VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995) — “Lesser Carpenter” Still Pretty Damned Good

John Carpenter’s remake of Village Of The Damned was released to Blu-ray by Scream Factory on April 12.

Remakes are a tricky business. John Carpenter is certainly no stranger to them. His professional debut Assault on Precinct 13 was a modernized spin on the classic western Rio Bravo, and his remake of The Thing (From Another World) is rightfully held up as perhaps the prime example of a rare remake that actually surpasses its inspiration. An astounding amount of his own filmography has been subject to many remakes or the threat thereof, despite what can only be a cosmic law that dictates they must be wretched.

But less talked about in this conversation is Carpenter’s 1995 remake of the British horror film Village Of The Damned (1960), both based on the novel The Midwich Cuckoos. Like many Carpenter films, it blew up on the launchpad, but unlike most, it hasn’t seen a resurgence in popularity or cult appeal over the years the way bombs like Big Trouble In Little China, The Thing, or They Live have, becoming beloved, bona fide classics. This is both fair and frustrating, for while Village Of The Damned is not as good as those films, it’s quite arresting and certainly not deserving of its poor reputation.

The film always held a lot of intrigue for me. As a kid who wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated horror films, Village Of The Damned really stood out to me as something I had to see someday. In part I was just impressed that the word “Damned” was in the title and carried such nihilistic finality, but mostly because the premise of a town cursed with evil children was completely, utterly fascinating. I still find it so.

Since first viewing it, I’ve also watched the 1960 original (as well as its forgettable sequel, Children Of The Damned). And while I’ve enjoyed both takes on the story, for me Carpenter’s version is easily the more memorable. What it lacks in novelty or originality, it makes up for with a slightly edgier atmosphere and an impressive cast that includes Christopher Reeve in his last major role before his life-altering injury, along with Kirstie Alley, Mark Hamill, Linda Kozlowski, Karen Kahn, Michael Paré, and child actors Thomas Dekker and Lindsey Haun, both of whom would go on to star in other horror productions. Tying it all together is a moody synth score by Carpenter and The Kinks’ Dave Davies, which goes a long way in setting up the right atmosphere.

The story, in both the novel and films, concerns a phenomenon which occurs in the village of Midwich (originally set in England but Americanized for Carpenter’s take). Midwich experiences a bizarre blackout in which the entire village — even some animals — collectively go unconscious for several hours before finally awaking.

The strange event seems to pass without further incident, though Federal investigator Dr. Susan Verner (Alley) takes an active interest and continues to monitor the town, staying in touch with Dr. Allan Chaffee (Reeve), who is not only Midwich’s primary physician but soon becomes one of the affected parents. For shortly thereafter, it’s discovered that several women have simultaneously become pregnant, the timing and circumstances of which are bizarre as some among them were not sexually active. The Children are born, noticeably similar in their striking appearance. And as they grow it becomes even more clear that they are similar not only physically with silvery hair and piercing eyes, but in their uncanny mental and telepathic traits, emotionless behavior, and increasingly malevolent attitudes.

One of the remake’s best improvements is a much more natural viewpoint. Whereas the 1960 film was male-dominated, Carpenter gives equal focus to the women. Kirstie Alley’s Dr. Verner is a major heroine who discovers the key to defeating The Children, and the mothers of Midwich feature prominently in the story.

Speaking of mothers, Carpenter does a great job of putting the audience in the shoes of the various parents (Reeve, Hamill, Kozlowski, Kahn, et al) who are dealing with The Children, as their initial feelings of joy, love, and attachment are challenged and then make an unnatural reversal into fear and despair as it becomes increasingly obvious that something very sinister and inhuman is taking place. The townsfolk similarly grow wary and fearful of The Children as their inhuman nature becomes more pronounced, brazenly defiant, and downright murderous, for mysterious and unexplained deaths abound. As The Children and townsfolk withdraw from each other, Chaffee becomes the primary point of contact between them.

There’s one aspect of the plot that I do find kind of absurd, but it’s inherent to the story, and not unique to the remake. Because The Children have mind-reading powers, Drs. Verner and Chaffee learn to block their thoughts by thinking of other things. Of course, if you try not to think of something, that’s precisely what occupies your mind (the same complaint, by the way, applies to the Ghostbusters “clearing their minds” to avoid choosing the form of their Destructor). That kind of mental control seems impossible, and Verner’s revelation of The Children’s secrets to Chaffee feels especially foolhardy, putting such volatile information precisely where it’s the most vulnerable.

Overall the film has oodles of atmosphere and feels like pure Carpenter, but if I had to pinpoint the biggest problem, it’s that the tone never really makes a full transition from “creepy” to “scary”. Perhaps that’s the main reason it’s never caught on despite having quite lot going for it.

The Package

Village Of The Damned joins many other Carpenter titles as a Scream Factory Collector’s Edition, with treatment typical of that line — reversible cover art, a slipcover, and generous bonus features including Making-Of materials new to this release.

Special Features and Extras

It Takes A Village — The Making Of John Carpenter’s Village Of The Damned (49:17)

Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (20:58)
 A particularly cool feature which revisits the film’s shooting locations in modern times. Scream Factory’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 disc featured one as well, so hopefully this becomes a trend with their releases.

The Go To Guy — Peter Jason on John Carpenter (45:13)

Vintage Interviews and Behind The Scenes (24:40)

Theatrical Trailer (1:59)

Behind The Scenes Photo Gallery

Double Feature Suggestion:

Carpenter’s earlier film The Fog makes for an interesting pairing. Both films have coastal settings, a mysterious tone, the threat of encroaching evil, and prominent priest character.

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
 [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]

Originally published at on May 4, 2016.

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