Capping off the spooky season with a pairing of black and white horror films from Warner Archive
The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and factory pressed Blu-ray discs. Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!
As a special treat for Halloween, we look at a pairing of black and white 1960s horror films from the Warner Archive vault.
To mix things up a bit, we’ve got both a bona fide classic and a kitschier cousin — but both stylishly photographed and enjoyable to watch. Both films are available on Warner Archive Blu-ray as well as DVD and digital.
Village of the Damned (1960)
The very premise of 1960’s Village of the Damned is as chilling as any of the horror that transpire on the screen. The entire village of Midwich, England — every man, woman, child, and animal — suddenly and simultaneously lapses into a deep slumber in the middle of the day, only to wake up some hours later confused by the incident.
George Sanders stars as Gordon Zellaby, a local academic who delves into the mystery of the affair, working closely with the government and military who are investigating the phenomenon.
A short time later, many of the town’s women become pregnant, some very unexpectedly — they were not sexually active. The children are born at the same time, and as they grow, exhibit unusual physical features, abilities, and most alarmingly a detached cruelty, gripping the town with fear. Zellaby approaches the phenomenon with a special interest, not only as a scientist, but because one of the unique children is his own.
Village of the Damned remains one of the finest horror films of its era, a tale of terror of the other and the unknown. In contrast to common folk horror trappings, the rural denizens of Midwich aren’t depicted as backward or superstitious, but as intelligent, rational, and rightfully terrified by something that’s beyond their understanding.
The film’s sequel, Children of the Damned, has just made its Warner Archive Blu-ray debut. The film also inspired a 1995 remake from John Carpenter, which remains one of his more underappreciated films.
Two on a Guillotine (1965)
Connie Stevens stars as Cassie, the daughter of famously tragic parents: when she was a child, her father, renowned Magician Duke Duquesne (Cesar Romero), accidentally killed his wife Melinda (also played by Stevens), during a magic act that went horribly wrong.
Two decades later, Duke Duquesne, an eccentric and now perhaps quite mad, follows his wife into the great beyond, but proclaims a macabre promise: to return from the grave. An estranged and adult Cassie, now the spitting image of her mother, makes a rare public appearance at the funeral, where she’s appalled by the tacky theatrics employed at her father’s request. Reporters and paparazzis take an immediate interest in trying to build her into a story.
Cassie inherits her father’s mansion, but with a unique stipulation: she must stay in the Duquesne mansion for seven nights.
From here the film goes into somewhat tropey haunted house territory, but with the added twist that dad was a magician. The house is full of weird tricks, traps, and noises, and as various spooky encounters abound, there’s always the chance it’s simply a gag — or perhaps a real encounter with something from beyond the grave.
I found this film a bit silly but still plenty of fun. Fans of The House on Haunted Hill will probably enjoy the ghoulish and campy antics, and Cesar Romero’s role is small but memorable.
Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray editions of both films include Warner Archive’s Blu-ray edition of the film also include HD theatrical trailers.
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.