubris or unnatural behavior has brought this about.

Sean: Yes, and to answer you earlier question about who the father is, one of the theories offered up by the characters is that the impregnations are a result of “the transmission of energy” from outer space, possibly from aliens who are “better at it than we are.” So basically, space fucked the town and made the Nazis grow inside all the ladies.

Kristine: Love it. It doesn’t matter whether they are Nazis or egalitarian, ultra-evolved beings of the future… I still want to be one of them so I can have powers and then I will avenge the wrongs that others have visited upon me. And I will have a (well-dressed) posse to have my back.

Sean: I can’t believe you want to be a pudding-faced Nazi psychic. Two details about the kids that were particularly gross: their nails and hair follicles are mutated.

Kristine:  Well, I want to keep my face. But everything else: yes (also, I want to have Baby around). I never got a good look at their fingernails, and I tried to see when David hurt his fingie (and Anthea wrapped her dirty handkerchief around it).

Sean: Can we talk about the way David treats his mother? Every time there was a scene between them, I would think ‘autism spectrum.’ He is the child that does not want to be touched.

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“I care not for your love, Mother.”

Kristine: I thought that, too.

Sean: I actually really respected the way that Anthea dealt with all David’s icy disses. She was stoic, with just a glimmer of visible crumpling.

Kristine: I agree with that. If I were her, my “visible crumpling” would have been a full-on collapse to the ground, weeping and beating my breasts and screaming,”Why are you hurting me?????”

Sean: Anthea’s better off at the end of the movie with no more Paternally Condescending Gordon the Ancient Mariner, and no puffy-headed demonspawn.

Kristine: Well, yeah.

Sean: We’ve talked a little bit this month about the classic trope of the mob vs. the monster (with It’s Alive) and I was fascinated by how that scene played out in this movie. Did it stick out to you?

Kristine: Yes, I thought that was interesting, particularly with respect to the power dynamic. Generally, the mob has the upper hand, even when the monster has more intellect, is more sophisticated, and or more physical strength.

Sean: That image of the child vs. the mob was pretty striking, how David appears in the doorway of that spooky house all alone ton confront the mob, complete with torches and pitchforks, and its this big Gothic moment. That felt sort of queer to me, like the scene had some queer politics to it. David is like Erik from The Phantom of the Opera in that scene, except here the mob is powerless against him.

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Gothic spaz attack.

Kristine: Yes. Exactly.

Sean: Can we discuss Bruno? The dog?

Kristine: I literally said to my boyfriend, ‘This dog better be an important plot point later, because he is getting a lot of screen time in the first fifteen minutes of this picture show.”

Sean: Gordon and Anthea’s hilariously un-worried reaction to Bruno viciously baring his teeth at the baby? I was cracking up. These days, straighties would like, decapitate their dog instantly for daring to growl at their precious babies.

Kristine: Most straighties just decapitate their dog way earlier for being “in the way.”

Sean: I loved Bruno, but his presence reminded me a lot of the function of the dog on Downton Abbey, which is essentially to represent the power of the patriarch as kind of lazy and outdated and slothful.

Kristine: To sit at Master’s feet and make Master look good.

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: Bruno is a Nazi name, just fyi.

Sean: Poor Bruno. He was a sweetie. Though where was he when Anthea was scalding herself? He could have saved the day there. Also, what does Anthea do with him after the movie ends? I kind of think she’s well within her rights to march that dog right down to the county pound.

Kristine: I don’t think he should have saved Anthea from scalding. Why would he abandon Gordon’s feet to help out Anthea?

Sean: Because Anthea is Gordon’s most expensive possession. So far, what movie has best expressed the weird monstrousness of children? I feel like this one does a pretty great job.

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The femininity of evil.

 Kristine: Yes, this one is great, especially at conveying how creepy and unknowable children can be. But I still really love how It’s Alive portrays the complicated and often fucked up feelings that parents have for their offspring.

Sean: Who is the scariest killer kid? Rhoda, the niños, Baby or these here Nazis?

Kristine: The scariest are the Mod Fashion Death Squad and the niños. The most loveable is Baby. The most utterly unlovable is Rhoda.

Sean: I think I’m most scared of the niños. They’ll kill you in broad daylight just for looking at them.

Kristine: Just for being grown folk.

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Phallic vengeance.

Sean: Right.

Kristine: But Mod Fashion Death Squad will make you kill yourself. And that is scary.

Sean: My dad showed me this movie when I was like 9 or 10 and I loved it then and I’ve loved it ever since.

Kristine: When you were 9 did you want to be a part of the Mod Death Squad?

Sean: No, I thought they were icky and weird. Those glowing baby eyes made me sick/mad.

Kristine: Ugh. You won’t give me an inch. Their eyes are amazing. I do think it’s interesting that intense staring is how killer kids get shit done in two of our movies (this and Who Can Kill a Child?).

Sean: Especially since the act of looking is often so powerful and meaningful in horror movies. Who has the camera/the lens or the ability to look. I guess its partly just, we never know what kids are really thinking. Their stares are these empty voids.

Kristine: If you and your boyfriend ever decide to adopt, you’ll have to scour this conversation from the Internet. Just fyi.

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating: Daddy dramz! AND It’s always about the Nazis AND Masterpiece!

The Freak’s Rating: Daddy dramz! AND It’s always about the Nazis AND Masterpiece!