Village of the Damned / Children of the Damned (HMV Exclusive)

Starring: George Sanders, Barbara Shelley, Ian Hendry and Barbara Ferris
Warner Home Video
RRP: 24.99
Certificate: 12
Available 20 March 2006

When contact is lost with Midwich, a high-ranking military man drives to the village to discover what has happened to his friends the professor and his wife. It seems the entire population, both humans and animals, have simply passed-out. No one can enter the outskirts without suffering the same fate. After several hours the people begin to regain consciousness with no knowledge of what has taken place. When the professor's wife learns she is pregnant she is delighted, but then it is revealed that every woman young enough has conceived. They all give birth to strange and highly-developed babies. As young children they are extremely advanced and possess mental abilities such as mind-reading and compelling individuals against their will. It seems that colonies of similar children have been born in other countries, and such were their powers that the authorities were obliged to destroy entire regions to wipe them out. Can the professor reach them on a personal level or will he be forced to take similar action...

Village of the Damned is based on the excellent Midwich Cuckoos book by John Wyndham, and is equally entertaining in its interpretation. George Sanders plays the professor with a calm and methodical assuredness, and Barbara Shelley avoids the normal penchant of this time for dramatic and hysterical overacting. There's a feeling here that every scene is important or even critical to the whole, and the film succeeds by having the first major event happen before the titles even appear and then lifting the closing credits immediately after the climax. In other words, Village of the Damned starts, tells the story concisely, and then finishes, with no sign of padding anywhere in the script. Quite simply it's a masterpiece.

A couple of minor points: Why is the church bell tolling 11:00 am when there's nobody conscious to ring it? And where did they find such a brilliant dog (played by Bruno!), who made all the right actions and reactions without looking in any way excited or directed? I remember reading once somewhere that there was a curious debate over whether the children's eyes lit-up when they took over someone's mind (apparently they do in one version of this film but not in another). Well, I can tell you that here they shine in all their glory.

As a huge fan of John Carpenter's work you might expect me to say that his remake of Village of the Damned (starring Christopher Reeve in his last role before his accident) is everything this original is not. That's not the case. Carpenter's film was only made because he was offered the money; a purely business enterprise, which is okay, but you have to wonder why anyone bothers to remake a classic film when it can only be worse (Assault on Precinct 13, anyone?).

In Children of the Damned, a series of intelligence tests carried out on children across the country reveal one such subject to be outstandingly gifted. When other countries perform similar tests five more similarly talented children are revealed. They are brought to London for further study, but when a government man plans to spirit the English boy away for experimentation the six children group together in an abandoned church. Two men arrive to recapture the children but are attacked with resonating harmonics. The world powers realise the danger of children who know each other's minds, and if they can't possess them as a weapon for their respective countries then they are prepared to destroy them. Then a professor discovers via a blood sample that the children are human, perhaps advanced by evolution a million years.

Based loosely on the situations created for John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos, comes this original sequel to Village of the Damned. This time we have a United Nations of representative children, with Paul, Mi Ling, Nina, Ago, Rashid and Mark harking from different countries which see the potential for their use as weapons. It's very much the same idea as Village, with the youngsters grouping together for strength and support. However, this time there's little sense of the eeriness and fear felt by others in their presence. Also, because there are no UFO Ed Straker-like silver-blond wigs there's no feeling of the children being a strange breed of their own.

Children in itself is an eminently watchable film without a great deal really happening during its running time, the conclusion reminding me of many a 1950s B-movie cold war solution of blowing-up what you don't understand. The first film is the classic, but it certainly makes sense to package these together. Bizarrely, the only extra on these discs is a James Dean Collection trailer (eh?!), but don't let that deter you from buying what amounts to a fabulous couple of films.

Ty Power

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£8.99 (HMV.co.uk)

All prices correct at time of going to press.