John Carpenter's Village of the Damned

Year 1995

Christopher Reeve as  Dr. Alan Chaffee
Kirstie Alley as Dr. Susan Verner
Linda Kozlowski   as Jill McGowan
Mark Hamill as Reverend George
Meredith Salenger as Melanie Roberts
George 'Buck' Flower   as Carlton
Director - John Carpenter
Screenwriters - John Carpenter
  - David Himmelstein
1960 Screenwriters  - Wolf Rilla
  - Stirling Silliphant
  - Ronald Kinnoch as George Barclay  
Book Author - John Wyndham
Music - John Carpenter   
  - Dave Davies

If you didn't realize it, the 1995 version of Village of the Damned is a remake of the 1960 version. It's not a line by line remake, but it's close enough that John Carpenter gave the screenwriters from that first version acknowledgement during the opening credits. Some of the imagery, particularly in the final scene, is an update of the original screenplay.

In the movie, for a six hour period everyone in the city of Midwich is asleep. When they wake up, a number of women are pregnant. They give birth to children that aren't quite human. The children are members of a hive mind. Their role in our world results in a potentially deep question regarding how far a race may morally go in order to preserve itself.

It's a subtle concept. How subtle?

Well, both this and the 1960 version of Village of the Damned are based on a book called The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham. Why Midwich cuckoos? Well, the town where all the action takes place is called Midwich, so that's explained. What's unexplained is why, if you say the word Midwich a mere dozen times, it becomes a nonsense word. But I digress.

It's called "cuckoos" because cuckoos are those nasty birds that lay their eggs in some other bird's nest and let that other bird raise the cuckoo's offspring along with its own. Often the offspring of the other species of bird will die because the cuckoos will eat all of the food and the weaker hatchlings will not be able to compete with the usurper. The children in the movie are the equivalent of the cuckoos.

It's a clever title and you have to admit quite subtle. In 1960 when the original black and white version of Village of the Damned was released, subtle was okay. In 1995, when this color version was released, subtle gave way to gratuitous deaths and explosions.

To tell this story, a deft touch like that used in the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is needed. Suspense must be maintained. Reactionary torture and fiery deaths don't maintain suspense; they introduce shock.

And that's where this movie fails. Just when you think steam is going to build in the pressure cooker, the lid is taken off and someone sticks their arm into a boiling pot of soup or drives into a natural gas tank or leaps from a rooftop to impale themselves on a broom. And there's never any ambiguity. You never ask yourself if it could have been an accident. The little monsters are always behind it and you know it from the start.

Midwich is a small town and you're supposed to feel that small town vibe. You know - the town square, neighbors who look out for each other, busybodies, mom and apple know. I never felt it. I felt like I was watching a cardboard group of people who didn't work at anything in particular and didn't do much of anything together but maybe lived in place called Midwich.

I'm not even too sure of that last part since only a couple of people seem to have homes that they live in and the property that they're on doesn't resemble any shot of Midwich shown throughout the rest of the movie. Midwich is a flat, dusty farming community, but one guy has a house by the ocean.

Then there are the "Are you freakin' kidding me?" moments. A truck going about ten miles an hour hits another truck. Guess what happens? Boom! A guy in a pickup truck runs into a propane tank in a field. Guess what happens? Boom! (It would take more than a pickup truck to damage one of those suckers muchless cause one to explode.)

Then there's the gratuitous exploding helicopter. No director actually ever destroys a helicopter, unless he's Francis Ford Coppola. Usually, to simulate the destruction of a whirlybird, there's a shot of a helicopter, it disappears behind some trees, an explosion sans any trees is shown, and the viewer is supposed to believe that the helicopter crashed and blew up. That's how they did it here.

There are some silly lines. For example, Kirstie Alley's character introduces herself as "Verner. Like Turner but with a V." Then wouldn't she spell her last name V-u-r-n-e-r? But the credits spell her name with an E. Why didn't she say, "Like Werner but with a V?" Or "Like sterner but with a V?" Or even, "Like Turner but with a V and an E." Why not go whole hog and say something along the lines of, " Like balloon but a V instead of a B, an E instead of an A, an R instead of the first L, an N instead of the second L, an E instead of the two Os, and an R instead of the N." Trivial, but irritating.

What's good about the movie? Well the idea that one of the essential ingredients for the survival of the species is compassion is interesting. That this point is brought out just before about a hundred police officers arrive on the scene intent on laying waste to the children kind of dilutes the message, though.

One of the children has the best line of the movie which states what we all know. When two races who are in competion with each other meet, the stronger will destroy the weaker.

A mixed item has to do with how Dr. Alan Chaffee (Christopher Reeve) blocks his mind from being read by the children. He used images of the ocean. (Probably because he has ocean front property in Missouri.) He even tells other people about this. But, during the final showdown, he uses images of a brick wall. What happened to the ocean there, Doc? Well, in the original movie the Doc used a brick wall to block his mind from being read. So, John Carpenter kept this part in the remake. It works. It's effective. It just doesn't fit in with his earlier use of the ocean.

The last scene, adapted from the original, is well done and keeps the movie out of the Under a Rock category.

The music's not too bad. Dave Davies of The Kinks helped with the score so it's a little more layered than typical John Carpenter scores.

Linda Kozlowski is the best actor/actress in the movie. In fact, she's pretty good. Why did people think that Christopher Reeve was a good actor? He's stiff. Well, compared to Michael Paré, who is also in this movie for a (thankfully) short while, Christopher Reeve is effervescent but compared to him Linda Kozlowski is freakin' Katherine Hepburn. Kirstie Alley is like watching Lucille Ball, so she wasn't convincing as some sort of black-op government doctor.

As long as I'm talking about people in the movie, there's a John Carpenter cameo. You can't miss it. It sticks out like a sore thumb. Hint: You'll ask yourself, "Why is the camera showing that guy at the pay phone for so long?" Bingo! That's John Carpenter.

So, if you've never seen the original Village of the Damned and you prefer color to black and white and explosions to suspense, I'd recommend seeing this once. But if you don't mind black and white, I'd recommend the 1960 version. George Sanders steals that movie. There's some blasphemy and no nudity. Women may find the children creepy, but there's really no other chick flick potential.

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