Movies & TV

From Under A Rock: Village of the Damned

October 22, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Village of the Damned  


This week, we’re reaching way back in time. I’m a big fan of the creepy over the gory, and this movie excels at a unique tone throughout. I’ve compared it to The Twilight Zone, but it was in development before that show even hit the airwaves. I feel like it’s a forgotten gem, but it’s definitely a gem, so that’s why I wanted to bring it up for this column.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron showed Michael Hellboy, and it was awesome. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock by thinking about the bricks. It’s Village of the Damned.

Village of the Damned
Released: December 7th, 1960
Directed by: Wolf Rilla
Written by: Stirling Silliphant, Wolf Rilla, & Ronald Kinnoch
George Sanders as Gordon Zellaby
Barbara Shelley as Anthea Zellaby
Martin Stephens as David Zellaby
Michael Gwynn as Alan Bernard
Laurence Naismith as Doctor Willers

Michael Ornelas: I love this story, and I’m a big fan of how the story paces itself. The mystery factor alone up front has made me very fond of this film, and since it’s early horror, I wanted us to review it here since we haven’t covered much in that regard.

Aaron Hubbard: I really dug this film. I feel the story still stands out as unique even today, and to be honest it’s not shocking. Science fiction horror is largely a dead animal these days, and there’s a quality to this that we won’t find often.
What Is Happening?
Michael: The opening sequence of shots in this film, where it appears the residents of a town have all died or been slaughtered is so attention-grabbing, and I was immediately drawn in. It takes a little while before we discover that they’re merely unconscious, and things are back to “normal” despite finding out that all women of age in the town are suddenly pregnant. It’s just one thing after another after another, and we’re given the perfect amount of time to absorb what’s happening and digest it before the next piece of the puzzle comes to us. I’m a huge fan of this movie’s pace, and that’s something I find rare when I watch films from this era.

Aaron: The film is short and doesn’t waste any minutes, allowing the plot to move along briskly and rarely treading the same ground over and over. What I really liked here was the procedural experimentation all throughout. People were constantly trying new ideas and looking for an answer, and rarely getting one. It reminded me a lot of old Star Trek episodes, where the ideas are compelling because characters think about them and try to reach the best answer.

Michael: Very interesting comparison, but I like it. And you’re right about the film’s duration; it’s 77 minutes long, but is so dense with plot (not in a bad way) that it almost feels like a full hour and a half or so. There’s also the kids’ powers to address. Everything I talked about is just in the exposition, but once the kids are developed and we see what they really are, we get to unpack the questions surrounding that. It’s not easy for our characters to figure out because their minds are under control, but I like the idea that the exploration and scientific process continues throughout the whole film.
What Does Any of This Mean?
Aaron: Science fiction and horror films both tend to serve as metaphors for real world concerns. Vampires and werewolves are an allegory for sexual fear, witches and demons usually are fears about Godlessness, robots and aliens deal with fear of untapped or unknown technology. Often times, looking at a film can tell us a lot about what was going on in the world at the time. And this movie… really confounds and baffles me. I have thought and considered and researched trying to find meaningful subtext to what’s going on, and I can’t find much. Do you have any theories?

Michael: I don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion that social relevance is important to film, and sometimes a cool/interesting/unique idea is just that. I know that when I write, I’m not trying to implant any subtext or anything like that; I just go where I think the story is best served. And sometimes my subconsciousness will fill in the blanks and give people something to interpret. I’m also not aiming for any Oscars or anything, so what do I know? That said, when watching this film, I did get a little hint of subtext for the idea that there’s a delicate power balance between parents and their children. It’s obviously much more relevant today as parents are seemingly much more willing to bend over backwards for their children instead of teaching them discipline and other values. But in England in 1960? I have no idea if that was relevant at the time. My idea only furthers the notion that we take what we want to, and what relates to us specifically, from movies.

Aaron: My point is less the intentional subtext and more about how culture tends to dictate stories whether we want them to or not. One thing that struck me was this idea that the children were alien in nature, and had this superhuman intelligence and danger. It made me think of Cold War paranoia and how people are afraid of “unknown” influences on their children. I’m not an expert on Britain’s interactions with Russia or anyone else at the time, but it did occur to me. I also read that there is a lot of ideas stemming from women’s increased ability to dictate when they have children, and how both genders reacted to it. There doesn’t seem to be any clear cut message on what the film thinks about it, but the idea is there for us to consider. And I like that approach.

Michael: This is why I say you’re more insightful than I am.

Aaron: I’m also more likely to read and infer things that may or may not be there, so it’s a double-edged sword.
Beware the Stare
Michael: The last thing I want to talk about is how unique the kids’ mind control powers were. When we watch horror, there’s always something that the villain/antagonist/creature brings to the table that gives them a unique edge. I can safely say that, outside of superhero films, mind-control has fallen by the wayside, as it’s very seldomly used, and, as shown here, it was magnificently effective and gave the movie some powerful moments. They used their power to fatal results a few times, and the exact method was by making character kill themselves. Usually when we see something like mind control, it’s used to turn a hero heel, for lack of a better phrase. I thought it was interesting and eerie that the kids made no effort to hide their powers.

Aaron: I really appreciated how the powers were handled, and how the kids were written. For all their intelligence, the kids still acted like children after a fashion. Their fight or flight instincts are stronger, they are demanding of their parents, and get easily upset when they don’t get what they want. This idea of power without any respect for it put me on edge the whole time. The fear really pays off during the extremely tense finale.

Michael: I’m a huge fan of the movie’s climax. And it also evened the playing field when we see that these are still in fact children. Their stature is unimposing, and they look clean cut in a way that exudes harmlessness. It gave us a feeling a hope that they could be defeated despite their paralyzing eyes.

Aaron: Village of the Damned was a well-executed, briskly told piece of science fiction horror. I was fixated while watching it and spent several hours thinking on it afterwards. That’s almost always a good sign.


Michael: I know a few of our readers mentioned that they hadn’t even heard of this film when we announced it last week. I know that was the case for Aaron as well, and you can see his enjoyment. I enjoyed it about the same as him and feel it really has been a forgotten classic in the horror genre. Seek this one out if you can, and I also recommend checking out the sequel, Children of the Damned, as I hear it’s almost as good. I plan to check it out in the next week or two.


Aaron: The remake was Christopher Reeve’s last film before his paralysis. This makes me sad for some reason…

Michael: It makes me sad as well that his last film, despite having this as inspiration, supposedly isn’t all that good. I haven’t seen Reeve in anything other than Superman, but he had a lot of charm and I would have loved to see more of him.

What’s your favorite old-school horror villain?

Next week:

Aaron: This next pick was something I watched when it was included in YouTube film analyst Leon Thomas’ list of this decade’s top twenty films. I have a deep respect for his opinion and I ended up liking this quite a lot.
A Girl
Michael: I see that it’s a vampire movie, which excites me. It’ll be our second this year, as Let the Right One In was our first back in April. I’m sure I’ll be thinking of it while watching your pick, and I look forward to comparing them.

Aaron: They have some definite similarities and I was thinking of it when I picked this for you.

What are favorite foreign horror films, in English or otherwise?

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Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven, RoboCop, The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man 2, Prometheus, Scarface, Gattaca, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Equilibrium, City of God, The Graduate, Face/Off, Snowpiercer, The Exorcist, Hellboy, Village of the Damned

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The final score: review Very Good
The 411
If you'd like to see a horror movie that's unlike most that you'll see in theaters, we both recommend this lost gem. The mystery feels fresh and is in the forefront of the story, while a genuinely creepy vibe builds throughout. It's a quick watch at around eighty minutes and deserves to have more eyes on it.