Sunday, January 21, 2007

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED/CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED (MGM 1960/1963) Warner Home Video

Wolf Rilla’s Village of the Damned (1960) is the paranoia sci-fi classic set in England’s quiet and unassuming community of Midwich. It seems that this picturesque district was visited by aliens who secretly impregnated the town’s human women with their other worldly seed.


The sudden population explosion of little blonde haired boys and girls born to the women of Midwich is rather unsettling to the predominantly dark haired brown eyed male inhabitants of the town. But these glow-eyed humanoids have one purpose – to use their intellectual superiority as mind-control and conquer Midwich and later, possibly, even the world.


Top billed are George Sanders and Barbara Shelley as Gordon and Anthea Zellaby - a newlywed couple who learn they are going to have a baby. But the mood turns sour when Gordon becomes the first to realize the potential danger his new son, David (Martin Stephens) represents. Shielding Barbara from the truth for as long as he can, Gordon confides his findings to Alan Bernard (Michael Gwenn) who attempts to quietly do his research on the children, but quickly realizes he is no match for their mind reading powers. But will Gordon be strong enough to resist the children's mind control?


The chilling screenplay by Stirling Siliphant (based on the novel, The Midwich Cuckoos) and nimble direction by Rilla builds its realization to a climax of terror that even today holds up remarkably well. Village of the Damned is arguably one of the outstanding sci-fi achievements in a decade when science fiction usually meant severely low budget, ultra campy tales of gamma rays, over sized bugs or walking plants taking over the earth. 


Taking its cue from the time honored tradition of 'implying' more than 'showing' Rilla and his cinematographer, Geoffrey Faithfull create an unsettling atmosphere from that rather disquieting silence instead of flooding the viewer with a bombast of high concept SFX or groundswells of melodramatic underscoring. What little underscoring the film has - written by Ron Goodwin - is superbly understated and inserted at just the right moments to heighten the melodrama. As such, the silence that permeates whole sections of the story is deafening and bone chilling.


Warner Home Video has chosen to include the sequel to the film as a double feature. Regrettably, Children of the Damned (1963) is an abysmal attempt to capitalize on and recapture the unsettling terror of its predecessor. Moving the location of the story to a London school for the gifted, a professor (Alan Badel) assembles high I.Q. blonde hair and glowing eyed moppets from around the world for an intellectual experiment that goes horribly awry.


The chief problem with the sequel is that it attempts to basically cover the same ground as in the original, while trading in the isolation of a small village for the even more isolating grandeur of a big city. Regrettably, there's very little tension in John Briley's screenplay, and even less in director Anton Leader's very pedestrian direction of the material. 


As such the film quickly degenerates into skulking around abandoned warehouses and dark rooms in search of facts that we, as the audience, are already painfully aware of - having already seen the original film. Part of the unnerving quality of the original was that the audience was quietly unraveling the mystery behind the invasion from outer space at approximately the same moment as the on screen characters. In the sequel, however, the audience is already ten steps ahead, leaving them rather deflated and impatient for the fictional characters to catch up.


In 1995, Village of the Damned was remade by scare-master, John Carpenter with Kristie Alley and Christopher Reeve in the George Sanders/Barbra Shelley roles – but with decidedly predictable results and far less than stellar rewards. Put bluntly, the remake was a colossal disappointment.


Warner Home Video’s DVD is a mixed offering. The transfer on the original film is remarkably clean, with a very solid and beautifully rendered gray scale, deep blacks and excellent contrast levels. Fine details are fully realized. There is a total lack of edge effects and other digital anomalies for an exceptionally smooth visual presentation. The audio is mono but with a considerable punch to it.


However, the sequel is marred by an image that is quite dark and rather grainy with slight shimmering of fine details and more than a hint of age related artifacts. On Village of the Damned we get a thoughtful and thorough audio commentary from author, Steve Haberman. On Children of the Damned screenwriter, John Briley does the honor.


FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
Village of the Damned 4
Children of the Damned 3


VIDEO/AUDIO
Village of the Damned 4
Children of the Damned 3


EXTRAS
3

No comments: