JOHN CARPENTER’S VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995)
John Carpenter’s remake of 1960’s ‘Village of the Damned’, based on the novel ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’ by John Wyndham, is a film that I find to be an incredibly underrated and forgotten addition to the legendary filmmakers’ impressive filmography. Even as a long-time fan of John Carpenter’s work, sometimes when I think of the short list of film remakes that are superior or equal to the original films, I often forget about this movie, and am only reminded of it as I scan through my collection in search of something to watch. Why is it that this film escapes my memory? I’m not sure, because every time I do watch it, I’m reminded of just how good it is. Perhaps it’s because when it comes to discussions of worthy remakes, I tend to think of some of the true standouts, such as ‘John Carpenter’s The Thing’ (1982), Philip Kaufman’s ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1978), David Cronenberg’s ‘The Fly’ (1986) and even Brian De Palma’s ‘Scarface’ (1983), to which this film doesn’t quite sit on the same level with.
The story is set in a small coastal town called Midwich, and begins with a variety of local residents gathering at the local elementary school for a family-friendly event, while others go about their ordinary routines, such as Dr. Alan Chafee (Christopher Reeve) and his wife Barbara (Karen Kahn), who head to their perspective jobs as a Doctor and a Real-Estate Agent. Alan is required to travel and leaves the town, and at exactly 10:00 a.m., the entire town is engulfed in a strange event that causes a massive black-out of all of the residents, all of whom fall unconscious without warning – leading to a few unfortunate fatalities as a result. Later in the day, as Alan travels home, he comes across a police blockade. It seems that as soon as anyone crosses the line into the town ends up falling unconscious and collapsing on the spot, which baffles the police just on the outskirts, as there has been no reported chemical leak or known catastrophe that can explain what is happening. On the scene is Dr. Susan Verner (Kirstie Alley), representing a government agency, sent to investigate this strange happening in Midwich. Suddenly, everyone begins to regain consciousness all at once, and the town is once again safe to enter.
Things begin to get strange as it turns out that ten woman have been impregnated on the day of the black out, including a young woman who is allegedly a virgin, a woman whose husband had been out of town for the last six months, a woman who had been previously been unsuccessful with pregnancy, and Alan’s wife. At first there is a growing concern from the local residents over the circumstances of these mass-pregnancies and the possible defects of these unborn children, but Dr. Verner offers a proposition to those effected by this strange event: those who elect to abort will be given the resources to do so as a medical team will be brought in within a week, but for those who choose to keep the children will be given an allowance per month. At night, all of the impregnated women experience the same dream of themselves fully pregnant, and later, to Verner’s surprise, all of the women decide to keep the children. Months later, they all give birth. One of the children is pronounced as a still born and is rushed away by Verner.
As the children begin to age, their strange extraterrestrial heritage begins to reveal itself as the children display abilities including telepathy, and mind control revealed through glowing eyes – green at first, signaling their control of anyone who crosses them, and then red as their control leads to a deadly climax. This begins with Alan’s wife Barbara, who is forced to put her arm in a pot of boiling water by their daughter Mara (Lindsey Haun). Soon after, she commits suicide, leaving Alan to raise the child alone. The nine children age further along, all of whom bear a striking resemblance to each other with white hair, and how they dress; they also stick together at all times and walk in pairs, with the exception of David (Thomas Dekker), whose mate had been the alleged still-born. Soon, as more and more deaths begin to happen, the children begin to exhibit their dominance over the adults and citizens of the town, leading to a showdown between the children and the townsfolk who are now aware of something evil lurking in the children.
The acting in this movie is well done from nearly everyone; Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Linda Kozlowski and Mark Hamill are convincing in their roles. The true standouts, surprisingly enough, are two of the children: Lindsey Haun gives a pretty confident performance as Mara, who is essentially the leader of the children, and delivers on the authoritarian grip her character is given. Also good here is Thomas Dekker as David, a child out of place among his peers, who is seemingly capable of understanding and learning to be humane.
The score by John Carpenter and Dave Davies is also excellent, and adds to the tension of the film. My particular favorite track in the movie is “March of the Children”, which has a classic Carpenter feel to it, and is very fitting with the movie itself.
The Direction and Cinematography are also excellent here, particularly when it comes to the children using their abilities.
The special effects are a little dated by today’s standards, but overall are not too awful. I’d say that my only real complaint is the dead alien in the tank at Verner’s office, which looked more like a child’s stuffed toy than a living being.
Some of the dialogue is a little rough, but not enough to sway my overall impression of the film.
This is not a perfect film by any stretch, and it’s not one of John Carpenter’s greatest, but it’s still an enjoyable and effective film with many strong points, and is one of the better remakes out there.