Village Of The Damned, 1960. 7/10

Very interesting premise and a cunning British mixture of horror with sci-fi. There is an Invasion of Body Snatchers ‘alien possession’-style plot. We’re drawn right in by the sort of fugue state encompassing the village. The Army and police show up quickly to investigate. So, from the outset, we have established the perspectives of the authorities, and of the mysterious Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders). Setting this in an isolated community, where Zellaby is a notable scientist, is not only appropriate, but helps in suspension of disbelief.

Unusually, the aliens/monsters are kids. They’re just tweaked enough to freak out the villagers, with special mental powers and an obvious luminous gaze, causing a great deal of unease without spawning an instant catastrophe. The question becomes: has the mysterious Zellarby been up to something such that these kids have just manifested themselves? Initially, it seems that he has some secret knowledge of their origin. They are quickly labelled as “those children” and are segregated; in fact a concentration-camp solution is proposed. They do seem to be a sort of Master Race, as others have noted. “If you didn’t suffer from emotions…feelings, then you could be as powerful as we are” David tells his ‘father.’ There’s the pseudo-scientific theories of “mutations” (earthly explanation) or “transmission of energy” (extra-terrestrial explanation) at the expected gathering of experts.

It does strain credulity, especially since there’ve been colonies of these weird kids popping up elsewhere in the world–with more serious consequences, that the authorities give Zellaby a year to deal exclusively with the kids. That’s a variation on the understand-the-alien-for-scientific-knowledge device used in many sci-fi films of the era. Predictably, then, the kids suddenly get dangerous; they start causing deaths here and there. That really amps up the plot, as the villagers get vigilant. It’s the 20th century equivalent of the 18th century (and earlier) peasant mob ready to burn down Frankenstein/Dracula’s castle. A ‘civilian’ casualty ensues.

Zellaby’s solution is a sort of collective suicide. Since the ‘tainted’ kids can read his thoughts, he wisely sticks to abstractions, giving his bomb time to detonate. The last image of the pairs of eyes soaring out of the wreckage (like so many bats) is very impressive. As others have said, this is ambiguous; are those alien ‘souls’ free to wreak havoc again somewhere else? Maybe. Since we aren’t actually told of their exact nature and origin, then, logically, anything is possible. I’d rather have this sort of survivable- menace ending than the more simplistic and self-righteous ‘we wiped ’em all out’ deal.

It is kind of disappointing that Zellaby turns out to not have had a hand in the Bad Seed kids’ germination. He’s essentially an outsider too; at most a connection between the kids and the villagers/authorities. That’s a bit of a flaw, as I don’t see why he’s the main character–this could’ve just as easily been the police officer’s (Michael Gwynn’s) story. As I’ve indicated, ambiguity works well for the ending, but maybe some things might’ve been clearer. Put Zellaby in touch with some otherworldly folks who’ve presumably caused this juvenile delinquency. Otherwise, his role doesn’t quite makes sense; why does he feel obligated to deal with the kids (not just his own)?

Anyway, Village of the Damned works well as a tense, and largely original horror/sci-fi hybrid. The title is incongruous; no one is ‘damned’. Maybe something macabre would fit, like Innocent Devils…As it is, a successful and entertaining classic-era sci-fi movie. 7/10.

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