Oct 5, 2018

On Blu-ray: Village of the Damned (1960)

The greatest thing about the sci-fi horror classic Village of the Damned (1960) is that it makes a big impact with simple means. A half dozen blonde wigs, the collective blank stare of a group of children, the mere idea that thoughts could mean the end of your existence. I recently revisited the sci-fi classic on a new Blu-ray release from Warner Archive.

George Sanders stars as Gordon Zellaby, an aging professor in a May-December marriage who is delighted when he learns his wife (Barbara Shelley) is pregnant. He is less enthused when he realizes every woman of child-bearing age in the village is pregnant, including virginal residents, and it seems to be connected with a mysterious blackout suffered by the entire population. When all the women give birth to towheaded tykes with psychopathic stares, it is clear that something has gone terribly wrong.

Eventually the destructive and seemingly all-powerful nature of the children is revealed. The villagers are at a loss as to what to do, but can hardly get to the point of facing the trouble because they can’t believe such violence has invaded their peaceful village. As creepy as the kids are, the feeling of nowhere being safe is almost as potent.

It is interesting to see Sanders take a break from villainy and even make himself vulnerable. His famous deep purr becomes a rumble of confusion as he works with the villagers to unravel the mystery of these stone-faced children. Of course he could never play anyone lacking intelligence, and that’s the horror of it, because even the most clever mind is in peril if the enemy can read thoughts as these kids can.

Village of the Damned has aged into an interesting phenomenon. It’s been the rightful target of humor over the years: those identical rigidly-styled blond wigs, the robotically formal speech of the children, and the way they all move in a mass like a herd of sheep is almost as hilarious as it is terrifying. The film still elicits chills though. Budgetary limitations meant that the eerie glow of the kid’s eyes in attack mode had to be superimposed over photos and the resulting stillness makes them seem all the more powerful and impenetrable. There’s also the helplessness of the villagers, who do everything the audience would to save themselves. When the characters aren’t stumbling into dark basements or opening the door to strangers in the middle of the night, it is much easier to relate to their fear.

The Blu-ray image is sharp and clear, revealing every unnerving detail. A sole special feature on the disc is commentary by Chronicles of Terror – Silent Screams author Steve Haberman.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review.To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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