Village of the Damned is John Carpenter’s second remake and came out in 1995, thirteen years after his first one, The Thing (1982). But while The Thing is without a doubt one of his best films, the same cannot be said of Village of the Damned, despite an impressive cast and a good soundtrack composed, as usual, by the director himself. And why is that What is the film about?
The beginning is nothing short of brilliant. In the small town of Midwich, for some mysterious reason all the inhabitants lose consciousness for a few hours. When they recover, it turns out that many women (some of them virgins!) got pregnant during that brief amount of time, and the government offers monetary incentives for the pregnancies to be completed. The incentives work and nine months later all the children are born (all but one). And the problems begin, since these children are anything but normal…
I approached this film without any negative prejudice: I love the work of John Carpenter deeply, I always expect something good from him! And of course I found it, but I admit that the vision left me a bit cold. I also noticed many similarities between this film and The Fog, the 1980 film by the Horror Master:
- in both movies the story takes place in a small village that is organizing a party;
- there are many characters who interact with each other without a real unique protagonist: there’s the doctor (Christopher Reeve, in his last film before his terrible accident), the director of the school (Linda Kozlowski, she starred in the first two Crocodile Dundee movies), an immunologist (Kirstie Alley), a Protestant pastor (Mark Hamill), and some others;
- a group of supernatural beings torment the inhabitants of the town;
- John Carpenter has a cameo in both films, here he talks on the phone;
- at the beginning of the film, a shadow passes over the village a bit like the fog in The Fog;
- George ‘Buck’ Flower drinks alcohol and dies horribly immediately afterwards.
However, I think that there’s a significant difference in quality between the two films. While in The Fog the characters were all well written and their actions were all perfectly framed within the story, in Village of the Damned I have the impression that none of the characters have been written very carefully. The only one whose motivations I’m capable of understanding is the immunologist played by Kirstie Alley, that is the person with more information on the strange children. The rest of the inhabitants only serve the purpose to provide victims to the children who, thanks to their telepathic powers, do whatever they want.
The rhythm of the story also feels wrong. In The Fog everything happens within 24 hours, giving the story a unique sense of urgency. Here, on the other hand, the story develops over the course of several years with several temporal jumps which are poorly executed (due to the screenplay). This makes the progress of the plot soporific and undermines the credibility of the characters’ reactions: despite having understood that there’s something terribly wrong with those white-haired children, no one tries to solve the problem!
That said, there’s also a lot to appreciate in the film. John Carpenter, as usual, shoots every scene in an impeccable way, his music this time is not memorable but the final theme is catchy, the special effects are excellent, the budget is decent it shows, and the children are really creepy. The theme of the film is also interesting, although here the merit goes to the original 1960 film and to the book by John Wyndham on which it was based: Hollywood doesn’t show everyday wicked children who must be blown up with dynamite to save mankind (for another example, ask Narciso Ibáñez Serrador and his 1976 movie Quién puede matar a un niño? – Who Can Kill a Child? in English)!
To conclude, I recommend watching this film. Any Carpenter fan can appreciate it (all the themes dear to the director are there, including his distrust in the authorities), and any film lover can find at least a handful of items of interest. Apparently, Carpenter was not enthusiastic about the project and agreed to work on it only due to some contractual obligation (the non-Carpenterian ending also seems to suggest something like that). Maybe it’s true, but since Carpenter simply cannot make a bad movie, Village of the Damned remains a decent, if not amazing, one. Ciao!