I’ve had a very interesting relationship with John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned over the years. Carpenter is firmly planted in my top three favorite directors of all time and this was the film that I always placed at the bottom of his totem pole. It had been nearly ten years since my last trip to this particularly village and I wasn’t sure when I’d stop by again but that’s when Scream Factory released a Collector’s Edition Blu-ray. Well now I had no choice but to swing by.
My first two attempts at re-visiting Village of the Damned didn’t go too well. I feel asleep both times, each time around the same spot roughly 15 minutes into the film. In the movie’s defense both of these attempted viewings were of the late night variety and I guess I’m just an old man now. I set my third attempt for an earlier time and it was much more successful. Not only did I make it all the way through to the end, I actually found myself enjoying the movie much more than any time before. It’s still quite problematic and presents a lot of unanswered questions but it’s enjoyable and the skill of Carpenter as a filmmaker is able to shine through the issues.
The film takes place in a small town where suddenly and unexplainably everyone passes out one day. After a couple of hours or so everyone wakes up not sure what happened. A government scientist, Dr. Susan Verner (Kristie Alley), arrives in the town to investigate. She seems somewhat familiar with this strange phenomenon. She enlists the help of Dr. Alan Chaffee (Christopher Reeve), a doctor in the town, to research the issue.
Soon after they discover all the town’s woman are pregnant. Eventually the woman all give birth on the same day. The town quickly learns the kids are very advanced and as they get older it becomes clear that these kids have plans to take over this town. Verner and Chaffee do their best to get to the bottom of the issue but eventually death hits the town and the only solution seems to be eradication.
I’ve never seen the original Village of the Damned so I don’t know how much Carpenter’s version deviates from that. Perhaps I’d have less questions if I’d seen that? I’m not sure but I know that shouldn’t matter. Whatever the case may be, questions I do have.
So we never really find out what hits the town and leads to the mass pregnancy but we get some hints about alien activity. Ok that’s fine, I can get behind that. But I thought the entire town got pregnant? Once the kids are born and in school we only see 7 or so. Why is that? What happened to the other kids? We know one died during birth but that’s just one. And we know there weren’t any abortions because at one point Verner specifically says the entire town plans to keep the kids. So where the heck are the other kids?! Is it just this small groups of kids are evil? I don’t know!
And what’s the deal with this “thought blocking” that Verner, and eventually Chaffee, master? The kids get their power from being able to read the minds of the adults which enables them to gain complete control which they then use to manipulate the adults into doing whatever they want. So naturally the best way to defeat them is to block them from reading your thoughts. Ok I’ll buy that and I don’t even need an explanation as to how Verner and Chaffee develop this very useful skill. What I will not accept, however, is that when the kids do try to read their minds they see an ocean wave or a brick wall. What?! You just have to think of an actual wall to stop these dick kids? No. No. No! That’s dumb and makes for a laughably silly finale. I’d much rather not know what the kids are seeing and just know they are unable to read their thoughts. That’s good enough.
Where Village of the Damned succeeds is with the kids. The kids in this movie are genuinely creepy, which I guess isn’t the hardest thing to pull off since kids are typically creepy, but still. Thanks to their grey/white hair and the muted color palette of the clothes they wear these little freaks look like they’re straight out of a black and white 50’s sci-fi flick. The best part though is this is really solid kid acting, which is never something I expect to see in a movie. Sure, a good chunk of the kids just have to walk in a line and stare, but the main two – David (Thomas Dekker) and Mara (Lindsey Haun) – have quite a bit they have to pull off. Mara has to be cold and heartless while delivering good chunks of dialogue containing plenty of words your average 9-year old isn’t likely to say and she does a wonderful job. David on the other hand, he’s one of the few (it not the only) characters in this film that undergoes an actual change and has some character arc. He starts off cold and ruthless like the rest of the kids but develops feeling and emotion. A strong performance from a 7-year old Dekker. These kids do a wonderful job picking up the slack for some of the other actors in the film who are quite boring at times. I’m looking at you, Kristie Alley!
The biggest surprise in my re-visit to Village of the Damned was the score. This is an incredibly underrated Carpenter score. Perhaps we don’t talk about it because the film wasn’t much of a success, but the music is phenomenal. Carpenter teamed up with Dave Davies and the two delivered. “March of the Children” and “The Children’s Theme” are two eerie and highly sinister tracks, “March” especially. These will be two new additions to my October playlist for sure.
For a Carpenter film, especially around this time period, this is fairly light in the way of special effects but what we do have is actually pretty awesome. I always remembered the glowing eye thing to come off really cheesy but that’s not the case at all. I think the effect is pulled off quite well and looks great. Well done, visual effects team. Aside from the visual effects there are a few moments of some nice practical effects that allow Greg Nicotero and his team to get their hands dirty. The best of which involves a poor fellow that passes out on a hot grill. Not good, Bob, not good.
As for the Blu-ray release, it’s quite stellar. Scream Factory’s Collector’s Editions are some of the best releases on the market and can rival the likes of Arrow Video and Criterion Collection. These usually contain quite a bit more in the way of special features and this release is no different:
•NEW It Takes A Village: The Making Of Village Of The Damned Featuring Interviews With Director John Carpenter, Producer Sandy King, Actors Michael Paré, Peter Jason, Karen Kahn, Meredith Salenger, Thomas Dekker, Cody Dorkin, Lindsey Haun, Danielle Wiener-Keaton And Make-up Effects Artist Greg Nicotero
•NEW Horror’s Hallowed Grounds – Revisiting The Locations Of The Film
•NEW The Go To Guy: Peter Jason On John Carpenter
•Vintage Interviews Featuring John Carpenter, Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Linda Kozlowski, Mark Hamill And Wolf Rilla (Director Of The Original VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED)
•Vintage Behind-The-Scenes Footage
•Behind-The-Scenes Still Gallery
Along with some older interviews and behind-the-scenes footage this release contains three new sets of special features. The making-of feature contains a lot of interviews with cast and crew about their experiences on the film. This is a good watch especially for the likes of Haun, Dekker and some of the other actors who played the children. Now that they’re all pushing 30 it’s interesting to hear them reflect on a film they did as children and how that shaped them as actors going forward.
I would still say Village of the Damned is lower end Carpenter, but lower end Carpenter is better than your average movie. It delivers more questions than answers and Kristie Alley is super boring, but there’s a fantastic score, some sincerely creepy moments and you get to see Mark Hamil baptize some kids, so it’s not all bad.
Village of the Damned is now available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory.