‘You have to be taught to leave us alone…’
The British horror scene was so dominated by Hammer Horror from the ’30s through to the ’60s that very little else broke through. Village of the Damned is one of the few British horror films from that era to make an impact and remain influential in the years that followed. The idea of creepy children wasn’t invented for this film but there is no denying that the visual aesthetic of the ‘damned’ kids here was an influence on Children of the Corn, The Omen and even more grown-up fare like The Others…
The sleepy English village of Midwich takes the idea of ‘sleepy’ too literally one summer’s day when the whole town promptly falls asleep for a few hours. After they awake, it is discovered that all the women are pregnant. Local professor Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders) attempts to make sense of this phenomenon but his efforts are only confounded by the revelation that the children grow and mature at an abnormal rate.
Based on John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos, Village of the Damned perfectly captures the quaintness of village life that is so perfectly distorted in The Wicker Man and ultimately parodied in Hot Fuzz – despite the fact that it comes from the mind of a German writer-director in Wolf Rilla (albeit a German director who had lived in England for many years after fleeing Germany during WWII). George Sanders had already appeared in such classics as Rebecca and All About Eve by this point and he treats the whole thing with a reverence and respect for the material which elevates it above much of the horror that was being churned out during this era. The rest of the cast is forgettable with the only prominent female character given very little to do, but Sanders is enigmatic enough to carry the film on his own and it helps that it’s all over after 77 minutes. A spectacular running time for those of us who dearly love to be in bed before 10:30 p.m.
Village of the Damned is not a classic of the genre but it does offer something genuinely unique and different when compared to other British horror films from the same era. The serious tone and middle to upper-class characters align this more with the BBC adaptations of the M.R. James canon than with anything that Hammer was doing. A treat.