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VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (B&W 1960) Blu-ray Review by David Rosler

Not to be confused with the color and essentially dreadful remake from the 1990's, the original black-and-white Village Of The Damned, from England, is one of the mature and sophisticated science fiction classics of all time. Taut and engrossing in it's understated telling, the story weaves a tale of a small rural town an hour outside of London which suffers a mysterious blackout in which the entire town awakens hours after they last remember from some kind of state of unconsciousness. "Some kind" is the operative term here, for the origin of the unknown cause can only be deduced, since 9 months later every woman capable of childbirth gives birth to what amounts to part of a tiny collective colony of odd and superior children; beautiful, platinum-haired and possessed of powers of mind-reading and control. When that control is at its peak, the irises of their eyes glow in a sometimes genuinely creepy and alarming special effect which is extremely effective.

Made on a low budget, director Wolf Rilla demonstrates extraordinary control in the telling of the tale. Music and sound effects are used sparingly and the economy of the budget is used not despite, but because of itself, exploiting certain inherent advantages in the medium which become manifest when cash is low; the gritty though slick and expert lensing of the film is superb in it's thoughtful expression, the gray skies and autumnal landscape are played not for Halloween, but for an everyday realism which propels the story realistically forward- and into a darker place than Ichabod Crane could have ever imagined. The deft and compelling compositions are powerful yet never lose themselves in artistry, therefore maintaining the realism of the story,

In its time, the story was considered extremely controversial. Today it towers like a thematic skyscraper over lightweight light-saber fantasies and supposed spooky chills where today's cinematic realism is thought to be attained by an overuse of handheld cameras. In fact, Rilla's controlled use of the camera is so extraordinary that one is barely aware of the continuous use of dolly and crane shots. Like an expert novelist at home with his writing style, Rilla weaves the tale so expertly that the pieces only show when he wants them to, for effect. Very young British actor Martin Stephens is the real special effect in this quiet and masterfully structured story. One is inclined to believe that his incredibly mature, insightful and realistic intonations, along with his unusual voice, must have been dubbed by an expert actress. Not so. He was simply an absolutely brilliant child actor, playing the role of David with a mature and emotionless near-monotone authority which absolutely convinces the viewer that his intellect is simply not to be trifled with. Stephens tired of acting as he grew into his teens and became a successful architect. Of his role in Village Of The Damned, Stephens not too long ago said, "I knew it was an unusual part. I quietly liked it...having these very adult qualities and having control over the adult. Imagine having that power." Indeed. Imagine, and Stephens' performance brings us into that mindset and makes the character both a menace and fascinating. Wisely, though one is hard-pressed to notice, the producers and directors knew what they had in Stephens, and none of the other children speak - ever- lest the magic sinister quality of the children as a group be lost. It is maintained because we only see Stephens as David speaking. Being telepathic, their thoughts are often telegraphed to the audience in action - glances, turns, starts and stops - albeit with the reserve of the sort of divine detachment one would expect of a being whose mere gaze could cause any interloper to commit suicide on the spot, as is their way of dispensing with those whom they regard as a threat. When the moment demands, a word or two from Stephens' amazing performance is all that is needed to communicate whatever needs to be known.

George Sanders, entering the late phase of his life, is terrifically sincere in his performance as David's aging botanist father. Hammer studios' Horror queen Barbara Shelley gets to give a performance here directed at intelligent adults, not teens, and the chemistry of Sanders' and Shelley's characters' May/December marriage is entirely successful.

This is a sci-fi thriller for even those those who dislike the genre and the greatest of Halloween treats for those who love it. Genre fans be forewarned, Steve Haberman's excellent commentary is the same one found on the previous DVD issue. FOUR STARS. EXCEEDINGLY RECOMMENDED. Stylish, intelligently written, adroitly acted and deftly crafted. This is a must for anyone who likes any kind of movie. A true classic of the medium, and while its reputation continues to grow, it has yet to receive its full due. Watch it and be mesmerized.


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