It’s a shame that John Carpenter’s remake of “Village of the Damned” isn’t more highly regarded. If it were his own adaptation of “The Midwich Cuckoos,” it would be placed alongside his other apocalypse or alien films like “They Live,” or “Prince of Darkness.” I don’t think Carpenter’s film is better than the original George Sander’s horror film, but I think it holds up very well and can stand alongside it like Carpenter’s version of “The Thing” with the Howard Hawks original.
“Village of the Damned” is a fine modern treatment of the original story that centers on American town, but possesses much of the same European themes, and practices some rather vicious carnage in the vein of classic Italian horror. After a massive anomaly renders folks of a small town in Midwich California unconscious, the outside world are shocked to discover that after hours in unusual comas, the town is rendered seemingly normal. Ten months later, local doctor Alan Chaffee is stunned to learn that many of the women in town are pregnant; even the women that weren’t even trying for children are now with a child, and he’s overwhelmed at what tidal wave of births are imminent.
Kirstie Alley does a bang up job playing federal agent Susan Verner who appears in town with knowledge of what may have occurred and begins manipulating the series of events unfolding in order to help gain an upper hand on the mysterious births. By pulling strings in the shadows, she hopes to figure out what the now prepubescent offspring have in mind, now that they operate without mercy and empathy and act as a hive mind. Soon enough the children born from the strange occurrence begin wreaking havoc on the town, striking down dissension with their ability to control minds and bend people to their wills. Carpenter’s direction is sleek and quite engrossing, bringing us deeper in to the mythology of the children born from the black out, and how they operate behind closed doors.
Rather than opt for a more horrific angle, Carpenter embraces the science fiction. He boldly delves in to the ideas of aliens, their supernatural abilities, and how these children are only phase one in what may be plans for a massive invasion in the long run. He even thinks outside the box a bit by picturing one of the children gaining empathy and eventually finding allegiance with the human hosts, as he begins to slowly rebel against his group. Carpenter unleashes a very good cast for this reworking, casting Alley in a strong performance, Mark Hamil as the town’s devout priest trying to comprehend this situation, and Christopher Reeve as the heroic doctor.
Reeve’s performance is incredible at times, as he spends most of the film trying to find the logic behind this event and soon submits to the extraordinary circumstances, using his intellect to fight the superior minds of these beings. I remember “Village of the Damned” being considered a limp reworking by Carpenter initially, but upon second glance, John Carpenter’s version of the original story is compelling and absolutely entertaining.
The Scream Factory release is packed for fans of the film, or for folks that want to honestly take a second look at Carpenter’s treatment. “It Takes a Village: The Making of John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned” is an excellent forty nine minute look behind the production of the film. There’s a very thorough and detailed behind the scenes exploration, with discussions with the cast, and director Carpenter, along with wife Sandy King. The featurette covers the gamut of the film’s production, including the experience of working with Reeve and Hamil, and how Universal sabotaged the editing for the final film, and pushed up the release.
If this film is a hollow representation of what Carpenter planned, I’d kill to see his actual vision. “The Go To Guy: Peter Jason on John Carpenter” is a fifteen minute interview with character actor Peter Jason who’s gone on to star in seven Carpenter films, and discusses in great length, his career and work experience. Sean Clark greets us with “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” a twenty minute feature where Clark visits the California town where the film was shot. There are twenty four minutes of vintage interviews and Behind the Scenes, which was carried over by the original DVD release. Finally there’s a two minute still gallery, and the original theatrical trailer in Standard Definition.