Friday, August 24, 2007

Wolf Rilla, "Village of the Damned" (1960)

Something strange is about to happen in a sleepy little town of Midwich, which is located in the English countyryside. People will begin abruptly to faint and collapse to the ground. It doesn't matter who they are, or what they are doing. In a matter of seconds there won't be a single conscious inhabitant of the town. It won't take too long before an outsider initiates an investigation of the situation. The only problem will be that anyone who steps into the village in search of an answer is destined to become an instant victim. Quite predictably the military will be summoned to deal with the problem.

This is how the 1960 film "Village of the Damned" starts. But the horror of the story lies not in the initial collapse of all the townspeople- but rather what apparently happened to them as they rested in repose. Because they did inevitably wake up again, feeling a bit cold but otherwise fine. However mysterious their separation from the rest of the world was, they didn't seem the worse for wear. Perhaps it was all just an anomaly that they could put to permanent rest? Unfortunately it didn't turn out that way. After a month or so had passed since the incident, the women of the village became pregnant. This in itself would cause no wonder if certain of these ladies didn't claim to have their viginity intact. Meanwhile some of the village husbands eyed their wives with suspicion. What exactly is the meaning of this mass visitation by the proverbial flock of storks?

As these babies grow (and they do so at a preternatural rate), certainfolks around town quickly discover that they are far from normal. Although considered "perfect" in form and development, they have a very strange look in their eyes. And to add another element of creepiness, they are all blondes. Their mental functions also seem to be advanced, even beyond that of their accelerated physical growth. The "father" of one of the boys eventually discerns that whatever task one kid learns- they all know. In addition they have the uncannily annoying ability to read the minds of both adults and other children. The twelve extraordinary children spend all there time among one another, and act for the protection of the group. They cut a strange sight in their eerily matched costumes. When one hapless townsperson accidently hurts one of the towheaded monsters, we learn that they actually have the ability to compel "normal" folks to hurt themselves.

Of course the plot arc requires these children to become both progressively powerful, and at the same time increasingly threatening. The menace they present to the village is only equaled by the scientific curiosity they elicit in the town's authorities. What to do about these ghastly tykes? Is it morally right just to destroy them? The father mentioned above assumes the responsibility of teaching the dastardly dozen . But he is unable to stem the advance of their dominance. Ultimately, he must take matters into his own hands to resolve the situation. How can he resolve his inner conflict and do what must be done? You'll have to watch to find out.

Some viewers of Village of the Damned consider it a political Cold War allegory. Perhaps the groupthink and foreign qualities of the strange kids reflect the ways that the Western world viewed their communist adversaries. However, it should be noted that another pod of freaky children was born in the Soviet Union (according to the movie), and the way they were dealt with would seem to give the lie to this particular parallel. Anyway as an entertaining diversion, it is an unqualified success. Its running time is tight, and the sight of those silken-haired little homunculi is truly fear-inducing.

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