VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and a Heavy Metal Education
Starring George Sanders, Barbara Shelley, Martin Stephens, Michael Gwynn, Lawrence Naismith, Richard Warner, Jenny Laird, Sarah Long. Directed by Wolf Rilla. (1960/77 min).
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY FROM WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION
I remember perusing my local record store and stumbling across Iron Maiden's debut album. The cover was a garish painting of a rotting corpse stalking the night streets of London. Though I had never heard of 'em, no album with a cover that cool could possibly suck, so I snapped it up without even knowing what they sounded like. That was in 1980 and I've been a Maiden fan ever since.
Iron Maiden almost never sang about women, partying, or getting laid. Despite their sinister reputation, many of their songs were based on classic literature, TV and movies, as well as historical events, legendary leaders and — somewhat notoriously — the darker passages of The Bible. I also gotta credit the boys for helping me comprehend "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in college.
Thanks to Maiden, I discovered the British TV series The Prisoner, attempted to read Dune, and eventually ventured Where Eagles Dare. Another of their songs, "Children of the Damned," was enough for me to seek out the 1963 film it was supposedly based on. Needless to say, I was confused and underwhelmed, mainly because I didn't realize at the time that it was a sequel to the far-superior Village of the Damned, which I later learned was the actual inspiration for the song (when it comes to song titles, 'children' does sound more metal than 'village').
Anyway, once the confusion was cleared up, Village of the Damned turned out to be a low-key masterpiece, and it's arguably one of the best British horror films of the 60s. Most importantly, it has held up remarkably well over the years.
Folks living in the quaint English village of Midwich are all simultaneously rendered unconscious by an unseen force. They awaken a few hours, visibly shaken but otherwise okay. A few months later, however, every women of child-baring age discovers they're pregnant, conceived on the same day of the big blackout. The kids are born at the same time, too; all of them are angelic, blond, and perfect. They grow and develop at an alarming rate, with unbelievable intelligence. These emotionless children stick together, which is particularly unnerving to the people of Midwich, for good reason. The children have the power to read thoughts and control peoples' actions. Anyone they perceive as a threat meets a gruesome end.
Village of the Damned is a triumph of controlled tension and mood. The film isn't exactly terrifying, but it's creepy, well-acted and smart, with a half-dozen little antagonists whose collective lack of humanity is truly chilling. The script offers just enough exposition to tell a good story, leaving out any unnecessary details. Though a few characters theorize about the origin of these children, no explanation is actually offered. The film gets under your skin effectively enough without one.
No wonder Iron Maiden wrote a song about it.
Even after five decades, an inferior sequel and a pointless remake, the original classic is still an exemplary example of atmospheric British horror, not to be missed. Long overdue, Village of the Damned is finally available on Blu-ray with a wonderful video and audio transfer. My only complaint is the lack of supplemental material. This version carries over the same audio commentary as the original DVD release, which isn't bad, but I would have loved some kind of retrospective documentary.