Village of the Damned (1960, 78 minutes). In the marvelous opening sequence, residents of a small English town simply fall over in their tracks. The clear sky and the bucolic nature of a rural village only heighten the sense of unease. Everyone awakens, but just as mysteriously, all the town's women have been impregnated and months later give birth to oddly perfect children. The image of these expressionless, tow-headed automatons with a gift for destructive mind-control has been much parodied since, yet this film still remains genuinely creepy. Nobody ever sorts out the kids' origin or their purpose, and the briskly paced film ends in a surprisingly downbeat manner. This horror concludes, but is left unresolved.
Children of the Damned (1963, 90 minutes). This sequel begins without preamble in London where a whiz kid, Paul, is being tested. We know he's a "damned" kid, but it takes the various adults (most of whom are interchangeable British officials in raincoats) time to figure out that Paul is alarmingly different. By that time, Paul has kidnapped a nanny via mind-control, and has holed up in an abandoned church with five similar children, a UNICEF line-up representing the United States, India, Liberia, China and the Soviet Union. Children lacks the tight focus and lean narrative of its predecessor, but in between its bits of bumbling and dreadful camerawork, it does try to sort through the why and what-now of these kids. What are the ethics of dealing with something we don't understand? Does society destroy these kids to preserve the status quo -- or do we harness our fears and possibly take a huge leap forward? There's a lot of arguing -- including the great dismissal: "Let's not have another Welsh tirade" -- but ultimately this great conundrum is solved with a simple handtool.
John Carpenter's Village of the Damned (1995, 98 minutes). A remake of the 1960 film that is inferior in every manner -- unless you're looking for a few laughs. Kirstie Alley inexplicably is cast as a noted epidemiologist. At each new terrible development, she stomps back on the scene, swathed in all-black Donna Karan gear and puffing away on a cigarette. The be-wigged kids are more phony bleached-blond and vapid-looking than Paris Hilton, and Carpenter adds a feel-good twist at the end that is worthy of a Hallmark TV movie.