Because everyone knows kids are creepy.
Wow. That may be the best ridiculous tagline ever.
Midwich is your average, wholesome, small English village, complete with idyllic music and wandering sheep, until one sunny day when everyone simultaneously loses consciousness for several hours. They wake up, no worse for wear, but discover a few months later that every woman in the village capable of bearing a child is suddenly pregnant. The babies are born healthy and whole, but . . . they have sinister blond hair! (Yes, and also psychic powers, creepy glowy eyes, and a serious lack of empathy, but really, it’s all about the sinister blond hair.)
1. While I just said that every woman capable of bearing a child gets pregnant in Village of the Damned . . . well, technically, that isn’t true. The village priest, in tones of horror, tells the men that one of the girls who has confessed her pregnancy to him is only seventeen, and well. While I generally think seventeen is way too young to be thinking about kids, most women are, of course, biologically capable of having children at a much younger age. Having them safely is another matter, yes, but girls younger than seventeen have babies all the time.
The Village of the Damned kind of glides right past this issue, and who can blame them? According to IMdB trivia, this film began life in 1957 and was initially shelved due to its controversial depiction of virgin birth—that is, describing it as sinister and not the miraculous wonder that we usually associate with impossible pregnancies. I suspect having eleven-year-old mothers running around wouldn’t have helped. (Also, don’t do what I did and Google youngest mothers out of curiosity. You won’t like what you find. It may be one of the more depressing internet searches I’ve ever done.)
2. Now, as to the movie itself . . . you know, it’s not bad. Fairly atmospheric. Bit dated. Some of the acting is a little shaky, but the overall effect is creepy enough. The first fifteen minutes or so are exceptionally strong. Unfortunately, I think it loses something once the kids are born.
Not that the creepy children aren’t, well, creepy. I mean, look at this one.
The children don’t take well to other people crossing them, and their vengeance in one scene is particularly unsettling. But somehow, the whole setup of this evil kids storyline is actually more sinister than the story itself. I was very taken in by just how horrifying it would be, living as a woman in Midwich, violated and terrified of who or maybe what you were going to give birth to. But once the kids are actually born . . . yeah, I don’t know. The story goes all “think of the scientific wonders!” versus “monsters, monsters I say!” and I think some of the actual horror gets lost along the way.
3. See, there’s a bit of Godzilla in this film, except that instead of a big, radioactive dinosaur, we get psychic blond children that either need to be studied or need to be exterminated . . . loved doesn’t seem to be an option anyone’s too concerned about. When the men start debating about killing off the kids before they get too powerful, no one stands up and is like, “You can’t do that; they’re only children!”
Oh, sure, Professor Zellaby (George Sanders) does try to argue that kids aren’t born with a Jiminy Cricket on their shoulders, that morality has to be taught to them, but don’t be fooled. He’s not arguing this because he loves his new little boy David and wants to protect him. Zellaby just wants to study the little bastard because he finds the children fascinating and thinks their hive minds and psychic powers could potentially could lead to, like, the end of war and poverty and all sorts of good stuff. The only person in the whole film who seems particularly concerned about these kids’ welfare at all is Zellaby’s wife, Anthea (Barbara Shelley), and you can’t much sympathize with her because, you know, she’s often weepy and hysterical and has to be slapped in the face occasionally.
I’m just saying, I’m not sure Village of the Damned is showing humanity’s best qualities, here.
4. I have never seen the John Carpenter remake of this film, although I’ve been assured by multiple sources that it’s dreadful. (Which means I will undoubtedly watch it at some point. I mean, come on. Mark Hamill plays a priest!) However, if Village of the Damned were going to be remade again . . . I think it would be interesting to see more from the women’s POV. This film is primarily told through the eyes of men, and while that’s not a problem or flaw I have with the movie, the story is more terrifying for women. You get glimpses of how some of these ladies feel about their situation—Anthea, in particular, likes to flip flop from scene to scene—but there’s nothing particularly in depth about it. Characterization is not this film’s strong point. I think it would be an interesting direction for a remake to take, focusing primarily on the feminine perspective.
5. I can’t help but feel that the military would have stepped in and taken decisive action from the very outset of this situation instead of just monitoring events from afar. But to be fair, we are talking two different countries and two different time periods. In modern day America, though? Yeah, I think the government would have quarantined the shit out of Midwich from Day One.
6. Time moves very quickly in Village of the Damned. Sometimes too quickly. It seems like every two minutes someone’s saying, “It’s been three days since—” or “It’s been four months since—” or “David’s three years old now,” and it all just feels too hurried, like they’re struggling with time constraints. Which, they really can’t be. Village of the Damned is a whopping 77 minutes long. Maybe even thirteen additional minutes would have helped the pacing of this film.
7. I do like how quickly some characters catch on to certain facts, though. In the beginning of the film, Army Dude Alan Bernard (Michael Gwynn) and a police officer both come across a bus accident. When the cop goes to check on the unconscious passengers, he suddenly crumples to the ground a few feet away from them. And instead of immediately walking over to check on the cop and inevitably passing out as well, Bernard’s like, Yeah, that’s not normal, and calls in backup. Good for him. I highly approve of characters who call in backup.
Also, while Zellaby is a blind idiot in some respects, he doesn’t protest that he has everything under control for nearly as long as you think he’s going to, which makes for a welcome change.
8. English drunken mobs are apparently different from other drunken mobs. At one point in the film, a band of inebriated villagers decide to take it upon themselves to get rid of this blond menace, and they pick up some torches and storm the castle (or schoolhouse) as one does. What makes this particularly unusual is how these guys move. You imagine a bunch of drunk idiots, you might expect some stumbling or falling down. And . . . nuh-uh. Not these guys. They march with such supreme English precision that it is, quite unintentionally, hilarious.
9. You know what you almost never see on film? A positive interpretation of the hive mind. I mean, I get it; there are few things more terrifying than the loss of self, and the prospect of a collective consciousness is overwhelmingly threatening to our entire concept of “I”. Still, you have these kids, the Borg, the X7’s, various alien species that are clearly modeled off of insects . . . I just think it would be kind of a neat writing challenge. Create the good hive mind.
10. Finally, people of Midwich, here’s my advice to you: watch a damn movie sometime. Honestly. It’s like you don’t know your movie tropes at all. When dogs start barking and cowering in corners and otherwise freaking the hell out—particularly because of things that are not terribly threatening, like babies—pay attention because death is imminent.
Now, on to spoilers . . .
So, Bernard is Zellaby’s brother-in-law. They’re chatting on the phone when Zellaby and the rest of Midwich abruptly fall asleep. Bernard goes to investigate and finds that anyone who crosses this invisible barrier around the town passes out. Thankfully, several hours later they all seem to wake up of their own accord. Sadly, this happens about thirty seconds after the army needlessly sends in a plane that nosedives and crashes into a giant ball of flame. Whoops.
So, eventually the women in the village discover they’re pregnant. The babies are all born on the same day, and it is clear from early on that these kids are . . . different. Besides the blond hair and the fact that they frighten large dogs, the children also are extraordinarily intelligent, possess a hive mind, and have glowy, creepy eyes. Oh, and they can stare at a dude ominously and make him do whatever they want.
Like, when this guy nearly runs over one of the kids with his car, the children force himself to drive full-speed into a nearby wall. Which, yes, is probably a bit of an overreaction. Still, the driver himself had a serious underreaction to the extreme near miss, so maybe it’s all about balance? Seriously, he hops out of the car with a very calm little, “I’m very sorry; it was all my fault,” the very same way you might drink the last of your roommate’s milk and say, “Yeah, that was my bad.”
Well, that dude’s brother correctly blames the children for his sibling’s sudden death and busts out his shotgun to wreak some holy vengeance. Except not really, because he gets talked out of it by Zellaby and the others, who tell him not to be fool and run before the kids see him. The guy agrees and turns to leave but not fast enough. The kids force him to kill himself with his own shotgun.
It’s about this point where Zellaby realizes that the children are irredeemably evil. Up till now, he’s been able to ignore this obvious fact, presumably because he hasn’t actually seen them do anything with his own two eyes. (Though there have been a suspicious number of deaths in the village, including children, and his own wife was compelled to stick her arm into boiling hot water, but whatever. That could all just be coincidence, right?) But at this point it’s too late for military interference. The kids are far too powerful. They must be taken completely by surprise.
This doesn’t stop the drunken mob from marching over to try and burn the kids alive. The kids sense this coming and force the leader to set himself on fire instead. Bernard—previously awesome, intelligent Bernard—charges in to lecture the children by himself and is made an example of. That is to say, the kids temporarily force him into catatonia. He eventually recovers, though, not that he really deserves to. Still, the message has been delivered: “You have to be taught to leave us alone.”
Well, Zellaby doesn’t feel this way. He knows he needs to kill the children before they can disappear and start other colonies. This is a very real possibility because we discover that there have been other batches of children like this all over the world, which I thought was an interesting turn in the story. All the other kids have died, though, either due to some natural affliction or to governments bombing the shit out of them. The Midwich kids are the only ones left.
Zellaby goes to the schoolhouse where the kids live and tells them he has one final lesson to teach them. (The kids trust him, to an extent, because of Zellaby’s objectivity and scientific knowledge. David, the main creepy kid, is Zellaby and Anthea’s child, but David has no use for Anthea at all, even though she’s the only character in the whole movie who seems to care about him.) Because the kids are psychic (and because Zellaby is a lousy liar), they call bullshit almost immediately. But they can’t determine what Zellaby is really planning, as he’s trying to only of a brick wall that will shield his true intentions from them.
You read this kind of mental wall stuff in fanfiction all the time—with characters building actual brick walls in their heads to keep some secret safe—and you hear about mental shields and walls and such in science fiction shows, but this may be the first time I’ve actually seen anyone try to visualize it. Which is cool. The kids glare at Zellaby, breaking down his wall piece by piece, and they finally see the bomb in Zellaby’s briefcase right before it goes off, killing them all.
Or does it?
The final shot is a bunch of glowing, floaty eyes that is probably supposed to be ambiguous . . . but since it just looks really stupid to me, I can’t be bothered to take it seriously at all.
A couple of final notes before conclusions:
1. I like that we never find out exactly what the children are. Aliens are heavily suggested but not confirmed. That ambiguity works for me.
2. The dog lives! How often do pets really live in horror movies? Good for you, dog.
Decent little movie, but not quite as good as I’d hoped. The first twenty minutes are easily the creepiest in the whole film. Okay story. Okay writing. Not much in the way of characterization.
Michael Gwynn. I don’t know why. I just liked him.
Kids will kill you.