A sinister horror picture with superb believable performances, an excellent mix of horror and science fiction genres as well as taut and suspenseful direction from Wolf Rilla.
Directed by Wolf Rilla
Screenplay by Stirling Silliphant, Wolf Rilla, Ronald Kinnoch
Based on “The Midwich Cuckoos” 1957 novel by John Wyndham
Produced by Ronald Kinnoch
Cinematography: Geoffrey Faithfull
Edited by Gordon Hales
Music by Ron Goodwin
Production company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Distributed by Loew’s
Running time: 77-78 minutes
Box office: $2,175,000
George Sanders as Gordon Zellaby
Barbara Shelley as Anthea Zellaby
Martin Stephens as David Zellaby
Michael Gwynn as Alan Bernard
Laurence Naismith as Doctor Willers
Richard Warner as Mr. Harrington
Jenny Laird as Mrs. Harrington
Sarah Long as Evelyn Harrington
Thomas Heathcote as James Pawle
Charlotte Mitchell as Janet Pawle
Denis Gilmore as Keith Harrington
Pamela Buck as Milly Hughes
Rosamund Greenwood as Miss Ogle
Susan Richards as Mrs. Plumpton
Bernard Archard as Vicar
Peter Vaughan as P.C. Gobby
John Phillips as General Leighton
Richard Vernon as Sir Edgar Hargraves
John Stuart as Professor Smith
Keith Pyott as Dr. Carlisle
BBC “History’s Mysteries – Fact & Fiction” TV Program
Good evening, I’m your host Denis Vaughan. In tonight’s episode we’ll be examining the so-called “Midwich Time-out Incident” that reportedly occurred back in 1960 when it is said that the inhabitants of the British village of Midwich suddenly and inexplicably fell unconscious one day for several hours. Anyone entering the village also apparently succumbed to the same malady.
It is only recently that we have been able to piece together the events surrounding this inexplicable incident through numerous Freedom of Information requests. Much information has been denied to us and a great deal of the documentation (official government, scientific, military and medical sources, along with minutes from various meetings) is in some instances heavily redacted.
Surprisingly, but probably largely as a consequence of the application of the Official Secrets Act, no-one from the village in all the intervening time has come forward to give an open and public account of what transpired all those decades ago. That is apart from one individual now well into his seventies who we’ll refer back to later on. It is as if a cordon of silence has surrounded and encased Midwich and that as far as the residents of the village past and present are concerned, it is none of the outside world’s business what took place there.
To begin with though, we do know that the military established a cordon around Midwich. This was then followed by the establishment of a five-mile exclusion zone around the village for all aircraft. After a few hours, the villagers suddenly regained consciousness, and appeared to be unaffected. Or so it was believed…..
What followed these initial events with the passage of time will have the quality of a work of pure science fiction, so much so that many in government, the military and the scientific establishment scoff at the very idea of any such incident as ever having taken place.
We now take you to Midwich village in rural England where our investigative reporter, Barbara Long will try from whatever evidence is available to reconstruct the mysterious events of what has come to be called the “Midwich Time-out Incident.”
Read on for more…..
“What’s happened isn’t natural.”
Barbara Long: [On location at the village of Midwich. As she delivers her report, Ms. Long moves at a leisurely pace along the main street and towards the village center. Sparse car and pedestrian traffic and occasional passers-by casting furtive suspicious glances in Barbara’s direction] At first sight, the little village of Midwitch appears to be the last place on earth where anything of such significance as you have outlined, Denis could ever happen. It feels as if Midwich has strenuously ignored the passage of time and has steadfastly resisted the familiar signs of change and progress that are part and parcel of life in the 21st Century. And yet, on one fateful day all through this very village, people suddenly collapsed and passed out sometime around 11 am. And there they remained in that state over the course of a few hours, in cars and busses that crashed or ran off the road, lying prostrate in the street where they had stood only moments before or perhaps in a deep slumber oblivious to their telephones’ insistent unanswered ringing.
Records at our disposal show that it was a British army officer, Alan Bernard who first noticed that there was something amiss when he found himself cut off as he was speaking to his brother in law, Gordon Zellaby on the phone and was unable to raise him for more than an hour. Bernard reported to his superior that something odd seemed to have happened in the village of Midwich and requested permission to leave early.
As Bernard drove to the village, he encountered the local police officer who was investigating the whereabouts of an overdue bus from Midwich. They soon discovered further down the road that the bus had crashed in a ditch.
When the police officer proceeded to investigate, he like all the others within a certain radius of Midwich passed out. Bernard quickly went back to report to his commanding officer and orders were soon issued to seal off Midwich and surrounding areas.
As you can see, as soon as the soldier collapsed he was pulled to safety, where he eventually revived complaining only of feeling intensely cold but was otherwise fine.
It seems that the army then sent a plane to overfly the town. The pilot reported that there was nothing unusual except that there was nothing moving below and that people appeared to be lying on the ground. The pilot was then ordered to fly lower apparently causing him to black out and tragically crash nearby in a field. The type of plane and the pilot’s identity have recently been confirmed.
Records also show that all aircraft were warned to avoid the area for a radius of five miles, latitude 51 degrees,10 minutes, 30 seconds north; longitude 1 degree, 11 minutes, 20 seconds west. They were also instructed to maintain a minimum altitude of 5000 feet. However, nothing of what I have mentioned so far appeared in the media of the time as the flow of information was quickly cut off by the military authorities.
While the military were considering their options, suddenly at about 3.00 pm. people all over Midwich began to regain consciousness and no doubt were baffled over what had happened to them with many waking up on the floor and most likely feeling intensely cold. We can well imagine them thinking what “an extraordinary thing to do.” Even more disturbingly, how might they account for a missing chunk of time from their lives that seemingly passed unheeded by them?
Soon after the residents of Midwich awoke from their mysterious slumber, the military entered the village and had specialists conduct tests on them. In addition, the entire village was examined, “even the bark on the trees” for unusual effects.
It was soon determined that aside from “a few cuts and bruises” no-one seemed to have come to any real harm. Neither could any after-affect or cause for the strange phenomena be determined. All that could be said for certain was that it “was static, odourless, invisible” and “nonmetallic.” It also apparently “didn’t register on radar” and “it showed nothing on Geiger counters.”
Even with “no signs of any physical, biological or psychological changes” being apparent, Professor Gordon Zellaby was reported to have been concerned about possible long term effects if they couldn’t understand what caused it. Professor Zellaby was tasked with the job of monitoring Midwich’s population while the whole incident was to be kept firmly under the umbrella of national security and shielded from the potential downpour of media scrutiny.
“They’ve all got these strange eyes”
Two months later, it had become quite evident that a significant section of Midwitch’s population were affected, which in turn impacted most of the rest of the community. You see, all females of child-bearing age fell pregnant, irrespective of marital status and even extending to those who were virgins. Now don’t forget that this was over 60 years ago and social mores, values and views of morality were quite different. The inexplicable rash of pregnancies resulted in accusations of infidelity and extramarital sex.
There were residents who were surprised but overjoyed at the prospect of having children who because of age or other reasons had almost given up hope of having the chance of doing so. Other women, however were devastated to find out they were pregnant, especially if their husbands were absent for a considerable time. One can only imagine the consternation of those women who were virgins. Who would now believe them? We might also wonder at the thoughts and feelings of many of the boyfriend’s and husbands of Midwitch. Tensions were obviously very high and a cloud of despondency, confusion and suspicion descended over the village.
Not only was every woman of child-bearing age in the village expecting, all the pregnancies had dated from the day of the strange events I have just outlined.
The next bit of information that has come to hand concerns the progress of the pregnancies five months later. According to Dr Willers, the local MD’s records, the pregnancies were all going well and at that stage each fetus appeared to be at the 7th month of development even though the women were only in their fifth month.
Despite the rather unusual but positive medical news regarding the status of the pregnancies, we must consider the mental and emotional state of the expectant mothers. They must have agonized over whose baby they were carrying along with wondering what exactly they were bringing into the world.
This question was soon to be answered when all the women went into labor at roughly the same time. A total of 12 babies are born, all weighing a bit over 10 pounds and all possessing odd scalp hair construction of a striking platinum blonde colour, narrow fingernails and strange disconcerting “arresting” eyes.
“The extraordinary power of these children and the sinister way they use it.”
The unusual physical characteristics and attributes of the children of the “Time-out” period were not the only disturbing things to be noted. Incidents began to occur that seemed to suggest that these children could in some way affect the behavior of those around them. For instance, there was a report of a mother plunging her hand in a pot of boiling water and burning it badly seemingly because she had forgotten to test her child’s milk which was too hot for him.
After just a year Zellaby’s own son, David could spell out his name using blocks. He was even able to work out a Chinese box puzzle in no time at all. This test was repeated with other children of the same cohort and they too could open the device without hesitation, suggesting the existence of a group consciousness whereby when one child learns something the new information is instantly passed on to the rest of the group.
One of the blonde-haired children who was tested with the chinese-puzzle box had the devise snatched out of his hand by his older brother. That older brother is the man who is now well into his seventies that Denis told you about at the start of the program. A great deal of the information we have has come from him during two interviews. His name is Keith Harrington and he has been a patient at a psychiatric facility in another part of the United kingdom for most of the last six decades.
In the second interview, Keith informed us that the “Time-out” children’s abilities to both read minds and control the actions of others began to manifest themselves in various ways and on other occasions. He remembers how they appeared to be inseparable and set themselves apart from the other children who often tried to taunt and bully them. The non-”Time-out” children of the village soon learned to desist from such behavior though after a few demonstrations of the mystery children’s uncanny powers.
So what have we learned about this most unusual group of children all of whom were apparently mysteriously conceived on the same day and all born at roughly the same time. If we are to believe the reports and the available evidence, they all;
• dressed impeccably and had perfect manners
• always walked about as a group
• communicated in an adult manner
• behaved maturely, far above their years
• displayed a lack conscience and emotions such as love
• were cold and impersonal in their dealings with others, even their parents
• possessed a telepathic bond with one another
• communicated with each other over great distances
• possessed a group mind allowing all to learn what one had learned
• engendered feelings of fear and unease in those around them.
Professor Gordon Zellaby was later summoned to London for a special conference to discuss the matter of the “Time-out” children.
At the London meeting the minutes reveal that other parts of the world had experienced the same phenomenon as Midwich. “In Northern Australia 30 infants were born in one day, but apparently something went wrong. All the children died within 10 hours of birth.” In both Greenland and Mongolia, the children were killed at birth by frightened members of the community. However, in the former Soviet Union, one group of children were thriving and received “education on the highest level.” Were they being somehow conditioned to be weaponized and to provide the Soviets with a definite tangible and strategic advantage over their Western adversaries? Of particular importance was the fact that “all these time-outs happened on the same day as the one at Midwich.”
This last point necessarily leads us to the HOW? and WHY? of the presence of these most unusual children. How on earth were they conceived and for what purpose? If we discount the occurrence of a mass biblical-style incidence of immaculate conception, then what are we left with?
At the London meeting it was suggested that “once in a great many thousand years, an abrupt jump may take place in animal or in vegetable life. A new variation suddenly occurs for no apparent reason.” However, this evolutionary mutation jump theory does not explain “why groups of people were cut off for several hours.”
Another possible explanation, more extra-terrestrial in nature, was proffered at the meeting involving energy impulses being directed towards the Earth from outer space.
Whether or not these children were a product of a natural process or of extra-terrestrial intelligent intervention, the question as to the kind of danger they posed had to be considered. At least one death, that of a child drowning in Midwich could be blamed on the “Time-out” children.
At the London meeting two opposing propositions were put forward as to how to proceed. One suggestion was that considering the risk of being destroyed, it was proposed that the children be shut away in prison for the safety of the wider community. The other as favored by Zellaby was to grasp the opportunity to provide science with the chance to study the nature of their power and their “mass mind.” If humanity could control that, it could conceivably advance intelligence by a factor of 12 and “we could leap forward in science 100 years.”
A giant leap forward into the unknown of “an entirely new development” or to succumb to the “age-old fear of the unknown?” Could a compromise be found between the opposing courses of action? That is what Zellaby proposed: That the children be kept together at one location at Midwich’s school. He would assume responsibility for running the project and continue studying them for a further 12 months while the government decided on the best course of action to take. Zellaby banked his hopes on the truth of his firm conviction that the children were not intrinsically evil or bad, but just needed to have a sense of morality instilled in them.
“A force is building up –
Sooner or later, it will explode”
At the local school house building Zellaby, worked with the “Time-out” children including his son, David and there he tried both to teach them and learn more about them.
The children confirmed to Zellaby that they could indeed read his thoughts but only at the front of his mind. They had not yet mastered the understanding of his thought processes and reasoning but would eventually be able to do so.
Zellaby even questioned the children about their awareness “of life on another planet” and whether “it is possible that life exists elsewhere,” presumably thinking back to the London meeting and one of the theories put forward to explain the existence of the children. According to Zellaby’s notes, the children refused to answer that question which may in itself have spoken volumes.
Zellaby then moved on to a most crucial consideration which he put to his son, David. Namely, what they intended to do with the powers they were developing. David responded by telling Zellaby that he was aware of what he was trying to find out and that it would be better if those types of questions were not asked. David simply told Zellaby they were there to learn from him.
Later, an inquest into a tragic “accident” is convened at which Mrs Zellaby is called to testify as a witness. Her testimony was somewhat confused and lacked detail, as if she was trying to remember what happened but couldn’t quite recall specific details.
Even without absolute proof, It can reasonably be assumed that one of the “time-out” girls was nearly run over and killed by a car. The driver fearing that he may have hurt the girl most likely got out of the car to check on her welfare. Some of the “Time-out” children who accompanied the girl used their collective power to cause the driver to slip into a trance, return to his car and drive it directly into a wall, killed him on impact.
By this stage there was a palpable feeling among the residents that Midwich was “living on top of a volcano” and a force was building up that would sooner or later explode. Many would have agreed with the brother of the man who had supposedly died in the car ‘accident’ that the “Time-out” children were “not human” and “ought to be destroyed.”
The next incident could not be so easily disputed and it involved the very same brother just referred to. In revenge for his brother’s death and overcome with emotion he tried to ambush a group of the “Time-out” children with the intent of shooting them.
Midwich Cuckoos –
It had become quite clear to Professor Zellaby that his plan to establish communication with the children had broken down. It was apparent that they had to be stopped before they expanded their power beyond the village.
Back at Midwich, it seems that an angry and fearful group of male villagers had formed a vigilante mob and armed with farm implements and flaming torches they headed off to do something about the children seeing that the authorities appeared to be dragging their feet on the matter.
The men apparently advanced on the school house intent on burning it down along with the children inside. It all went horribly wrong when one of the children, most likely Zellaby’s son, David went outside to confront the advancing mob. One of the men was reported to have fallen into a trance-like state and while under the boy’s power was forced to set fire to himself.
An entry from Major Alan Bernard’s report indicates that he witnessed the above incident and decided to enter the school-house to confront David. David then informed him that despite the destruction of the Russian colony, a similar fate would not befall Midwich’s colony. His reasoning as quoted in the report: “…because we have to survive, no matter what the cost, and you must learn that we are determined to survive.”
Yes, indeed. It would seem that life no matter what form it takes will always try to find a way to survive and spread. It is all part of a brutal process of the struggle for survival. These golden-eyed children were recognized as being intruders or “changelings” or indeed “cuckoo-children.” You see, the cuckoo’s egg somehow manages to wind up in another bird species’ nest, hatches, is slavishly reared by its ‘surrogate’ mother and is motivated by its instinct for survival. The cuckoo chicks will kill the other chicks in the nest in competition for food and parental attention.“The cuckoo survives because it is tough and single-purposed.” As indeed these “cuckoo-children” were!
Major Bernard reported that his mind had been taken control of and a message that the children just wanted to be left alone was relentlessly driven into his consciousness before he was released. Later, an examination by Dr Willers revealed that Bernard appeared to have been suffering the worst case of shock the doctor had ever seen.
In a letter left in Zellaby’s desk drawer, the professor mentioned that David later arrived at the house and informed him that the children had decided to leave the village and “spread out and disperse” and eventually “form new colonies.”
As they had already “attracted too much attention,” David insisted that his father help them to leave and it was arranged that Zellaby would return later to the school house with the necessary arrangements for the departure of the children from Midwich.
According to Major Bernard’s report and Anthea Zellaby’s personal journal, Gordon seems to have come up with a scheme to resolve the situation involving the children – one of a drastic nature as evidenced by his strange behavior, demeanor and comments. For instance, he arranged for his wife to travel back to London with Alan and as they prepared to leave, Zellaby seemed to have been very pensive and emotional. Considering what happened next, we can understand why.
Together with the information in Zellaby’s hurriedly written letter, we can infer much of what took place from this point onwards. When the others had departed and he was alone, Zellaby must have constructed a time-bomb with the aim of destroying the children. The problem with such a plan as you may have already guessed is how to carry it out without the children detecting his true intentions.
One authority in the area of psychiatry suggested to us that someone with the intellect and will of Zellaby would have to blank out his thoughts by visualizing something like a brick wall and use this as a means of self-protection against the children’s mind-reading power.
It appears that Zellaby then left with the time-bomb concealed in his brief-case to conduct his usual session with the children at the school-house. Once there, he must have tried to block any thoughts of the bomb and its detection by the children by using a mental visualization trick such as the suggested brick wall example.
In the meantime, while driving to London, Anthea realized that something was amiss, and instead headed back to Midwich to try and stop her husband from carrying out his intended course of action – whatever from her point of view that may have been.
It appears that the children did try to break down Zellaby’s mental defense barrier and actually succeeded but ran out of time. Neither the children nor Zellaby managed to escape the final fateful conclusion….
As Anthea and Bernard arrived at the school at precisely 8:27pm, an explosion tore through the building and forever rent the fragile fabric of the little village of Midwich.
Denis, as we end our report and depart the village of Midwich, we might stop and ponder the following: On the one hand, there was the irrationality borne of fear of the unknown. On the other there was immense power impelled by the requirements of survival, governed by rationality and exercised without the restraint of ethics and morality and feelings of empathy. With the clash of these two opposing forces there seemed to be no room for two species to learn and help to live with one another.
Denis Vaughan: Thank you Barbara for that amazing and very unsettling report. We must also stop to consider these questions as they could just as easily apply to many of the other mysterious incidents we cover on this program:
• Did these events take in fact take place?
• Was it a result of a cruel trick played on humanity by nature?
• Was there some kind of extra-terrestrial intervention or invasion?
• If so, what would be the outcome when we surely will come into contact with a truly alien species that perceives reality in totally different ways and is motivated by different forces and intentions?
• Was it an misinterpreted gift to us from our future, or even a means of achieving a future outcome?
• Was a secret government or military experimental program responsible?
• Has there been a massive governmental and military cover-up?
• Or was it all just an elaborate hoax further fueled by conspiracy theorists?
Or perhaps it is one giant ‘April Fool’s’ joke?
Points Of Interest
“Village of the Damned” (1960) is based on John Wyndham novel, “The Midwich Cuckoos” about a British village visited by unknown (most likely extra-terrestrial) life form which leaves all women of child-bearing age of the village pregnant.
There is also a sequel, “Children of the Damned (1964)” and a remake, John Carpenter’s “Village of the Damned” (1995). Neither quite matches the quality and atmosphere of the original.
“Village of the Damned” was originally intended to be an American produced picture starring Ronald Colman but MGM shelved the idea due concerns with some the issues that were to be dealt with in the film. A couple of years later the film was relocated to England and shot on location at Letchmore Heath, with George Sanders replacing Colman who had recently passed away.
Most of filming took place at MGM’s Borehamwood Studio but it was also shot on location in the village of Letchmore Heath near Watford, approximately 12 miles (20 kilometres) north of London with Local buildings such as The Three Horseshoes Pub and Aldenham School used during filming.
The film had a shooting schedule of six weeks and a budget of £82,000. Despite the film’s small budget and sparse use of special effects, the performances of the cast and almost documentary style of story telling gives the film a very engrossing, disturbing and terrifying quality.
The glowing-eye effect was achieved by creating animated overlays of a bright white iris; this created a bright glowing iris with a black pupil when optically printed into the film. This technique was used mostly on freeze-frame shot to create the required effect.
The blonde wigs that the children wore were padded to give the impression that they had abnormally large heads.
What makes the film particularly disturbing is the notion of children, who we ought to cherish and protect actually becoming our worst nightmare. The belief in children’s innocence and our natural human attachment to our offspring is being exploited for the purpose of world domination. Added to this is the unsettling fear of helplessness on the part of adults to do anything about the situation.
“Village of the Damned” is certainly a film of its time as can be seen not just from the more obvious elements but also from its avoidance of using the term “pregnant” as well as it’s subtle anti-nazi commentary relying on people’s recollections of Nazi German notions of Aryan blonde and blue-eyed racial superiority. Heck, even the Commie Russian Soviets in the film didn’t want any part of their children’s colony after a while and ended nuking them!
One final and interesting point of interest is when the military are testing Midwich for radiation after everyone wakes up, you’ll notice a sign in the background that reads, “Beware of Children.”