Archive for the ‘Village of the Damned (1960)’ Category

Blu-ray Cover
Distributor: Warner Bros.

Release Date: July 31, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:17:19

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 1973 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 34.39 Mbps

Notes: This is the Blu-ray debut of Village of the Damned, but the film was given a DVD release along with Children of the Damned in 2004.

Title

“What interested me was not to make a fantastic film but a film that was very real. To take an ordinary situation and inject extraordinary events into it.” -Wolf Rilla (The Guardian, December 04, 2003)

One could read quite a lot into Village of the Damned. It belongs to a period of horror that preyed on people’s fear of communism. There are two kinds of horror: one group tackles the evil within ourselves while the second preys on people’s natural fear of “the other.” This film fits snuggly in the latter category. The project was conceived at a time when WWII was still very much in the public’s consciousness, and one has difficulty divorcing the image of a group of evil blond children with notions about Aryan youth.

Aryan Youth

“I don’t think any of us were aware of it then, but of course now they remind you of the Hitler youth, blond-haired Aryan children and all that. I’m convinced that was an unintentional subtext; after all, the war was still fresh in our memories. But none of us had any idea of the impact it would make.” -Wolf Rilla (The Guardian, December 04, 2003)

The film’s opening sixteen minutes is really quite terrific—much better than the opening scenes in Carpenter’s remake. It is both efficient and effective storytelling and manages to grab the viewer’s attention. In all fairness, this reviewer has never read John Wyndham’s “The Midwich Cuckoos,” but most sources suggest that this is a fairly accurate representation of this source novel.

The novel’s title was obviously changed, but it is worth noting that Cuckoo birds would lay their eggs in the nests of other species to the detriment of their own offspring. The parallel will be obvious to those who have seen the film, which unfortunately focuses more on the husbands of Midwich as they try to find a solution to this unusual invasion instead of focusing on the more interesting story of a group of women who have had their bodies invaded and must become mothers to these emotionless children. In essence, the women in the village are the victims of a sort of intergalactic rape. There’s a lot of untapped horror being suppressed here (and in the novel). Frankly, focusing on the men in the village isn’t nearly as effective—even if this did allow for a rather interesting a-typical starring turn for George Sanders.

George Sanders

Village of the Damned gave George Sanders one of his better late-career screen roles.

One imagines that there will also be viewers who are distracted from the less than perfectly rendered special effects, but this particular issue seems forgivable considering the production’s minimal budget and the era it was made. Any time the children used their powers, their eyes glow an eerie white. This was achieved by freezing the frame (or the part of the frame that includes their eyes) and rotoscoping the negative image of their iris over the original image. This works in some shots much better than it does in others. There are conflicting reports as to whether this effect was utilized in the UK prints of the film. There are many that say that they simply used normal shots of the children staring intently for these prints, and some vocal people who dispute this claim. If it is true, it would have been wonderful to have had both versions included here as one wonders if this version might not be superior. However, it is this effect that MGM used to sell the film (at least in the states), and it did a very good job of bringing patrons into the theaters.

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There will also be those who feel that the film’s true villain is the village barber. The children’s haircuts are decidedly awful, and it boggles the mind why the remake didn’t at least improve upon this particular element. One wonders if normal hair would have added another layer to the film. Questions could have been raised as to whether the other villagers were simply imagining that these children were different. The audience could have been allowed to wonder this as well had they not been portrayed as so obviously the product of some malignant hive of alien beings.

All of this probably gives readers the wrong impression. This isn’t a bad film. While far from perfect, Village of the Damned is much better than one would expect. It was simply intended as a low-budget quota-quickie, but it managed to capture the audience’s imagination and still manages to do this 58 years later.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Warner Archives houses their disc in a standard Blu-ray case with a sleeve featuring artwork that is taken from the film’s original one sheet (although it has been slightly altered here). Luckily, their alterations have resulted in a superior design.

One Sheet

The American One Sheet

Menu

The disc’s static menu features interesting and attractive artwork as well and is easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Geoffrey Faithfull’s cinematography is allowed to shine. The 2K scan is clean and free of any distracting blemishes. Black and white films look pretty amazing on Blu-ray when the transfer is handled appropriately, and this one is no exception. Fine detail, depth, and clarity are all satisfyingly rendered with an organic layer of grain that adds a filmic texture to the proceedings without muddying the image. There are some density fluctuations during dissolves, but this isn’t really distracting and probably couldn’t have been avoided.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio mix is a good representation of the original mono source and exhibits clear dialogue elements and sound effects. Ron Goodwin’s score also sounds quite clean here. Obviously, this isn’t going to be an immersive sonic experience, but a more dynamic mix would not be in keeping with the film’s original mix or with the intentions of the filmmakers.

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

Audio Commentary by Author Steve Haberman

One would’ve preferred to hear a director’s commentary with Wolf Rilla or even a commentary with Martin Stephens (or both). Firsthand information always trumps third party information (no matter how well researched the information might or might not be). C’est la vie. What we are offered is at least better than it might have been. One does wonder why the author of “Chronicles of Terror: Silent Screams” was chosen for this commentary track. After all, Village of the Damned isn’t a silent film. Brief biographical information of various participants is given while also offering a bit of production history and appreciative observations about the film. He obviously prepared for the track but still manages to deliver this information in a casual and conversational manner. Interestingly, Haberman disputes the aforementioned claim that the film was released without the glowing eye effect in the UK. There’s more than enough reason to give this a listen if you enjoy the film.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:01)

It’s great to have the film’s original theatrical trailer included here. It’s shamelessly heavy-handed, but that’s part of the fun of watching classic film trailers.

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Final Words:

“I’ve made 27 films and this is the only one people remember.” -Wolf Rilla (The Guardian, December 04, 2003)

Making even a single film that is remembered and admired over a half century later is quite an accomplishment. Forget the remake and pick up this original black and white classic.

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