Village of the Damned (1995)

*. Apparently John Carpenter remarked in an interview somewhere that he didn’t particularly want to do a remake of the classic 1960 film Village of the Damned. He wasn’t personally invested in the project at all, and only agreed to do it because he was under contract.
*. That would normally send off some alarm signals, but (1) contract work can still be highly professional and of good quality, and (2) aside from The Thing, I’m not sure how many movies Carpenter ever made that gave me the sense that he cared very much about them. I think he’s always been pretty up front about directing being just another job.
*. Still, this version of Village of the Damned seems particularly uninspired and unnecessary. Unlike The Thing, which largely skipped over the Howard Hawks film to return to the original story, Carpenter’s Village of the Damned sticks very close to the 1960 film and doesn’t reach back to John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos much at all. In fact, if you told me that Carpenter hadn’t read The Midwich Cuckoos I wouldn’t be surprised.
*. To take just the most obvious example, Wyndham’s novel has nothing in it about the children being able to read minds. This was new to the film, and Carpenter adopts all of it here, down to the imagining of a mental wall to hide thoughts behind and the satchel at the end with a bomb in it.
*. A brief history of taboo words. In the 1960 original they actually make it through the entire first part of the film without ever saying the word “pregnant.” In this movie Kirstie Alley, in her public address to the villagers, says that “the choice is yours” as to whether they want to terminate their pregnancy, and that the government will even perform the procedure for them. That’s actually pretty bold, but you never hear her say the word “abortion.”
*. Reading a few of the contemporary reviews, it seems people were expecting Carpenter to come at them with more blood and guts. I’m surprised how tame it is. The camera shies away from the gore for the most part. Unfortunately, there’s only the one decent kill and that’s the man who accidentally falls on top of the BBQ when he passes out. I thought that was clever.
*. The glowing eye effects were overdone, and I got tired of them quickly. They also don’t make much sense. But again, this is a borrowing from the 1960 film.
*. Hello Michael Paré! And . . . good-bye Michael Paré! For getting near top billing he doesn’t hang around very long does he? With Eddie and the Cruisers (1983) he seemed like he was on his way to becoming a huge star. Goodness knows he’s stayed busy over the years — no small achievement in the movie business — but stardom never really happened.
*. And, tragically, goodbye Christopher Reeve, at least as a leading man. This was the last film he shot before the riding accident that left him paralyzed. At the time he was a guy who pretty much embodied the traditional figure of the handsome leading man.
*. It’s too bad that none of these movies really dig into the basic premise of the novel about the incompatibility of the two species, and how there can be no peaceful coexistence between them. I mean, this is a point that’s always mentioned in passing, but it seems important enough, at least to me, that I wanted them to argue about it more. Why would Reeve want to help the kids if he knows what’s really at stake, for example? And how much empathy should we humans really feel for them?
*. Perhaps the biggest change they made to the story was in having one of the kids develop a bit of empathy, then saving him from destruction. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for this character much (he’s so cute he even speaks with a slight lisp) and sort of wished he’d died with the others. As it was, I expected a final twist where we’d see his eyes glow, sort of like the rash breaking out on the little girl’s skin at the end of The Brood. But I guess we’re supposed to end up feeling that everything is going to be OK, at least until David hits puberty and starts taking girls out. Then I’m afraid it’s all over for us.

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