Sunday, June 21, 2015

1PanelReview John Carpenter's Village of the Damned

The film that made an entire generation afraid to have children.

Kids are so creepy...

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What it is: John Carpenter's Village of the Damned also known as simply Village of the Damned (1995)

Which is: A Scifi/Horror film
Directed by: John Carpenter
Year: 1995

Directed by John Carpenter, this Village of the Damned is actually a 1995 remake of the classic 1960 black & white British science-fiction film by Wolf Rilla, itself based on the 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham. The 1960 original had already seen a sequel back in 1963 by Anton M. Leader, titled Children of the Damned. Carpenter's remake actually takes some cues from both films (such as the events taking place across different nations, etc.) The film stars a young Christopher Reeve then at the top of his game, Kirstie Alley, Linda Kozlowski, Michael Paré, Meredith Salenger and the inimitable Mark Hamill (although in a very small role). Fun fact the future John Connor from The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Thomas Dekker, plays here one of "the Children of the Damned".

The story takes place in a small town, Midwich in California's marin county. One day after a mysterious complete blackout, everyone falls unconscious. The military quickly form a quarantine outside the town and officials come by to analyze the situation - amongst which a chain-smoking government agent. Once the situation appears resolved, ten woman are discovered to be pregnant! Nine months later all the babies are born at the same time, but one seems to be "stillborn" and the government lady takes an interest in this entire event. A few years passes and the platinum-haired children grow up to possess some form of telekinesis... 
What's Good about it: John Carpenter's Village of the Damned is a really weird film. Not as wild as some of Carpenter's earlier works, but definitively unique and interesting.
The film has a really great casting, even if personally I would have preferred to see Mark Hamill's character take a bigger role (the priest he played would have worked better as an antagonist of sort).
It's a great simple creepy horror tale, sort of like a good Stephen King story. 
The film pays a lot of tribute to the original, taking a lot of scenes and cues directly from it (such as the scene early on where the police sends a cop with a gas mask into the quarantined zone).
Our main protagonist here is Christopher Reeve, who really does a great job supporting most of the film. He has some particularly good scenes interacting with the pretty decent child actors.
The film is quite as gory as some of Carpenter's other films to be honest. But it turned out a lot more graphic than the original. The death of the adults at the "hands" of the children can be pretty violent.
Where the remake is really able to improve upon over the original is in making some actual use of the female cast. Despite the first half of the story revolving around the birth of the kids, the original film simply discarded the female cast (well, that's the 1960s for you!). Here the remake actually featured some better female characters.
The children themselves are also a lot more striking and have such a huge presence throughout the film. They're really some great talented good actors despite their age.
The film has a great sort of Under the Dome vibe in the first half of the story.
Once the children enter the picture, the movie shifts tone. You get to see people genuinely afraid of them as you see the town getting progressively worse as time passes on.
Why are they so broken? Is it because of their true nature? Are they linked as a sort of hivemind? Don't they have individual "souls"? In a way, the film almost seems to act as a prequel to another Carpenter cult classic, They Live, which was about an alien infestation. Here we witness just the beginning of an invasion. 
The ending of the film seems cleverly left open to interpretation. If you consider one earlier scene where the child David was seen apparently getting a glimpse into the future, what if he caught a look at the entire final act coming and only fake to develop "emotions" to survive? Mmmh, I wonder... 
Finally, as per usual with John Carpenter the film features a great creepy moody score with his signature synth music. A great score all around.

What's Bad about it: Let's be honest, it's not Carpenter's best film. But that's not necessary a bad thing.
Just like the original film, it's a pretty slow-paced atmospheric tale, it starts pretty quick actually, but once the setting is defined the film definitively slows down.
At the time of the release a lot of people complained how Carpenter didn't update the material to the then-present day. Since he kept the film pretty faithful to the source. The film feels closer to old 1950s/60s scifi serials.
The climax doesn't feel entirely satisfying. It feels like it could have turned bigger with these talks about other colonies all over the world.
But sometimes, less is more. Where the original settled for a moody creepy 60s alien film, John Carpenter's remake also tries to be an horror tale. And I'm not sure this move was in the favor of the story...

Overall: John Carpenter's 1995 Village of the Damned is a fun creepy scifi horror flick. It's a pretty decent faithful remake. But it also feels like it could have been so much more.

It's a great solid film, mind you. Recommended for any fans of old school science-fiction/horror films.

The story has a pretty good buildup. Where the original played it more creepy and like a fairly standard alien invasion story, Carpenter ramps up the creepiness of the children and turns them into straight murderous outsiders.

The film is not as cheesy as you might think on a first impression. In fact it has a rather sordid serious ending.

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