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Village of the Damned (1960)
Ranging from stark and haunting to just a touch of mild yawn-inducement, Village of the Damned covers a lot of territory in its scant 77 minutes -- most of it rewarding.
The epitome of the haunting material occurs at the film's very beginning-when we see the town of Midwich, England fall prey to a bizarre turn of events. Every living thing suddenly falls to the ground, apparently either limp or dead. Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders), a resident of Midwich, is on the phone with his brother-in-law, Alan Bernard (Michael Gwynn), who is in the military, at the time of the incident. Although it occurs so quickly that it just seems to Alan as if the phone went dead, Alan immediately becomes suspicious. After he heads towards Midwich and sees evidence of the bizarre occurrence, he coaxes the military to stage a full investigation.
The occurrence stumps them. There's no natural explanation. And to make matters even more bizarre, within hours (the time frame is one of Village of the Damned's implausibilities of internal logic; there are a few scattered throughout, but it's nothing too serious), the out-of-commission residents are reanimated -- seemingly back to normal. But when every fertile woman in the town becomes pregnant, with the approximate date of conception the same as the town's lethargic oddity, suspicions arise, only to be confirmed when the strange, otherworldly children are born.
Although Village of the Damned might work even better if you didn't know anything about it beforehand, that's almost impossible to expect, since this is considered one of the classics of the genre (which genre is arguable, as we'll see in a minute) and the box art features the infamous, creepy, clone-like kids with glowing eyes and blonde-white hair.
As beautifully realized as the opening 15 - 20 minutes is by director Wolf Rilla, the brilliance of the intro retroactively mars the rest of the film, which never again meets its level of excellence. The material concerning the children is the bulk of the film, and it never attains the masterful focus of the "Twilight Zone"-like beginning.
The crux of Village of the Damned is the mystery of the children. Their eyes are intense and hypnotizing, they develop at an obviously accelerated pace-both mentally and physically. They seem to be able to communicate with one another via a kind of automatic telepathy, as with a vast, single, intersubjective mind-a Jungian fantasy made literal.
On the negative side (well, that is in addition to the 1960's conservative ethics negative aspects of unwed motherhood and dubious paternity) is that the children operate with little emotion, less compassion, and seem increasingly determined to strike out on their own in defiance to anyone who might get in their way-even though they're only a few years old.
Various facts concerning the Midwich children make Village of the Damned equally interpretable as either a sci-fi or a horror flick. Many aspects seem consistent with an alien implantation plot. Yet, the focus is on the realization that the children have evil ends in mind-more of a moral horror tale than anything else. Neither interpretation is made explicit, so the children might just as easily be spawn of Satan, or some more ambiguous evil force, as Pleiadian.
For the most part, Village of the Damned remains tight and captivating throughout its length. However, one brief section-towards the middle, right after an ingenious, dialogue-free section that conveys the horror of the Midwich men's dilemma on the tots' birthday-slows down too much and temporarily kills the film's momentum. Still, this is a minor flaw, and Village of the Damned remains a fine example of pre-splatter-era horror/non-effects-laden sci-fi that succeeds because of fine direction, a great plot, excellent atmosphere creation and a solid, but subtler storytelling style that should be viewed by all serious genre fans.