Saturday, December 2, 2017

Movie review: 'Village of the Damned'

What happens in 'Village of the Damned' with the spoogly-eyed children

Originally published to Helium Network on March 15, 2011.

A chattering evil thing blows into the quiet but vibrant town.  You know you need to know what comes next. 

As the humble, happy residents prepare their harvest festival, every living being within the town limits suddenly faints, causing a fatal car crash and a self-barbecue on an outdoor grill.  Precisely six hours later, everyone, except for the aforementioned unfortunates, awakes.  Ten females are now pregnant.

The government sends in scientists who aren't telling all they know.  The scientific team, represented by Dr. Susan Verner, offers a stipend of $3,000 per month to each family that promises to submit its special alien offspring to the scientific team's regular examinations.  For this rural community in mid-twentieth-century America, it is a princely sum.  All of the women - apparently also influenced by coercive alien dreams - decide to carry their pregnancies to term.

Having conceived on the same day, the women all go into labor on the same night in a spartan makeshift blue tent with fabric partitions.  A teenager's delivery causes Dr. Verner to shortly declare "I'm sorry, it's stillborn" and to wrap up the remains and spirit them away before anyone else can see them.  She rebuffs the local doctor and the priest when they inquire after the dead baby.  The other nine women, however, give birth to apparently normal babies with pale, angelic, round, smiling faces that command the affection of their fathers and mothers, despite the fathers' lurking suspicion that they are not the biological parents.

Things go wrong when the children are a few months old.  They are not merely silver-haired and preternaturally intelligent, but far more hideously, they have metallic irises that can turn their evil spoogly gaze on anyone who affronts them and thereby control the person's mind to compel them to inflict self-injury.  Mara, sitting in her high chair, is offended that her mother served her soup that was too hot.  She stares at her mother until her mother sticks her own arm elbow-deep into the boiling soup pot and soon afterward by a similar psychic transmission she compels her mother to jump off a cliff.  Her father, Alan Chaffee, who is the town's physician, mourns the loss of his wife and he tells Dr. Verner that he will no longer participate in the medical research program.  Dr. Verner is undeterred from her overall program, reporting with melodramatic gravity that "it is now of interest to national security that we continue to carefully monitor their developing powers."

By the time the silver-haired children have reached the apparent age of about eight, they have put a stranglehold on the town, which has fallen into disrepair, marred by rusting vehicles and weeds.  The children walk in formation, four boy-girl pairs, led by Mara and followed by the unpaired ninth, a shy runt, David.  His powers are curtailed by the absence of the tenth child who supposedly died at birth and would have been his mate.  David is able to learn about empathy.  Although he causes the bereaved teenage mother of his stillborn mate to commit suicide with a pistol (simply by communicating the thought to her psychically), David has an empathic breakthrough when he understands that Dr. Chaffee mourns the loss of his wife just as he mourns the loss of his mate.

The townspeople become increasingly panicked by the mounting carnage and furious at the .  At the sparsely attended funeral of the teenager who killed herself, the priest accuses the silver-haired children of being mere facsimiles of human beings who have only a collective mind rather than individual souls.  Soon there is all-out warfare between the adults and the children.  The alcoholic school janitor hits a boy in the head with his broomstick; the children spoogly-eye him until he backs up a ladder onto the roof, falls forward onto a truck and impales himself.  The children request that their parents allow them to live in a barn outside town; when one worried father arrives to rescue his child, the children's eyes glow brightly like headlights and compel him to drive into a fuel tank.

Dr. Verner reveals to Dr. Chaffee the horrible dead alien baby that she apparently keeps in a jar, illuminated by blue light.  By further research she finds out that this sort of alien pregnancy has happened before and that all of those towns were eventually destroyed since "they couldn't get out without the children knowing."  This information is too little, too late.  Mara is able to read her father's mind and she is upset that he knows about the other failed towns.  "So the question becomes, should you be allowed to live?" she asks matter-of-factly.

Fulfilling a prophecy made by the janitor, the priest sets himself up as a sniper to kill the children, but they force him to turn his gun against himself, ironically committing the sin of suicide against which he preached.  The townspeople congregate in a mob with torches to destroy the children, but they cause the leader to self-immolate.  The police arrive and only massacre each other.  The children even down a helicopter just by looking at it.  Dr. Verner, at last, is punished by being compelled to vivisect herself under the full-strength glowing eyes of her research subjects.  Only David is too uncomfortable to participate.

With no time to lose, Dr. Chaffee cooks up a plan to beat the children at their own game.  The final scene has a special resonance for viewers who know that Christopher Reeve, the actor who played Dr. Chaffee, suffered a severe, life-changing accident one month after the release of this film.

The 1995 film is based on John Wyndham's 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos. The plot is rather predictable but it is still creepy. This was a box-office dud that nevertheless earned its place in B-movie history for its unabashed portrayal of spoogly-eyed children.

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