Back in 1960, a small British horror film called “Village of the Damned” was released. It told a simple, eerie story of an entire town that faints for a few hours, with a series of unexplained pregnancies occurring afterward. Making the situation even stranger is the fact that the children are not what you would call normal. It was by no means a bad film, though it wasn’t particularly good either thanks to a little too much meandering after its solid setup. The point is, there was definitely a little room for improvement, making a remake seem like a decent idea. Throw in a master of horror like John Carpenter to direct and it appeared to be all set to become a great update of what some consider to be a classic. However, as everyone would soon find out, sometimes it takes more than a masterful director to turn certain material into something worth seeing.
Following the story of the original quite closely (both were based on the book “The Midwich Cuckoos” by John Wyndham), the film takes place in the town of Midwich, where the townsfolk have gathered for a fair. Then, out of nowhere, everyone faints, leaving everyone outside the town (including the police and military) puzzled as to what’s causing the phenomenon. However, just as suddenly, the effect wears off, leaving the people of Midwich equally confused as to what’s happened. Not long after, several women find out that they’re pregnant, with the time of conception leading right back to the day of the fainting. Eventually the babies are born, but they end up developing much faster than normal, and even show remarkable powers. Pretty soon they become a danger to the community, but with their incredible capabilities, who’s going to be able to stop them?
Indeed, a remake of the original “Village of the Damned” did seem like a fairly decent idea, especially when put together by the same man who directed such classics as “Halloween” and “The Thing,” the latter being a remake he improved upon quite a bit. The funny thing is, if I hadn’t known that he was the director of this project, I would have never guessed in a million years that he was the one at the helm of this disaster. This is one of those films that really all you can do is sit back and watch as it falls apart completely in front of you. It starts off well enough, setting up this small town and its people as a close-knit community where nothing out of the ordinary goes on, but then it quickly descends into a confused mess of conflicting tones, lax pacing, and jumbled storytelling.
Carpenter and his screenwriter, David Himmelstein, want to set a serious tone for this horror remake of alien children with terrifying mental powers, and while they accomplish that in part, they throw in several jarring moments that you can’t help but laugh at. As an example, they went completely overboard with the special effects. The original simply had the children’s eyes glow a little bit when they used their powers, but here, they glow and flash outrageously so as to make sure that they audience knows that something sinister is going on. Or take for instance a scene in which a father of one of the kids wants to take his daughter back home. This scene takes place in the middle of nowhere (the outskirts of town, where there is nothing but a barn), and yet, when the children force him to kill himself, there just happens to be a large container of gas for him to run into with his car. The original film had been able to build up a decent amount of tension without using anything so extravagant, and it certainly didn’t come off as amusing. Simply put, as far as the remake goes, it’s hard to be scared when you’re laughing this much during the film.
The other significant issue was that they seemed completely oblivious as to how to tell this story in an effective manner. The original was rather straightforward, introducing exposition into the film in an unobtrusive way as it went on. The remake is the complete opposite in that is rushes through the opening and then slows way down, only to have a character drop in random exposition in a rush whenever it’s needed. In a sense, it’s as though they took the screenplay for the original, chopped it up, and sprinkled in just the little pieces they needed over an unremarkable screenplay that gets bogged down in making this a more violent and bloody tale than it ever needed to be.
Again, the 1960 film was by no means great, but it did get a lot of things right: the atmosphere, the mood, the tone, and the setup. This 1995 remake appears to have ignored everything that had worked well, replacing it with a stagnant exercise in trying to tell a story in a fashion that demonstrates the filmmakers’ lack of understanding of these elements, which is an incredibly shocking thing to have to say about the great John Carpenter (“Halloween” remains the greatest horror film ever made). Whatever it was he was thinking with this project, clearly his heart was not in it. Even the masters of horror have their off days though. After all, Wes Craven delivered such duds as “Shocker” and “The Serpent and the Rainbow.” We’ll just have to chalk up this unfortunate attempt at a remake as one of Carpenter’s misguided ventures.
John Carpenter’s “Village of the Damned” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.35:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. As is the norm with Scream Factory, the picture has been masterfully remastered, giving it a sharp and clear look that features only the slightest hints of grain. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is extremely soft, meaning that you’re going to have to turn the volume up much higher than normal to hear it, but once adjusted, you get treated to a great track that gives you all audial elements in fine quality (just remember to turn the volume back down once you’re done so as not to deafen yourself later). Overall, Scream Factory has done a magnificent job of restoring the film.
It Takes a Village: The Making of John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned (49 Minutes): An excellent look at the making of the film, told through interviews with Director John Carpenter, Producer Sandy King, Make-Up Effects Artist Greg Nicotero, and several of the actors.
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (21 Minutes): An interesting featurette that visits several locations used during filming.
The Go-To Guy: Peter Jason on John Carpenter (45 Minutes): An extensive interview with actor Peter Jason, who discusses the films he’s worked on with John Carpenter.
Vintage Interviews and Behind the Scenes (21 Minutes): A series of great vintage interviews with Carpenter, Reeve, Alley, and others. Also includes some neat footage shot on set.
Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery
The 1995 remake of “Village of the Damned” is a completely misguided attempt at updating what had been a decently eerie film back in 1960. It’s the kind of film that appears to have been made by filmmakers who don’t understand a thing about storytelling, pacing, tone, or atmosphere, which is only made all the more shocking by the fact that it was directed by the legendary John Carpenter. Regardless of the reasoning behind it (a quick buck or a legitimate attempt at bringing this story to a new generation), it lands on the screen with a thud, but at the very least, it’ll provide you with a few good laughs along the way.
Available on Blu-ray starting tomorrow.
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic and be sure to subscribe for the latest updates.