Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Linda Kozlowski, Michael Pare
Screenplay: David Himmelstein
99 mins. Rated R for some sci-fi terror and violence.
John Carpenter (Escape from New York, The Ward) is pretty well-known for one pretty impressive remake: 1982’s The Thing. But he actually had another crack at remakes with his take on Village of the Damned, both a remake of the 1960 film of the same name as well as the novel The Midwich Cuckoos. Carpenter, never one to shy away from honesty, called his work on the film a “contractual assignment” and says not much more. Carpenter is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, and I finally got the chance to see this the other night. It’s a chilling albeit somewhat tame experience.
The town of Midwich has just experienced a strange event. Everyone within town limits passed out at the exact same time. When finally awakened, a frightening discovery is made: ten females from town are pregnant, though seemingly not by their husbands. One of the women is a virgin while another has not been seually active for months. When the children are born, they possess traits unlike any of the other children in town. Local physician Dr. Alan Chaffee (Christopher Reeve, Superman: The Movie, Rear Window) is the father of one of the mysterious children. He is aided by a government scientist, Dr Susan Verner (Kirstie Alley, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Accidental Love), who knows more than she’s letting on, but they do not have much time. People are dying in Midwich under very strange circumstances.
I think it’s easy to see that Carpenter didn’t have his all in this film. Yes, he did some uncredited rewriting on the screenplay and his direction is still strong, but there’s just something missing from the finished product. It doesn’t feel like a John Carpenter horror film. There are elements that showcase his skills. The heavy infusion of science fiction, occult, and horror is classic tone for Carpenter, but it feels like Carpenter-light.
Christopher Reeve is fine as the town physician, and Kirstie Alley is quite capable as a scientist. I’ve always felt that Alley, as a performer, always conveyed intelligence in her roles, and she usually gives off a mystery to her that is apparent here. I wish Mark Hamill, who plays the town’s key religious voice, had more to do here. There are leaps in his character arc that seem to come out of nowhere.
That’s another issue as well with Village of the Damned. There’s a sense of something missing in the narrative. There are seemingly large passages of time that are not well-defined. It becomes a little confusing as the disjointed narrative finds its footing repeatedly.
The tone and visual sense of the film are both fine, and they give some truly unnerving and creepy feelings. The general idea of children who know more than they should is something that is an easy fright to mine. The children actors in the film are pretty creepy to say the least. I recognized a younger Thomas Dekker as David, the more emotional of the emotionless children.
Village of the Damned wasn’t as strong an outing for Carpenter as I would have liked. I still enjoyed many elements of the film but as a whole they didn’t equate to the level of an experience I would expect from John Carpenter. It felt like the famous director looked at his remake in much a similar way as he looks at the remakes of his own films, with indifference. This would be fun for serious fans of Carpenter and perhaps fans of the original film and novel, but it won’t turn more heads than that.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.
For my review of John Carpenter’s The Thing, click here.
For my review of John Carpenter’s Body Bags, click here.
For my review of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, click here.