Several movies have been produced from John Wyndham’s novel “The Midwich Cuckoos”. The 1960 film “Village of the Damned” was the first movie to tell the story of mysterious unplanned births in the small and secluded village of Midwich. The children born of an unexplained blackout are not normal, and the village is plagued by tragedy wherever the children roam. Master of horror, John Carpenter’s 1995 film version of “Village of the Damned” closely follows the formula of the original source material, and the 1960 script, to even greater horror effect.
Village of the Damned (1960)
The eerie events of Midwich’s tragedy begin with a blackout at around ten in the morning. People and animals collapse into unwakeable sleep, flooding bathtubs, burning clothes, and crashing vehicles. The borders of the event are well defined, and even crash planes flying too low overhead. Anyone stepping into the sleep zone collapses.
The tolling church bell before the incident, underscores the deathlike sleep of the villagers, and foreshadows the deaths to come. The military immediately intervenes, and extensively examines Midwich and its people as soon as the blackout clears. After the incident an unusual amount of women are found to be pregnant, including three women who are still virgins.
This version of the film does a better job than its successor, communicating the fear of the villagers at these unexplainable pregnancies. Indeed, thirty-two minutes of the movie pass before the children are born. The beautiful but seemingly inhuman children have narrow fingernails, unusual hair, and hypnotic eyes. Most troubling is the children’s “hive mind” and sinister intentions. Adding to the fear, military scientists discover colonies of these dangerous children are cropping up in other remote villages.
John Capenter’s “Village of the Damned” (1995)
It’s rare that a movie remake improves upon its source, but Carpenter’s “Village” succeeds in adding to the horror of every element of the story. When I first saw this film in theatres, I was blown away by the cast, which seemed to rescue numerous 80’s actors from relative obscurity, including Christopher Reeve, Mark Hamill, Kirstie Alley, and Michael Pare.
The blackout itself is immediately more horrific than the 1960 version. There are a number of gruesome accidental deaths during the event. The CDC and army seize the town with an obvious military presence, frightening the villagers. Despite the fact that Midwich is a Catholic village doctors recommend abortions for the mysterious pregnancies. However, the growing fetuses defend themselves with a sort of prenatal hypnosis, convincing the mothers to keep the offspring.
The townspeople have many of the same “accidents” and injuries interacting with the predatory children that occur in the 1960 film, but the horror is more extreme. The children are sadistic, the injuries more graphic, and the despair of the townspeople more palpable. More than one mother commits suicide, unable to face mothering a beautiful, blonde monster. The townspeople know they are hostages, and live in a state of perpetual fear.
Themes of religion, compassion, and natural selection all play out in the tense drama of the film. Unable to teach them compassion, the townspeople turn on the children, with disastrous results. Most horrific of all, one mother’s compassion leads to a danger as great as that of the children’s unfeeling cruelty. Even the village priest, brilliantly played by Mark Hamill, seeks to stop the children, his defeat culminating in a torch mob led by his wife. The religious implications of this version, hit home the “damnation” of Midwich in a way that is never covered in the 1960 film.
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