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Village of the Damned (1960) - The Midwich Cuckoos

Updated on July 1, 2017

Village of the Damned (1960) is based on John Wyndham's classic novel The Midwich Cuckoos (1957). It was directed by Wolf Rilla and starred George Sanders and Barbara Shelley.

The inhabitants of the English village of Midwich suddenly fall into a trance like sleep for 24 hours, two months later every woman in the community discovers she is pregnant. The women all give birth, only to find that their offspring are not 'normal' - they have an eerie telepathic ability and a 'group mind'.

The children develop at an unnatural pace, and it soon becomes clear to one of the villagers, Professor Gordon Zellaby (Sanders), that these 'cuckoos' are in fact aliens and they have begun the slow process of taking over the Earth. His suspicions are confirmed and he comes to realize that the aliens are malevolent.

Zellaby decides that they must be destroyed and, arming himself with a time bomb, heads to the school to confront them. He creates a mental brick wall between himself and the probing minds of the children but, in the films best sequence, they literally tear down the mental bricks one by one. When they finally get through the wall it’s too late, the bomb explodes, killing the children and himself.

Although a disaster befalls the village of Midwich, it is contained and inevitably dealt with, however, in keeping with the Cold War period of the movie, the invasion, although ultimately of alien origin, comes from within our very selves. It is the villagers' loved ones who give birth to the monsters, and the paranoia that this revelation inspires in the viewers is perfectly intentional.

Village of the Damned turned out to be very faithful to Wyndham's original novel, and features a chilling performance by child actor Martin Stephens, who plays Sanders' ‘son’ David, he is decidedly unnerving as the spokesperson for the alien children. Sanders himself is excellent as the suspicious professor.

The creepy glowing-eye effect when the children use their mental powers was achieved by animating overlays of a bright white glowing iris over a still frame of the children’s faces. There are alternate prints of the film without the glowing eye effect, instead the children simply widen their eyes when they mentally attack people..

Eerie and disturbing, Village of the Damned deserves a better reputation than it has. Though the movie itself is very British, the themes it tackles are universal. It was nominated for a Hugo Award - Best Dramatic Presentation - in 1961.

Village of the Damned (1995)
Village of the Damned (1995)

A sequel, Children of the Damned, was produced in 1963. With the action taking place in an urban setting the film adopts more of an international approach to the handling of the alien children. The film stars Ian Hendry, Barbara Ferris and Alan Badel and was directed by Anton Leader.

The story is about six children who have extraordinary powers of intellect and can solve difficult puzzles in the same amount of time, the children are from India, China, Nigeria, the Soviet Union, the USA and the UK. British psychologist Tom Lewellin (Hendry) and geneticist David Neville (Badel) show an interest in Paul, a boy born in London and whose mother clearly hates him. it is implied she has 'loose' morals, but eventually the two men realize that all six children were born without a father and are capable of telepathy...

A remake, Village of the Damned (1995) was directed by John Carpenter and the setting shifted to the coastal town of Midwich, California. There are some differences to the original story, one of the alien children shows human compassion and doesn’t fit in well with the others, but the basic premise remains the same. The film stars Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Mark Hamill and Michael Pare. It was nominated Worst Remake or Sequel at the 1996 Razzie Awards.

Children of the Damned (1963)
Children of the Damned (1963)

Film critics on the 1960 film -

“One of the trimmest, most original and serenely unnerving little chillers in a long time... The picture will get you, we guarantee, and anyone coming upon it cold, will exit colder.” (New York Times)

“The picture, a welcome departure from American science fiction, soft pedals on horror, but expands the human side of its fantastic tale... Oddly enough, Village of the Damned is not without a soul.” (Kine Weekly)

“Not to be missed, especially by those who like an unusually thrilling mystery.” (Picturegoer)

“This rather tired and sick film... starts off promisingly but soon nosedives.” (Variety)

“Rilla directed with a canny feel for the uncanny that shows him to have a fine, wry taste for the plausible implausible... Far and away the cleverest and most believable of that unbelievable genre called sometimes “horror” and sometimes pseudo-science films.” (New York Herald-Tribune)

“One of the neatest little horror pictures produced since Peter Lorre went straight.” (Time)

Village of the Damned (1995)
Village of the Damned (1995)
Village of the Damned (1960)
Village of the Damned (1960)


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    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Carpenter's version has some effective moments and it's cool to see sci-fi icons Mark Hamill and Christopher Reeve in the same film. But I prefer the quieter creepier original. :)

      Thanks for commenting.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 6 years ago from North-East UK

      Great hub. I saw the film on TV in the late-70s with my sister and then she made me sleep in her bed cos she was so scared (wimp!). I haven't seen the John Carpenter version but he's a director I really like (loved Prince of Darkness-very creepy!)so I was surprised to see he never pulled this off. Voted up.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Thank you Gypsy Willow.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 6 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Hi Steve I remember this film from the sixties. I enjoyed it very much. Thanks for rekindling memories of times past. Keep up the good work!

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Incredible Clare they do have the entire film playing on youtube and the 1995 remake too. hoho! Amazing what you can find on there. And I like the way they try to disguise the titles of some of these films so they won't be removed. Nice. :)

    • Clare-Louise profile image

      Clare-Louise 6 years ago from Birmingham UK

      Hi Steve, I saw this years ago but just watched it again now on youtube. I love all the very-British accents and behaviour of it all. The anti-communist propaganda is so blatent... and the eskimos get a pretty bad press too! great stuff!

      I'm going to have to go watch the sequel and the dodgy remake now as well...!

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 6 years ago from London, England

      Thanks for the comments.

      John Carpenter should have been one of the big names in Hollywood but after his early successes he really lost his way with flop after flop. Even the long awaited sequel to Escape from New York failed to excite anyone.

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 6 years ago from Virginia

      I have read about the original Village of the Damned but have not seen it yet. The John Carpenter version was complete my opinion.....I used to be a huge Carpenter fan but his films have taken a turn for the worse.. I am assuming this is one of George Sanders few starring roles....I will check this movie out and let you know what I think....voted up.

    • maria.rose profile image

      maria.rose 6 years ago from Florida

      hmm nice novels i like your hub thanks for sharing.....