Sunday, July 26, 2009

Free Special Effect: Staring

"You have to be taught to leave us alone." --David (Mark Stephens), Village of the Damned (dir. Wolf Rilla, UK, 1960)

Village of the Damned is a movie made from John Wyndham's book The Midwich Cuckoos. (JW also wrote The Day of the Triffids, which I read last week.) In the book, aliens impregnate the women of a quiet English village, like cuckoos leave their eggs in other birds' nests. The film pussyfoots around any sexual matters, but it's basically the same thing.

The retitle is a mistake. Maybe "cuckoos" doesn't make for a great movie title, but the title Village of the Damned is too religious and too hot. The temperature of this movie is cool, as cool as the children's white-blond hair. And damnation has nothing to do with it. The point is the children are alien to human ways of moral reasoning, an alienness that is spookier than familiar evils.
It's amazing how disturbing it is just to introduce something unrecognizable into a familiar nest. It's a special effect all in itself.

Village of the Damned cost $200,000 to make, and its main special effect is the eyes of the spooky children glowing milky white. But they wouldn't even have had to do that--having children stand perfectly still and stare at you blankly, like ten-year-old Mark Stephens is doing here, is spooky enough.

I am adding staring to my bag of low-budget tricks--like filming people walking backwards and then playing the film forward for a not-of-this-world walk, in Brother from Another Planet.
I like these tricks better, in some ways, than million-dollar special effects. You can see individual intelligences behind them, figuring out problems--"What can we do with a jar of olives and a piece of string?"--and not just the superiority of the collective hive mind at work.
Of course I like that too, or I wouldn't love my computer. But it's still the individual who's most interesting. I suppose because each of us is one.

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