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Warner Home Video presents
Village of the Damned / Children of the Damned (1960/1963)

"All this seems to date from that day two months ago when Midwich was cut off from the rest of the world."
- Dr. Willers (Laurence Naismith)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: August 15, 2004

Stars: George Sanders, Barbara Shelley, Michael Gwynn, Ian Hendry, Alan Badel, Barbara Ferris
Other Stars: Laurence Naismith, Martin Stephens, Alfred Burke, Bessie Love, Clive Powell
Director: Wolf Rilla, Anton M. Leader

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence including violence against children, disturbing imagery)
Run Time: 02h:46m:28s
Release Date: August 10, 2004
UPC: 012569691827
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+AC- B+

DVD Review

One of the more notable sci-fi writers of the 1950s and 1960s was John Wyndham, who specialized in the H.G. Wells school of ordinary English life coming into abrupt conflict with sci-fi weirdness. Several of his novels made classic (or infamous) films, such as Day of the Triffids. Perhaps the most successful of the Wyndham adaptations was this 1960 classic from his book The Midwich Cuckoos, and its 1963 original sequel. The pair of them are given a first-rate presentation on this disc from Warner.

Village of the Damned opens with the small English village of Midwich suddenly falling asleep for several hours in the middle of a sunny afternoon. Everyone seems to recover with no ill effects, until it slowly dawns on the local physician, Dr. Willers (Laurence Naismith) that each and every woman in the village who is capable of giving birth is pregnant. Even stranger, the fetuses are developing at an alarmingly rapid pace, a phenomenon that continues with the children after they're born. Before long, they're a small mob of towheaded kids with a creepy ability to control others' minds. When it becomes known that what one of them learns, all of them learn in a kind of hive mind, the seriousness of the threat that the children pose is apparent, and scientist Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders) needs to come up with a method of dealing with the children. But he's conflicted, for one of the special children is his own son David (Martin Stephens).

This picture grabs the viewer immediately and never quite lets go. The mystery of the instant sleep is shot with an unsettling bizarreness underlined by the complete absence of musical score. The filmmakers cleverly keep the alien source of the children implied rather than explicit, adding to the mysterious nature of the events in the picture. The iconography of the film, with the white-haired children bearing glowing eyes, is by now a permanent fixture in the culture, and was adopted wholeheartedly by John Carpenter in his 1995 remake of the film. Sanders makes for an interesting choice for lead, and he does an excellent job with the conflict between science and emotion. Perhaps most striking in a modern viewing is the attention to the destruction to the social structure that these weird pregnancies inflict on Midwich, to the point of total devastation of the men, who are convinced of the unfaithfulness of their wives, or sluttishness of their daughters. It works as both social satire and problem drama, as well as a frequently chilling horror story. The main drawback is the quality of the effects; most of the time the glowing-eye shots are superimposed on what's visibly a freeze frame.

Children of the Damned is somewhat weaker, though it also has some interesting appeals on the subtext level. Completely ignoring the setup of the first film and its resolution, six extraordinary children around the globe are brought to England for study and the hive mind phenomenon is rediscovered. As a precaution, the children are to be separated, but one of them, young Paul (Clive Powell), rounds the others up and they take refuge along with his aunt, Susan Eliot (Barbara Ferris) in a deserted church. Psychologist Tom Lewillin (Ian Hendry) and geneticist David Neville (Alan Badel) attempt to unravel the mysterious intentions of these children before the army can take matters into their own hands by killing the kids outright.

For some reason, MGM dispensed with the blonde hair of the children, though kept the glowing eyes to a limited extent after a preview audience rebelled. The picture doesn't quite work up as many scares as the original (big surprise), largely because the last third of the film is primarily bound to the deserted church. The presentation doesn't maximize this single location by employing its claustrophobic characteristics. The horror levels are more intermittent than the constant dread that the original inspired, though it is a fair amount more violent. Even though it doesn't quite suffice as a horror film, it does have more success in its left-leaning commentary on the Cold War and the rapidity to which people tend to jump to military solutions, even when they're known to be potentially disastrous. Ian Hendry, fresh off the first season of The Avengers, makes for an appealing lead, but Clive Powell doesn't have the oddly distant air that Martin Stephens carried off so well in the first picture.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 ratio, which may be slightly cropped from the British original but I didn't notice any problems with compositions or heads being cut off by the frame. The black-and-white picture looks very nice, with excellent greyscale and a ton of fine detail. There are a few minor nicks and dings, but on the whole these look marvelous for two films over 40 years old.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 1.0 mono English track sounds more or less acceptable, though both films have plenty of noise and hiss. The voices of the children in Village appear to have been dubbed on the cheap, but that's a problem with the original production and not the transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 46 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by film historian Steve Haberman, writer John Briley
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Each film gets a jam-packed full-length commentary. Film historian Steve Haberman provides a good deal of background regarding Village and the original book, as well as the stars and the filming of the picture. Haberman's a lively speaker and this is an enjoyable track. Children sports a commentary by its scriptwriter, John Briley, whose recollections are clean and extensive. He spends a fair amount of time on his own career rather than the picture proper, but it's still certainly worthwhile. Among the intriguing anecdotes he relates is how much of MGM's output during this time period was dictated by a sheep farmer. In addition, anamorphic trailers for each film (Village in 1.66:1 ratio) are provided.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

What's more creepy than small children who all look alike and think with a single mind? It's very thoughtful of Warner to present both of these films on a single disc, and they don't skimp on extras either. A nice transfer makes this a "must buy" for any fan of genre pictures.

 


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