Thursday, 27 October 2016

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: THE VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED/LETCHMORE HEATH



There are few things creepier than a bunch of children with luminous staring eyes and impassive faces roaming around the place, especially when the place in question is an idyllic English village surrounded by a pastoral landscape with flocks of sheep.  The village which witnessed these disturbing scenes was Midwich, the focal point of the classic British horror movie The Village of the Damned. 

But how did Midwich reach this point?  The opening scenes of the film depict a man falling asleep mid-phone conversation, accompanied by his snoozing dog.  All over the village people are being plunged into a mysterious slumber, and when they wake up the women face a double whammy: all women of child-bearing age have become pregnant, and they all give birth at the same time to the aforementioned spooky children.  The children grow up very fast and to add to their unnatural demeanour they all have platinum blonde hair, and they are capable of communicating with each other telepathically.  The ensuing mayhem includes a plane crash caused by the pilot of a military reconnaissance plane sent to investigate the events falling asleep at the controls as he enters the sphere of influence of the village.

The real-life version of Midwich is the village of Letchmore  Heath near Watford, named after the original Old Saxon “leche mere” meaning muddy pond.  The present-day pond is just to the south of the fetching village green, and adjacent to the green is the Three Horseshoes pub, which was used in the filming.  Another building seen in the film was the Post Office and General Stores, occupying a charming village house also facing the green.  The building has hardly changed in appearance, although it no longer serves its original purpose.  Letchmore Heath is no stranger to filming, being close to both the MGM British Studios, which produced this horror masterpiece, and also the Elstree Studios.  In fact, so many TV series from the 60s and 70s were filmed around here that the area has been dubbed Avengerland, after the famous Avengers TV series.

File:Letchmore Heath - geograph.org.uk - 65207.jpg
The village green, looking towards the Three Horseshoes. Photo by Nigel Cox, via Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, George Sanders, who played Professor Gordon Zellaby in the film, is no longer with us, having died in 1972.  However, his screen wife Anthea Zellaby (Barbara Shelley) and their son David (Martin Stephens) are still alive, and in 2013 they were reunited with other cast members, along with fans of the film, for a visit to the former film set and a lunch at the Three Horseshoes.   

Map of the area.

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