Professor Gordon Zellaby (George Sanders) is telephoning his brother-in-law in the army, Alan Bernard (Michael Gwynn) who he wishes to bring a book with him when he arrives in the village where Zellaby lives, the small, sleepy Midwich. Yet before he can get through, something odd happens: Zellaby drops the receiver and crumples to the ground, utterly unconscious. And what is even more strange is that everyone else in the village has done the same, throughout the area the townsfolk are slumped over, some having crashed their vehicles, others leaving taps running, and all quite dead to the world...
So begins perhaps the best adaptation of that very English science fiction writer John Wyndham's work, a man who knew how to meld chills with innovative speculation to create stories that sparked imaginations across the globe. It was certainly one of the better British films in this genre, and as with the novel The Midwich Cuckoos took the religious notion of the virgin birth that is at the heart of Christianity and twisted it into something sinister, as if to say, what if this did really happen and what if it was not the blessed event that we might have been led to believe? What if it was actually some kind of invasion?
The opening sequences with the village full of slumbering figures is possibly the best part of the film, brought to life with images of irons left to burn clothes, a farmer in his tractor driving around in circles until he crashes into a tree, and when Alan arrives to see a bus in a ditch at the outskirts of the place, the policeman who goes over to investigate topples over once he gets past some invisible barrier. Alan calls in the military, and they perform experiments but cannot work out what is going on, all they know is that once you reach a certain point inside this border, you collapse - as an unlucky pilot finds out, this effect reaches to the sky as well.
Director Wolf Rilla ensures that events are kept skipping along at a deceptively hurried pace, so once everyone afflicted wakes up, it doesn't seem long until all the women of childbearing age are pregnant, and soon they have had their babies far quicker than the usual nine months. The problems of this situation are not dwelt upon, but neither are they ignored, with one husband wondering how his wife could have borne him a child when he'd been away, or the unmarried women terrified of the social stigma, but Zellaby is quite pleased his wife Anthea (Barbara Shelley) has produced a child no matter what the circumstances.
Of course, we know that the infants are really the offspring of whatever caused the blackout, and though we never find out who that was, we can understand that their plans are not beneficial when the kids start growing up and committing such acts as psychically forcing those who would hurt them to, say, drive their cars at full speed into a wall, or blow their brains out with a shotgun. These young invaders are one of the first examples of scary children in horror movies, as while The Bad Seed might have introduced the concept to the mainstream, Village of the Damned really picks it up and runs with it, making them alien and vicious, not to mention superintelligent (the image of them with glowing eyes is rightly famous). If there's something bizarrely polite about the threat here, then it is nevertheless quite eerie, and the climax where Zellaby realises he must defeat their cold, all-consuming intelligence lest they defeat us is suitably tense. Music by Ron Goodwin.