#100 Village of the Damned (1960 & 1995)
Welcome, children. Let’s be real. This movie is horrid horror. However, it is that very fact, like most on this list, that it is an unforgettable gem. From Kirsty Alley chain-smoking to Mark Hamill having five minutes of screen time as the town priest… I can’t handle. I squeal in euphoric pleasure at the thought of it.
This story has a far-out history extending back to the good old science fiction days of the 50’s. John Wyndham published the book The Midwich Cuckoos in 1957. He had plans to write a sequel but gave up the attempt after a few pages, unfortunately. The novel takes place in a small British village where, for a full day, any living thing within a mile of the center of Midwich loses consciousness, even the animals. “The edges of the affected area are well defined. Stationary.” Photographs show a silver saucer in the middle of the town. When the townspeople awake, thirty-one women are mysteriously pregnant. Xenogenesis, or miracle births, are offspring thought not to be related to either the mother or the father.
The newborns appear quite healthy but with pale skin, silver hair and golden eyes. With the miscarriage of a baby girl, one male child is left without a suitable female equal. They grow at a rapid rate to have telepathy and the ability to control others physically. They operate under two hive minds. One for the boy’s team and one for the girls.
Being very overprotective of their own kind, the children kill anything that even remotely gets in their way. The villagers protest in a rage, but the mob is soon stopped as they all begin to kill each other before they reach the Midwich farmhouse where the children are segregated to live and learn humanity.
Military Intelligence learns of four other towns experiencing the same miracle births, though all the children have since died under various mysterious circumstances. Once the children discover this news, they prevent any outsiders from entering or flying over the village.
The townspeople make them a deal, they’ll help them escape to a safe location if they agree to leave before the whole community is blown to bits and covered up by the government. They agree not to kill more citizens in exchange for a plane ticket out of there. Their teacher, Dr. Gordon Zellaby, is dying of a heart condition anyways, so he hides an explosive inside a projector before showing them a student film about the Greek islands. One man’s suicide saves the world.
Pretty simple story. The use of Cuckoos in the title references to the fact that Cuckoos lays their eggs in other birds nests. The idea of invaded space, our space, has dominated the science fiction medium because, ultimately, it is the greatest threat to humans besides ourselves.
Beware the stare that will paralyze the will of the world! In 1960, German director Wolf Rilla adapted the novel into a film starring the beloved George Sanders as Professor Gordon Zellaby and Barbara Shelly as his wife. A young Martin Stephens, one year before his incredible performance as Miles in The Innocents (1961), plays David, their alien child whose partner was miscarried. “Where, you devil? Where?” “Oh, Miles!” Oh, don’t worry. I will be discussing The Innocents soon.
This adaptation is notable as one of the best horror films and this review, placed as one hundred on this list, is a tie between both films. Especially since they are practically shot-for-shot the same movie with only the location changing from an English village to the east coast of Northern California.
Oddly, the first adaptation was supposed to be filmed by MGM in northern Culver City, California in 1957 before it was handed over to MGM British Studios to be shot as it was originally intended to be filmed. Ronald Colman was supposed to play Gordon Zellaby but backed out from fear of persecution from religious groups who didn’t like the idea of miracle births being portrayed as killer children. That didn’t stop Scientologist Kirsty Alley over thirty years later. Colman soon died in 1958 and, coincidentally, actress Benita Hume married George Sanders the next year as he was taking over the role. Hmm. Benita must have a thing for Dr. Zullaby.
Carpenter’s remake bombed in the theaters with damning reviews in 1995. It didn’t even make half of its budget of twenty-two million dollars. But, hey, it lost the Razzie as the worst film of the year to The Scarlet Letter, so it’s not a total loss. John Carpenter admitted himself that is was a “contractual assignment” that he was “really not passionate about.” He was clearly excited enough to put out a recognizable score with Dave Davies of The Kinks. The film came out a year after the fantastic Carpenter film In The Mouth Of Madness, which is also on this list. One of the uncredited writers, Larry Sulkis, wrote Ghost of Mars with Carpenter which marked the end of his career for many a horror fan. Anything prior was forgivable if not adored after his amazing run as an iconic horror director of the 80’s. Halloween is not on this list for various reasons that can’t be written at the moment. Though, The Thing, Christine and In the Mouth of Madness is. There is a lot of Carpenter to cover.
I like to cover the cons first. Okay, it is time to call out whoever is responsible for this choice of cast. Pippa Pearthree is an unknown, but you will know her in this film. She gives an all-out unintentionally fun performance. She plays the goofy religious wife of the Reverend George, Mark Hamill’s character. Her scene’s give one chance to ponder at whether Carpenter has his head in his hands every time she was on set. Her death scene, in which she burns herself alive, not meant to be funny at all, is uproarious as she is apparently standing a good ten feet away from the flames. Someone didn’t think this shot through, and I appreciate it.
“Can someone get me some blood and urine samples?” Yes, Ma’am! Everyone start scurrying around to obey her orders. “I think he just fainted.” Thirsty, pardon, Kirsty Alley is one of the main reasons any horror fan over the age of thirty should watch this film. Yes, the sexy Lebanese businesswoman from Cheers probably jumped at the chance to play the role of the baby stealing scientist. All black head-to-toe and chain smoking in every shot. I’m sold. She is meant to be a big wig from an unknown government agency who, alone, makes sure that the town of Midwich is spoken for. Alien invasion? Kirsty has it covered. The blessing is the fact that it’s complicated to see Kirsty make wise decisions when she has mostly performed comedic roles as an attractive and smooth damsel in distress with a scratchy voice. The mystery about her character is that she holds the most information about the children and yet they aren’t able to penetrate her thoughts at first. She makes it seem easy in comparison to Chaffee/Zellaby’s final battle with the children during the climax.
Dr. Suan Verner, Kirsty’s character, offers the family of those pregnant a three thousand dollar allowance to those who decide to keep their alien babies. This leads to the tough decision for the mothers. One night, they all share a similar dream which ultimately convinces them to keep their children. In it, the semi-transparent women seem to be windswept in white nightgowns as they casually caress their bulging bellies. The dream sequences are perhaps one of the worst in horror history and leave a brown stain on the film.
Once grown, the choice to have the children dress in the same style and fashion as the children of the first adaptation was a mistake that could only be made in the nineties. I can see it now. Carpenter sits quietly in a room full of producers arguing whether they should set it in the 50’s or modern times before making a deal that the children should look like they just stepped out of a 50’s soda shop. In the original film, they added padding to the children’s wigs to make it appear as though they had larger craniums. Effective. In this film, the child actors are just as ineffective as the adults.
This was, clearly, Carpenter’s first time directing a group of children. Killer Children films are aplenty on this list. The irony of the opposites opposing. A sweet, innocent child has the mind of an adult. The mind of a killer. Little baby Gage holding a scalpel in Pet Sematary. “Now, I want to play with you…” The mutant children of Hobb’s End in In The Mouth Of Madness. “Today’s Mommy’s day!” The potentially possessed soul of Miles in The Innocents. “It was only the wind, my dear.” If you can find a child actor with the acting ability of an adult, it can work wonders. The casting director of Carpenter’s version chose nine kids that didn’t have a clue about fear, adulthood or presenting themselves as threatening aliens. Which is likely why they gave all the lines to Mara, the queen alien and Dr. Zullaby’s daughter, who looks distinctly different from her younger self or any of the other children. Hadley Hale from True Blood!
On to Linda Kozlowski. Wow. Sue from Crocodile Dundee is perhaps the biggest flaw with this film. Her struggle is real. Her character is the ending’s savior, while at the same time the ultimate culprit of doom towards mankind, but by the time we get to the climax we could care less if she fails or succeeds. Her ability to portray a heroic mother is lost. She couldn’t grasp our apathetic heart for the first eighty minutes of the film, unfortunately. So why should we care? She is the love interest of Zullaby after the suicide of his wife and the death of her husband. She saves her alien son, David, played by Thomas Dekker, believing he has gained a sense of empathy after understanding the loss of loved-ones in comparison to the loss of his miscarried counterpart.
Whoever thought that one day that little boy from The Village of the Damned would come out of the closet? Me. Casting him as the one male child who loses his female partner was, I hope, purposeful. As I said before, I’m pointing fingers at the casting director in a harsh manner, but I appreciate the undertone symbolism in the choice of casting for the part of David. I think it sparks the conversation and suspicion that homosexuality is universal in nature. Kirsty Alley’s character claims David’s partnered female child died from umbilical asphyxiation, most likely a shady lie to steal the baby for an autopsy. The fact that the film ends with a homosexual alien, the one queen able to possess empathy, surviving as the last of his kind, unable to procreate even if he wanted to jump the fence for a night, leaves us with an odd and whimsical sense of tragedy. Let’s face it, Miles, Martin Stephens from The Innocents, little David from the original Village of the Damned is… retired from acting, very early on, went to Queen’s University and now lives in Portugal. I wonder what Elijah Woods has to say about that. “There is no need for you to become emotional.”
This was Christopher Reeve’s last appearance on film before his horse riding accident which left him paralyzed in May of 1995. The irony of Superman’s defeat saddened the hearts of mega-fans worldwide. He is, without a doubt, the best thing about this film and the only actor to put his heart into the character of Dr. Chafee, Gordon Zullaby in the original film. Even the children seem like better actors when they are in a scene with him. His struggle against the children and his choice to self-destruct brings Superman nostalgia that shouldn’t be missed.
The most disturbing scene in the film is evident in comparison. Kirsty Alley’s character finally and unwillingly reveals the fact that the miscarried female alien had an autopsy performed with her body kept in a display case at the hospital for some strange reason. The children seem to inflict the pain that they endure on others. A sense of fairness. They can give it, but they can’t take it, which completely dissolves the image of them not able to understand empathy. The alien baby’s milk is too hot, so she has the mother put her hand in a pot of boiling water. Follow with a hilarious double-exposure of the little girl’s face over the cloudy sky after the mother jumps off a cliff. The optometrist burns the little bad actress’ eye so the bad actress makes her put a chemical with a red cap, which shouldn’t even be there, into her own eyes. Mark Hamill tries to shoot the kids, so the kids make him shoot himself, etc. In Kirsty’s case, the children have her perform an autopsy on herself in what shouldn’t be, but is, the most gruesome scene in the whole film.
The Ol’ Shayamalama Twist:
The film is mediocre, as you could have guessed, but the ending is what sold the book, the first adaptation and the Carpenter version. Dr. Chafee tries to teach the kids about humanity in an old farmhouse outside of town, right? He shows up to class with a ticking time-bomb in his briefcase and keeps his eye on the clock. It is unknown whether Zullaby had intentions of trying to escape for his life or if he walked in ready to die to save humanity. None-the-less, he puts those thoughts aside and focuses on the image of a brick wall in his mind to prevent the children from discovering his scheme. The battle of telepathy and the human endurance to save mankind by the simple image of a brick wall has fascinated me since I first saw the film. I think the device is classy and intriguing. For that reason, this little gem has landed on this list.
The story rings true to reality. The most common association with women who claim to be abducted by aliens is the false pregnancy scenario. They get abducted, discover that they are pregnant, they get abducted again, no longer pregnant. Countless women all over the world have shared this experience, but it is seldom studied or spoken of. The number of women who have come forward with this story seemed to rise rapidly after the headlines of the UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, ten years before the publishing of The Midwich Cuckoos. Mass hysteria? Life, imitating art that is imitating life.
In all fairness, it is not the butchering of the performances or the unexpected end to Carpenter’s reign as a horror genius soon after that leave a mark. The fact is, it is an enjoyable film for one reason. The source material. Like I said before, it is a simple story of an alien invasion, but it makes an impact on the use of killer children and an ultimate battle between good and even and self-sacrifice to save the world. The structure of the story plays out perfectly to the tune of Hollywood standards and works well as an update.
I once took a course entitled Underrated Cinema, in which the instructor gave us the assignment to pick our least favorite film. It was considered a week’s worth of homework so that everyone could really think about it. I chose Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects because, well, many reasons, but mostly because it is the only film I’ve ever walked out of. The next week, the instructor gave us new homework. We were to write a review of our least liked film, but we were not allowed to speak poorly of it. Only the good things. It has helped me to realize that, even if you hate a film, consider the good stuff. As #100, Village of the Damned is not the perfect movie in my eyes, but the memory remains. It is unforgettable once you’ve seen it and marks a pinpoint on a timeline in American cinema. So order your copy today.
The Moral Of The Story:
Empathy, little-alone human morality, may not be universal. Oh, and the next time you don’t want someone reading your thoughts, think about Superman crashing through a brick wall. Do it for the children, children. See you next week.
Compare the trailers down below.