Archive for Village of the Damned

It Takes a Village, and other lessons children teach us

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2018 by dcairns

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED may have a rotten remake but it has an excellent sequel. (Remake it now, and you can digitally recolour the kids’ hair instead of relying on wigs, and you can have one boy and one girl play all the kids, so they’re identical as in the book. DO IT.)

CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED (1964) is niftily directed by Anton M. Leader (AKA Tony Leader) and it’s the busy TV director’s only feature save for THE COCKEYED COWBOYS OF CALLICO COUNTY, a 1970 Dan Blocker vehicle (???). I reckon Tony should have quit while he was ahead. But he does fine work here, continuing the dutch tilts and low angles of the first film and adding more modernistic touches too. Those eerie/cheap stills of the kids with glowing eyes in the first film are echoed by the title sequence, a series of ever-enlarging freeze-frames that look to have been taken from a crash zoom, so there’s weird blurring around our eldritch kid.

When the kids traipse through a deserted London, they’re in very, very subtle slomo. I’m reminded of Franju’s LA PREMIERE NUIT.

“Children are a doorway into the supernatural,” said Mario Bava. “Children don’t think as grownups do — they are mad, in fact,” wrote Richard Hughes.

I had somehow convinced myself that sci-fi writer Anthony Boucher had a hand in the writing of this, but his only screen credit is William Castle’s excellent MACABRE, and this is the work of John Briley — and indeed it brings together numerous of the motifs of a screenplay of his previously celebrated here, THE MEDUSA TOUCH. Psychic powers and a climax at a floodlit London church… Briley’s other main credits are earnest Attenborough snooze-fests. I wish he’d done more clever pulp fantasy.

Five genius children are born, but scattered around the world this time. A UN IQ test detects them and they’re brought together in London, where they become even more powerful. This is clearly a development of the alien invasion from the first film, but nobody ever refers to that case… I guess that would just pad out the exposition. But investigators seem able to intuit developments before they happen (“Does Rashid ever make you do things?”) so maybe they’re acquainted with the rulebook from the previous movie. No wigs this time — I think the black and brown and Chinese kids wouldn’t have looked credible in blonde Beatles ‘dos, so I support this choice.

I guess I get why some people don’t care for this film — no Martin Stephens, and a plot that’s imperfectly developed — but I love it. It has a great Quatermass/Doctor Who opposition of humane scientist to nasty government/military, and the two leads are terrific. Ian Hendry and Alan Badel may not be stars of the George Sanders magnitude, but like the spooky kids, put them together and their power is magnified. The dry, melancholic Hendry, occasionally erupting into what his pal calls “a Welsh tirade” — the sardonic, fruity Badel, who just can’t help make everything a sneer. One bachelor, living with another — somewhere between Holmes & Watson and Tony Hancock & Sid James. “There should be a whole series with these guys,” declared Fiona, something I think every time I see this, which isn’t often enough.

Also featuring Professor Dippet, Thumbelina, the shrink from PEEPING TOM and Oliver Cromwell. And Bessie Love, beginning the strange, psychotronic third act of her career (VAMPYRES *and* THE HUNGER!)

Because we’re in London in 1964 in b&w, everything looks like REPULSION — one pictures Hendry changing coats so he can pursue dirty weekends with Yvonne Furneaux between set-ups. Davis Boulton shot it, fresh from THE HAUNTING. Evidently he couldn’t get the defective Cinemascope wide angle lenses that make that movie so distinctive (they had to sign all sorts of papers promising not to sue if the distortion was TOO extreme) but he does fine work. His subsequent career is unaccountably appalling.

Ron Goodwin does the music again, really the only direct link to the original film.

The script, though flawed, has some killer lines and some fascinating developments. The children barely speak, their few vocal moments strikingly well-chosen. Barbara Ferris, the sympathetic aunt of the English boy, speaks for them, possessed, her high, clipped voice sounding remarkably like little Martin Stephens’ in the first film.

An eleventh-hour plot twist reveals that the kids’ cells are human, but from a million years in the future (how can they tell?). This is very interesting, and kind of goes nowhere, but it does make this a precursor of both LA JETEE and THE TERMINATOR. We’ve established that random mutations (or “biological sports,” to use the film’s quaint terminology) couldn’t account for six prodigies occurring at once. So evidently these kids were implanted in the womb back in time, through some process we can only guess at and for some purpose that never becomes clear. A third movie is obviously called for.

When Badel expresses his disgust with espionage cad Alfred Burke, it comes out as “What would you lot do if the whole world made friends — had a bloody love affair?” “Oh, I shouldn’t worry,” smirks Burke. “You know how love affairs go.”

Advertisements

The Milkman Always Rings Twice

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2018 by dcairns

I’ve been hoping to see a good Wolf Rilla film for ages: his work on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED is so smart, and yet everything else I’ve been able to see was a letdown. THE BLACK RIDER was the one that used to turn up on UK TV, and it’s really pathetic — a crummy motorcycle film with a Scooby Doo plot. I wasn’t looking for the amusingly bad, but the unexpectedly good. Fiona and I once bumped into the Great Man’s son, Nico, at Edinburgh Film Fest, and he suggested THE WORLD TEN TIMES OLDER was a cult item that might be worth checking out, but I couldn’t get interested. But MARILYN — know in the US as ROADHOUSE GIRL, which sets you up for all manner of disappointment — has been gathering quite a strong reputation.

I guess the setting is, technically, a roadhouse of sorts, but we’d call it a greasy spoon cafe (pronounced “caff”) or maybe a tea-room. It’s that exciting. Vamped up to project class and glamour mid-film, it acquires the name Marilyn, after its owner, an impossible development — a cafe could be called Marilyn’s, conceivably, but not Marilyn. Snack-bars with human names? What’s next, a brasserie called Derek? Perhaps this is a case of the Berlin-born Rilla not being quite familiar enough with British idioms. Certainly the dialogue in his self-penned script is strangely flat and repetitive, and his cast are not resourceful enough to repeat a line two different ways, so whenever they echo themselves it sounds like they’re practicing their lines, or like multiple takes have been spliced together by an experimentally-inclined cutter.

The actors include Maxwell Reed (Mr. Joan Collins), who’s tall, and Sandra Dorne, who’s blonde (they were made for each other!), and Leslie Dwyer, the Punch and Judy man from TV’s Hi-De-Hi! It’s basically James M. Cain at a garage in the Home Counties. Also featuring Count Von Krolock and Hengist Pod. But the movie belongs to Ealing stalwart Vida Hope.

Reed gets a job as garage hand and spends time posing erotically under a sign reading LUBRICATION SERVICE. Dorne falls for him, they bump off the jealous husband more or less by accident, and then she starts pursuing more promising romantic prospects in the form of suave Ferdy Mayne, who must have played suave in a hundred quote quickies of this kind, filmed in a week or two and released to deafening silence in possibly-empty auditoria. Hope plays the waitress/confidante who’s obviously in love with Marilyn, the only daring aspect of a movie that bowdlerizes Cain’s “love rack” narrative at every turn. Even at the end, when the cops turn up, I was racking my brains to figure out if anything seriously criminal has actually been done. It would be a good Cain-style narrative if they ended up being done for murder, when WE saw it was an accident, and insurance fraud when it was basically on the level. But the movie ends, or runs out, before that can be dealt with.

But Rilla directs with admirable intensity — his angles are good, and he cuts to juicy close-ups at the most effective moments. And, As Matthew Sweet has argued, there’s something appealing about the sheer drabness of it all. Even the romantic music is lugubrious, despondent, like the rubber band’s gone on the gramophone. The actors are all road-company versions of the bare archetypes they’re attempting to evoke. The whole affair has a real post-war misery. This is to IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY as DETOUR is to THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. To quote Errol Morris’s best line, “Despair enacted on cheap sets.”

Inventive and lively direction keeps us engaged with a production that’s totally “from poverty,” and the script engages with the lack of glamour. Best line is when Dwyer rants about how his wife should show more gratitude: “I work my fingers to the bone so you can have all the comforts. Look around you: a gas fire in every room. Electric light!”

Wow. This is living.

Crossing the Line

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on July 11, 2018 by dcairns

It’s not worth getting into any lengthy comparison of John Carpenter’s VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED with Wolf Rilla’s. Why kick a film when it’s down? “It’s not his worst film,” observed Fiona, kindly, but the only response to that one are not kind, so I’ll refrain. Although writer David Gerrold did come up with a put-down that’s so acid and perfect I can’t not quote him.

“Carpenter (n): one who works with wood.”

It was Ambrose “Bitter” Bierce who remarked that for each of us there exists an insult so apposite that, once applied, it will stick forever. “Our enemies have but to find it.”

In fact, the film has numerous nice touches, it’s just that whenever you look at the way the original movie (or the book) handled things, the nice touches aren’t as nice as the earlier ones.

A key moment early on illustrates the weaknesses running through Carpenter’s vision. The town of Midwich has been knocked unconscious by some mysterious force. The authorities, headed by Kirstie Alley, determine the perimeter of the strange knockout bubble, and draw a line on the rad marking the border. A bold soldier in gas mask steps forward, with a rope around him so he can be dragged back to safety if overcome.

 

He walks slowly forward. Topples. Is dragged back to the point of safety, and revives.

In terms of incident, this is much like what happens in the Wolf Rilla show. But Rilla keeps his camera on the safe side of the line. With the observers, we watch the pointman proceed forward, our anxiety synchronised with theirs. By respecting the line, Rilla makes the threat seem more real. We feel, in a way, that if he tried to film from OVER THERE, the operator and focus puller would collapse into coma, the lens tilting slowly down to gaze at the road surface until the magazine ran out. Even though in other scenes he’s swooped all over Midwich in a camera crane, recording the plague of narcolepsy. For THIS scene, the line matters.

And of course, Carpenter is all over the place, following the lone soldier as he walks into danger, as if he were a character or something, jumping back to the actual characters, just shooting the shit out of the scene but without the strong focus that comes from a strong idea, or from asking (drum roll) Mike Nichols’ Three Questions.

What are the Three Questions? Any of you know?