Anton M. Leader, 1964
Starring: Ian Hendry, Alan Badel, Barbara Ferris
A psychologist, Tom (Ian Hendry), and a scientist, David (Alan Badel), are working together on a study examining childhood development. They are fascinated when they come across the case of a young boy, Paul (Clive Powell), with remarkable mental powers and a very strange personality. They track down his mother (Sheila Allen), who ultimately reveals that the child forces her to do things, perhaps telepathically, and that she can’t stand to be around him because she was a virgin when he was conceived. Though they are reluctant to believe her story, they soon realize there are five other children from across the globe — countries like China, India, and the Soviet Union — who exhibit similar powers and soon run away from their respective embassies and gather together in an abandoned church in London. As government officials and British Intelligence close in, Tom and David attempt to prevent ultimate destruction.
This sequel to Village of the Damned is less of a direct follow up and more a film that happens to be set in the same universe. There are the requisite parallels, namely the fact that the children were all the result of virgin births from human mothers, they have a superior intellect, share knowledge, and are apparently telepathic. Where they different from the children in the first film is that, for starters, they don’t look alike: instead they represent a range of nationalities. They also seem to be more human than alien — some cockamamie explanation about blended DNA is given — and here they are clearly meant to be sympathetic. It’s actually the film’s saving grace; they recognize that they have no place on the earth and, once their true natures are revealed, will drive humans to desperate acts of fear-based violence despite their efforts to remain in obscurity.
This is also more overtly a Cold War-themed film, though its League of Nations approach to the second half of the plot hasn’t aged particularly well. It’s amusing to think of this set up in comparison to the last fifty years of cinema and television; somehow the British military (and intelligence service) have spearheaded a mission to kidnap or destroy the children that involves a number of embassies and diplomats, but is basically run by two scientists who just barge on the scene and do whatever they want (especially Ian Hendry’s Tom, though he’s known for this sort of arrogant kind of character, so either I’m just used to seeing him in a role like this or it really is plausible). There is an effectively moment when orders become confused and the different British regiments are basically firing on themselves, but overall it feels a bit ridiculous.
There are some eerie Quatermass and the Pit-like moments — particularly a scene where a child is killed and later raised from the dead — but overall the film beats you over the head with its anti-war/anti-nuclear terror message. The instances of the children forcing adults to become violent are a bit more ridiculous in this second film and I think someone was asleep at the wheel with those sequences, though part of the problem is that they don’t really seem to fit in with the film’s underlying thesis that the children aren’t inherently violent or dangerous, but will protect themselves when necessary. There is, however, a grisly sequence when British officials (it seems like a mix of military and intelligence) arrive to kidnap the children — who are newly arrived at the abandoned church — and they force the men to brutally murder each other.
Despite effective sequences like that one, there is a lot that patently doesn’t make any sense. Where Village of the Damned introduced some interesting religious themes, only to throw them away by the second half, Children of the Damned does something similar with its central location of the abandoned church; the children use parts of the structure to build an insane mega-weapon to defend themselves. If they’re so smart, surely they could have constructed something a little simpler and more innocuous? When the government officials realize they could use the children’s device — and the children themselves — as powerful weapons, they change their tune and immediately roll out every excuse from patriotism to common sense to try to get the scientists to convince the children to come on board. And while the first film has an admittedly downbeat ending, this one attempts to be more tragic in tone and winds up being a bit too sentimental and moralistic for my taste. Mild spoilers: the film more or less ends with someone postulating that the children are not alien at all, but advanced humans who have arrived before their time.
I don’t know that I can really recommend Children of the Damned, though it is an interesting film and it’s worth tracking down if you like atomic horror, British sci-fi, or weird children’s movies. It’s available on DVD as a double feature with Village of the Damned. Though I do have to admit that Losey’s These are the Damned is still my favorite “evil alien/atomic children” film — and perhaps you should make a triple feature out of these three — but hey, it’s Joseph Losey. Nothing against Village of the Damned’s director, Wolf Rilla, or Anton M. Leader, but come on now. Joseph Losey.