Friday, May 30, 2008

Frankly, my dear...

I was thinking about "movies for the damned" this past Tuesday when TCM aired Voyage of the Damned. My first thought was to recommend the campy 1977 post-apocolyptic movie Damnation Alley, but despite the icon on IMDb listing DVD availability, it's not on DVD. Instead, I'll have to recommend another sci-fi classic that is available on DVD, the original 1960 version of Village of the Damned.

The movie starts out with a calm, idyllic village somewhere in rural England. One afternoon, something happens and everybody is knocked unconscious. The military is brought in to investigate, but before they can figure out what happened, everybody wakes up again. All returns to normal, until it's discovered that all the women of child-bearing age were knocked up -- a good term here since husbands like Prof. Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders) were impotent, while other boyfriends were away with the merchant marine, leading to the natural questions about how some of the women got pregnant.

Once the kids are born, they start developing faster than normal, and eventually develop into perfect little Aryan-looking hellraisers with superhuman intelligence, as well as the power to read -- and manipulate -- minds. The obvious question than becomes what to do with the kids -- especially since it's been determined that there were other similar groups of kids, and they all had to be destroyed. The British military wants to kill them; Prof. Zellaby wants to study them in the name of science. Matters eventually come to a head when it's discovered that the kids are becoming able to read thoughts up in the air, and ask for a ticket out of town, where they'll begin to take over the world. Even Zellaby realizes the kids have to be killed. But how? After all, if he thinks about it, they'll be able to read his thoughts.

Village of the Damned is the sort of movie that shows just how important a good script is. Despite it being a science fiction movie, there are almost no special effects, with the notable exception of the children's eyes "glowing" when they start to manipulate somebody else's mind, and even that isn't a very expensive effect. Because of the story, however, Village of the Damned is an outstanding movie, one that is intelligent, and, like the films of Val Lewton, expects the viewer to provide a good portion of the fear himself, by imagining what might be rather than being graphic and showing the horror. It's also in black-and-white, giving it a timeless quality that a lot of the color movies from the 60s don't have. Village of the Damned is better, and more chilling, than a lot of the stuff released today. One word of warning, though, it you want to see it on DVD: the movie was remade in 1995 with the same title; make certain you're getting the 1960 version.

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