Beware the Stare

Village of the Damned, written by Stirling Silliphant, Wolf Rilla and Ronald Kinnoch; based on The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham; directed by Wolf Rilla; starring George Sanders (Gordon Zellaby) and Barbara Shelley (Anthea Zellaby) (1960): Dandy adaptation of John Wyndham’s even dandier novel. A mysterious force knocks out everyone in the small English town of Midwich for several hours. After they awaken, they eventually discover that every woman of child-bearing age is pregnant.

The pregnancies advance far too quickly to be normal. And the children that are born, who mature far too quickly — well, they’re a bunch of blond-haired, super-intelligent beings with strange, menacing, and rapidly increasing powers of telepathy and telekinesis. Earth has been invaded through a form of cosmic rape. What will the outcome be?

John Wyndham was Great Britain’s best-selling master of the apocalypse in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, though in The Midwich Cuckoos the (near) end of the world is implied but not observed as it was in other Wyndham novels like The Day of the Triffids or The Kraken Wakes. Rilla and his army of screenwriters do a solid job here of condensing the character list and the timeline for a short, tense film — a lot of things are left out, but you wouldn’t note their absence unless you had read the novel.

George Sanders and Barbara Shelley are solid as protagonist Gordon Zellanby and his much-younger wife, who gives birth to David, the leader of the 12 quasi-alien children born in Midwich. Sanders’s character is a high-profile scientific consultant to the British government, so he has a seat at the table as debates occur about what to do with the children.

The representation of the children has become something of a pop-cultural icon, even for people who’ve never seen the film. They’re blond, they’re eerily well-spoken, and their eyes glow when they’re using their mental powers. Zellanby believes they can be educated about human morality and become a boon to mankind. Pretty much everyone else watches in horror as the body count mounts — like Texas, these kids don’t like being messed with. Followed by a lackluster sequel and a pointless 1995 remake starring Christopher Reeve and Kirstie Alley. Highly recommended.

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