Review: Wolf Rilla’s Sci-Fi Classic ‘Village of the Damned’ (1960)

+ Recommended – NR, Horror, Sci-Fi (77 minutes)


Opposite of Bresson’s focus on static camera allowing the audiences to spectate the events, Wolf Rilla’s Village of the Damned (1960) never ceases camera movement. It’s a British new wave motion picture that, at the time, was extreme in every sense of the word. Whether intense tracking shots are the primary focus or the camera pans to reveal different sections of the room, it’s unlikely that the camera will remain still. The first instances of this come when the entire town of Midwich falls asleep simultaneously: while the audience can hear a tractor still moving and a thud as a person falls to the ground, it isn’t revealed immediately. Instead, Rilla holds the tension of the situation for extended periods of time, and because the run time lands at a rapid 77 minutes, the intensity of the situation amplifies—especially since the plot picks up running in the very first opening scenes.

It should also be noted that the film never cuts mid-scene to reveal a different angle. Most all scenes are done with one take, as the camera pans or tracks back and forth. In a few cases, it’s evident that Rilla would rather leave the events of the invasion to the viewers mind. As the women in the town are criticized for being unfaithful, it’s very clear that a something horrific happened. When the children are born as babies Rilla withholds from showing any of them, as the dialogue tells a very distinct story about the oddity of their physical appearance. In fact, the kids aren’t shown until they are a fair bit older. These slow reveals matched with the rapid pacing make for a terrifying watch for anyone.

George Sanders (Gordon Zellaby) and Barbara Shelly (Anthea Zellaby) have a chemistry that, while mildly humorous at times, is genuine and nurturing. They do want to care for a child as that seems to be one of the few reasons for them staying together. There’s a level of sympathy that can be felt as they struggle to regain control of the situation when the children start developing high levels of genius at such an early age and become more powerful than the townspeople. In these moments, Ron Goodwin’s musical cues for the children become haunting and increase the level of atmosphere surrounding the mystery. Nothing is ever explained in detail, and that is one reason that the stakes seem so high.

In the final moments when Gordon has tricked the children into believing that he won’t harm them, there is an optical zoom in which the reaction of Martin Stephens’ David Zellaby is shown just before the house explodes. It’s an expression of anger, of betrayal that will remain with the audience after the credits roll. The rapid cuts of the scene enhance the viewer’s perception of events and trickle into a certain, nail-biting intensity. Between the outlandish, high concept and the crew’s sharp work in the editing room, Village of the Damned will remain a classic science fiction staple that paved the way for a new style of cinema.

Image via MGM

Author: Jared Charles

I am the owner of The Burrow Reviews. Currently studying Film, English, Political Science, and Gender Studies.

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