WARNING: This post contains spoilers for both films.
Back in March I scored Warner Archive’s “horror double feature” DVD of 1960’s Village of the Damned and its sequel, Children of the Damned (1963). I had never seen either film before purchasing it and wasn’t sure whether to go in expecting horror-corn or true thrills, but with a DVD cover screaming “So young, so innocent, so deadly!” at me in bold red font (not to mention the extremely creepy eyes of the children on the cover), I knew I’d probably enjoy these films either way.
Before I get into individual reviews of the two films, let’s get the dirt on the DVD set. Both films appear on one disc, which comes in a standard plastic case. The cover features a “split screen”-type image featuring pretty freakin’ awesome art for both films. The cover immediately attracted me when I was browsing the Warner shop online; I just couldn’t tear myself away from those possessed eyes! In the way of special features, we’ve got commentary by author Steve Haberman and screenwriter John Briley. Though lacking a bit in the way of special features, it’s a solid release.
And now, on to the reviews!
These films deal with possessed, semi-alien children who have come to terrorize Midwich, England. Born of human women who were impregnated by aliens, these horrific little sci-fi creatures of wonder grow at alarming speeds and have spooky mental powers, which they of course use to gain power over the adults.
Within the first couple of minutes of Village of the Damned, people start dropping dead. I’m not talking just a few more corpses than usual — dozens upon dozens of people are slumped in their chairs, turning cold on the floor or collapsed in the middle of the street. Midwich has been met with mass destruction of its population… or so it would seem.
Actually, the town was sent into a bizarre state of sleep for a few hours. Everyone wakes up eventually, and confusion sets in, especially when every single woman capable of carrying a child discovers that she’s pregnant a few months later.
Things get even weirder when all of the kids seem to be growing abnormally fast and all have the same weird eyes and blond hair, but it isn’t until those eyes start controlling the minds of others that everyone realizes something very bad is happening.
I was not incredibly familiar with any of the film’s cast members prior to viewing the film. Top billed are George Sanders and Barbara Shelley, both of whom I’ve seen in a few films but wouldn’t consider myself an avid fan of. Sanders is the actor I’m most familiar with, as he appears in some of my favorite films, namely All About Eve and Rebecca.
Regardless of my familiarity with them (or lack thereof), the performances in this film are pretty solid across the board. Not having any huge names attached works in the film’s favor because it puts the focus on the film’s clever plot. I will say, though, that the performances of the eerie alien-children are quite commendable. They deliver the same type of all at once unsettling and near-corny type of creep factor that can be seen in Children of the Corn‘s Isaac (John Franklin), which is one of my favorite horror flick performances of all time.
Time magazine had the following to say about the film upon its release in 1960: “Village is one of the neatest little horror pictures produced since Peter Lorre went straight.” I have to agree on that count. Village of the Damned isn’t the type of film that feels pressured to rely on gimmicks or gore to give the audience thrills. It’s jam-packed with true suspense, and the plot is just conceivable enough that the viewer can be drawn in by the possibility of such an event happening in our world. A moderate pace and a scientific treatment of the issue by the characters (they spend quite a bit of time on screen investigating and theorizing) gives this science fiction story a little root of realism that makes the film incredibly effective.
Children of the Damned followed Village of the Damned in 1963, and while the films both deal with alien-human hybrids, they differ from each other incredibly in mood and themes. Gone are the bright blonde, big-headed wigs in favor of a more natural (but still blonde) look. Accompanying the makeover for the super-children is a completely different attitude toward them: they’re treated as better than the rest of us, worthy of protection and an almost holy status, rather than being viewed as the enemy.
This completely 360 degree shift from evil space children to praised baby geniuses is very striking, especially since I watched the films back to back. Fear not, though: the kids are treated as little wonder-beings from the beginning in this installment, but there’s still plenty of creep factor to go around. After all, they’ve still got those nutty mind control abilities! It’s possibly even a bit more frightening than its predecessor, with the campy “glowing eyes” effect removed in most of the scenes, and in those where it is used it looks much more realistic.
A common thread between the two films comes from the scientific handling of the subject matter by the characters, which once again appears in Children of the Damned. There’s a whole lot of theorizing, studying the children and investigating their abilities — possibly even more so than in the first film, since the plot of the second revolves around the children being rounded up and brought to England for observation.
Village of the Damned and Children of the Damned may not come from the brand of horror that delivers enormous shocks and runs and a break-neck pace, but both films are thoroughly fascinating to watch. From the trademark mid-century sci-fi plot to the glowing eyes to the believably orchestrated performances (especially from the kids), this duo of films is not one to miss.