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"I Only Have Eyes for You." That would be an appropriate theme song for the 1960 science fiction thriller, Village of the Damned. This is the one about a strange brood of blond-haired children born on the same day in a small English village to women who were impregnated in a most unnatural manner. Remember the advertising campaign for the film? It featured a bunch of kids with glowing eyes staring straight ahead and the caption, "Beware the eyes that paralyze." Just looking at the film poster gave most people the bejabbers.
Based on the 1951 novel, The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndham, one of the most widely read science fiction writers of the fifties, Village of the Damned is an imaginative and chilling entry in the genre. What most people don't know is that John Wyndham was just one of three pseudonyms used by writer John Harris during his career. Harris came from a background in advertising and farming, served with the Royal Signal Corps during World War II, and published his first science fiction novel, The Secret People, in 1935 under the name John Beynon. He also wrote The Outward Urge under the pseudonym Lucas Parkes. However, it was under the name of John Wyndham that Harris established his reputation as a spinner of weird and fantastic tales, usually pitting earthlings against some form of catastrophe like an alien invasion. Just take a look at some of his novels. The Day of the Triffids was made into a film starring Howard Keel and Janette Scott (later immortalized in the song "Science Fiction Double Feature" from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975) and later into a BBC series. And what were triffids? Oh, just a harmless bunch of spores from outer space that arrived on earth via a meteor shower and grew into gigantic man-eating plants with a nasty habit of spitting blinding poison into the eyes of humans. His book, Re-Birth, dealt with the survivors of a world-wide nuclear war. In Trouble with Lichen, Wyndham writes about a miracle essence called antigerone which increases life expectancy by a couple of hundred years. And if you like giant spiders spawned by bomb experiments, check out Wyndham's Web.
Of course, it's hard to top The Midwich Cuckoos for downright creepiness and the film version, Village of the Damned, remains a minor masterpiece of the genre. Made in England for less than $300,000, the picture grossed more than $1.5 million during its initial release in England and the U.S. (an astonishing sum for 1960). The film's popularity even inspired a sequel, Children of the Damned (1964), which some viewers feel is superior to the original version. Just a few years ago, director John Carpenter tried and failed to duplicate the success of the original Village of the Damned with his own 1995 remake version starring Christopher Reeve and Kirstie Alley. And who's to say that Village of the Damned wasn't the primary influence behind the demonic children who inhabit such films as The Boys from Brazil (1978) and Narciso Ibanez Serrador's Island of the Damned (1976) (also known as Would You Kill a Child?).
Filmed on location in Letchmore Heath, England, Village of the Damned is easily the best movie ever directed by Wolf Rilla, a German native working in England (his subsequent output was low-budget sexploitation films with titles like Pussycat Alley, 1963, and Naughty Wives, 1975). In addition to the taut direction and atmospheric setting, the film is also memorable for Martin Stephen's mesmerizing performance as the willful leader of the alien children. The child actor would resurface the following year playing one of the disturbed children under the care of governess Deborah Kerr in The Innocents (1961), a superb film adaptation of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw.
Producer: Ronald Kinnoch
Director: Wolf Rilla
Screenplay: George Barclay, Wolf Rilla, Stirling Silliphant, based on the novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
Art Direction: Ivan King
Cinematography: Geoffrey Faithfull
Special Effects: Tom Howard
Film Editing: Gordon Hales
Original Music: Ron Goodwin
Principal Cast: George Sanders (Gordon Zellaby), Barbara Shelley (Anthea Zellaby), Michael Gwynn (Maj. Alan Bernard), Laurence Naismith (Doctor Willers), Martin Stephens (David Zellaby), John Phillips (General Leighton).
BW-78m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.
by Jeff Stafford