After over forty years of filmmaking, John Carpenter stands amongst the masters of the genre. From the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, Carpenter’s output includes Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, They Live, and In the Mouth of Madness. Few horror directors can boast that kind of résumé. But even the best can have an off day. And at some point in the 1990s, Carpenter’s movies started to dovetail in quality. Vampires has its fans, but there probably aren’t many horror fans clamoring for Ghosts of Mars or The Ward. If you had to pick a turning point, Carpenter’s 1995 remake of Village of the Damned stands out as a good candidate. Film-goers skipped it, critics dismissed it, and the Razzies ‘honoured’ it with a nomination for Worst Remake or Sequel. But has time softened anyone’s opinion of this Carpenter miss?
When everyone in Midwich suddenly passes out for several hours, not even government scientists can offer an explanation. Soon afterwards, every woman of child-bearing age discovers that they are pregnant. Though the revelation initially sparks fear and accusations of infidelity, the inexplicable birth of the children all on the same day poses more troubling questions . As the children grow, they bare a remarkable resemblance to one another with pallid skin and platinum blonde hair. But they also share another troubling feature – strong telepathic abilities and cold disregard for humanity. As the children pose an increasing danger to the townspeople, a local doctor and government scientist race to find answers.
Village of the Damned Slowly Descends Into Boring Silliness
Not everything about Village of the Damned is bad. A remake of a chilling 1960 British thriller – itself based on the 1957 John Wyndham novel, The Midwich Cuckoos – Carpenter delivers a promising start to things. Early on in Village of the Damned, Carpenter almost taps into the atmosphere he achieved with his earlier small-town chiller, The Fog. And when the Midwich residents inexplicably collapse there’s a palpable dread hanging over everything. Expect a few nasty twists as the titular children begin to exert their will over the townsfolk. Unfortunately, as the story plods forward, there’s little evidence of any of this early promise.
As for Carpenter, he seemed either disinterested with his own movie or uncertain how to navigate the original movie’s more cerebral horror.
Thought it’s not quite boring, Village of the Damned feels aimless or at least perfunctory. Even horror fans unfamiliar with the source work won’t find much surprising here. Much of the movie falls into the trapping of just about any ‘evil child‘ horror movie you’ve watched. As things limp into the final act, overt silliness replaces early atmosphere and shocks. As for Carpenter, he seemed either disinterested with his own movie or uncertain how to navigate the original movie’s more cerebral horror. Regardless of what went wrong behind the camera, what’s on screen is scare-free and tedious.
Miscasting and Poor Script Scarier Than The Pint-Sized Baddies
Cinephiles will recognize a lot of faces from Village of the Damned. If you just glanced at the casting list you’d be impressed. Too bad Village of the Damned miscasts most of its talent. As the remake’s central protagonist, ‘Dr Alan Chaffee, Christopher Reeve is actually quite good. Reeve’s Superman role is so ingrained in our collective conscious that it was often easy to forget how good he was in other roles. Here, Reeve’s a reliably steady hand, with only co-star Linda Kozlowski (Crocodile Dundee) also escaping this remake unscathed. Michael Pare (Bad Moon) is barely around long enough to make an impression. Neither Mark Hamill nor Kirstie Alley feel right in their respective roles.
Too bad Village of the Damned miscasts most of its talent.
Of course, Village of the Damned’s screenplay is the primary culprit. Even if Hamill and Alley weren’t right for their roles, their characters feel particularly underdeveloped. One gets the impression that some of their scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Generally, there’s little in the way of character development. Still this remake most keenly suffers from an an abundance of stupid character decisions. On one hand, we have scientists casually observing mind-reading, telekinetic children with no capacity for emotions. Then there’s the town drunk who decides provoking the same super-powered children with a broomstick is life goals. Take your pick. Village of the Damned dooms itself with poor writing.
Village of the Damned is a Lesser Carpenter Entry
No, Village of the Damned isn’t quite as bad as its reputation. Maybe critics judged the movie harshly based on Carpenter’s past work. Nonetheless, this sci-fi horror remake is clearly Carpenter on auto-pilot. Whether it’s the inept script or lackluster pacing, Village of the Damned is neither essential Carpenter nor vintage 90s horror. Not even Carpenter’s score stands out in this one. Arguably, the remake doesn’t feel much more substantial than an average Twilight Zone episode. Sadly, Village of the Damned marked the steady downturn in Carpenter’s work.