by Mel Valentin
"Children of the Damned," a loose sequel to "Village of the Damned," an acknowledged science-fiction “classic” released in 1960 and based on John Wyndham’s novel, "The Midwich Cuckoos," borrows the premise of the first film and the novel, super-intelligent children with telepathic powers (and a collective mind) set in a small English village, and updates it, adding a Cold War subtext in keeping with the fears and anxieties of the time period (while removing any mention of the events detailed in the first film). The collectivist, anti-individualist alien menace in "Village of the Damned" has tended to be interpreted as a stand-in for fears of a communist takeover (the source novel was published in 1957). In "Children of the Damned," the greatest danger comes, not from the (presumably) alien children, but from the great power rivalries that threaten to set off armed conflict (ideas later examined in greater depth in Orson Scott Card’s seminal "Ender" series).As Children of the Damned opens, Tom Lewellin (Ian Hendry) and David Neville (Alan Badel), a psychologist and a geneticist respectively, have come across Paul (Clive Powell), an extraordinarily gifted, if taciturn, child. Lewellin and Neville work for the United Nations, tasked with testing children in England for their mental and intellectual abilities (the testing is apparently part of a global effort, its underlying rationale left unclear). Paul has a supergenius-level IQ, abilities apparently unshared with his biological mother, who works as a “model/photographer” from a rundown apartment.
"Cold War-era, British sci-fi that deserves a wider audience."
Paul’s abilities, however, are not unique. Five other children, born simultaneously, but in different parts of the world (e.g., United States, Russia, China, Nigeria, and India), exhibit identical mental and intellectual gifts. The children share the exact IQ score, along with surprising telepathic and mind-control abilities (although there, the children were born in the same location, and all shared physical characteristics, including blond hair). Questions also hang over their paternity (in most cases, unknown). Initially brought to England for additional testing, it’s not long before their respective governments decide the children should be sent back to their native countries, to be exploited in the national self-interest. The English government sends one of its operatives, Colin Webster (Alfred Burke) to retrieve Paul, ostensibly to secure his safety (Lewellin, Neville, and the audience know better).
The children, however, have plans of their own, plans that remain unknown for most of the film’s running time. Sharing their thoughts instantly, the children escape their minders, finding sanctuary in an abandoned church, with Paul’s aunt, Susan Eliot (Barbara Ferris) as their adult caretaker. Quickly discovered, the children must off multiple incursions from the English military and shadowy government operatives with their own agendas. Interestingly, speculation centers on the nature of the children (aliens or genetic mutations) and what should be done about them, with Lewellin and Neville, friends and roommates on opposite sides of the argument, one advocating a military response, the other advocating tolerance and accommodation with the children. Instead of the military/science conflict found in most science-fiction films of the fifties and sixties, here the conflict is between “hard science” (genetics) and “soft science” (psychology).Subtext and context aside, "Children of the Damned" benefits from crisp black-and-white photography, tight pacing (thanks to director Anton Leader), naturalistic, convincing performances, especially by the two leads, Ian Hendry and Alan Badel, and a thoughtful, well-constructed, and intelligent script by John Briley ("Gandhi") that remains an example of “classic” speculative fiction. Briley’s script may not be bristling with complex, convoluted action scenes, but instead depends on character interaction (and conflict) to create tension, suspense, and ultimately, sympathy, especially for the alien/mutant children, who are no longer the cold, emotionless automatons found in Wyndham’s novel or the 1960 film bent on world domination. The children are more victims than victimizers, using force only when threatened, pawns in a cruel, ends-oriented “realpolitik” (one character is not above referring to the children as “assets”). Sadly, with so many hopes and so much firepower aimed in their direction, the children's fate is as predictable as it is inevitable.
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originally posted: 07/24/05 01:51:14