Children of the Damned (1964)

Children of the Damned is sometimes mistaken for a sequel to its famous predecessor, Village of the Damned. In fact, the film makes no sense at all as a sequel - it is rather a remake or, as it is now termed, a reimagining. The viewer must excise the original completely and swap the rural idyll for a grim cityscape, and the patrician George Sanders for a trio of officials, almost three kings - the teacher, the analyst and the spy. As for the children, gone are the cute but deadly cuckoos; instead we have a new species of migratory bird, as the atypical children scattered across the globe converge on London, courtesy of the United Nations. And this London is a bleakly satisfying place - brutalist structures sit uneasily amidst the surviving classical lines of the city. There is a striking scene where the children navigate a pelican crossing, almost thrown into hesitancy by a contusion of stripes. There is no apparent vengeance in these children; they must be prompted to act. They appear even reticent to speak and select a human voice in the form of Barbara Ferris; it's obviously not a coincidence that her child-like voice bears a striking resemblance to that of David in Village of the Damned. It is this kind of continuity that makes for art, and it is true to say that Children of the Damned is a an artful affair...

Having discovered child genius Paul at an inner city school, Hendry and Badel decide to do a little investigating into the boy's background. They discover through contacts at the UN that there are six such children across the world, and they make arrangements to have them brought to London for tests. Meanwhile their investigation invites the attention of government spook Alfred Burke, who decides to take the boy into custody. By this point the boy is wise to the situation and he and the other children flee to an abandoned church, where they remain very much under siege... from here on, things are tightly plotted on the turn of a screwdriver.

Sadly, John Briley's plot is perhaps the weak point in the film. Though the dialogue is fine and has a cynical ear for the times, the conceit, that of a sudden jump in the human evolutionary process, is unoriginal, even by the standards of 1964, and Briley offers no new take on it. He jettisons Wyndham's suggestion of an alien intervention, while choosing to play up curiously religious aspects - the children all appear to be miraculous births, and much of the film's action and denouement takes place in the abandoned church. The final scene, though strangely pleasing due to heavenly electricity, (perhaps another ulterior message from Sanders via Chekhov), reminded me rather of an ultra-violent variation on Whistle Down the Wind.

Ultimately Children of the Damned is a different take on Wyndham's tale, but not a better one. It demonstrates a downgrading of one author's imagination by another; in fact, it's rather ahead of its time that way. However, the film is turned into a first class piece of science fiction by its infernal photography and its quite Gothic sets and locations; by a trio of splendid performances from Ian Hendry, Alan Badel and Alfred Burke; and by the residual power of the original, which can be found still in the glowing eyes of diabolic children everywhere.

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