Seen that!

A film and DVD blog

Village of the Damned (1995) – Carpenter countdown #18

without comments

With one possible exception, which we'll come to later, every one of the remakes of John Carpenter's films has been dire. Despite doing one of the best remakes of someone else's film himself, he proved himself capable of being the master of the totally unnecessary bad remake here. The scariest thing about this one is that it got made.

Concept: remake Village of the Damned (1960), the adaptation of John Wyndham's novel, The Midwich Cuckoos

One day, everyone in a small town falls asleep for six hours. When they awake, several of the women are pregnant, including the wife of Dr Christopher Reeve (SuperDoc). Federal agents turn up, including Dr Kirstie Alley (Dr Evil, so evil, she smokes in the local health clinic and around the children). She promises the pregnant women prenatal expenses plus $3,000 a month if they continue the pregnancies and she can test the children. When they are born, the children turn out to look very similar to each other, are very clever and also able to read and control peoples' minds. One of them, David, is unique amongst them in developing emotions. The local people, priest Mark Hamill (Rev Skywalker), and the state attempt to kill the children, but fail. What works is the hero taking a bomb to them as they are preparing to disperse around the country, whilst thinking of a brick wall to stop the children realising what he's doing. David (who has escaped the bombing) is driven off by his mother for the sequel which, thankfully, never happened.

What's good: Some of the landscape establishing shots are lovely. The cinematography generally is fine. The characters are introduced competently. Bits that are straight lifts from the original film. Erm, that's about it.

What's bad: Looking at this as film in its own right, the main problem is the subplot about David having, uniquely amongst the cuckoos, emotions. This is seen as a good thing by the adults: "Without compassion, you're a doomed species!" SuperDoc tells the others, but they rightly don't like it: "Your development of emotions is disturbing" they tell David. It's the absolutely classic Hollywood 'let's make them nicer' mistake. Why does he have emotions? Because he's not paired up (one of the births was stillborn and carried off by Dr Evil). Is the message 'all you need to fit in is a partner'?

The drama of the final confrontation doesn't work because we've already seen that SuperDoc can block the childrens' mind reading by thinking of an ocean wave. He tells David's mother what he's going to do too. For no other reason than it was in the original he uses an old-fashioned alarm clock as timer for the bomb and manages to accurately synchronise it with the clock in the barn. It explodes when expected, to the second!?

As a remake, it fails totally. It could have survived being relocated from village in rural England to coastal California. It can't survive losing the intelligence.

Original: an explicit discussion within the British government about what to do with the children, including imprisoning them or killing them, after talking about other places killing their cuckoos in a 'As Brits, we're much better than them' way. Clearly, in the event of a Russian-style 'wipe out the whole place' decision, telling local people what's about to happen isn't on.

This one: Dr Evil tells SuperDoc to get out quick just before he's off to talk to the kids and it's clear to everyone in the area that she and her team are in the process of bugging out.

Original: "Troops are not the answer. The children would only make them shoot one another."

This one: the great plan is to send two state police to the barn where the kids are, some time ahead of a convoy of other police and military. Yeah, there's no way that nine (eight, because nice David doesn't join in) children known to be able to control people's minds could stop two policemen and then get everyone shooting everyone else…

Original: The children are asked if they're aware of life on other planets and, for once, look away.

This one: Dr Evil has the stillborn baby, looking very alien down to the classic slanted eyes, in a basement. Seeing that it's been cut open, two of the children, with nice David watching horrified, get her to cut herself open. She's clearly a good technical surgeon – there's no blood be to be seen, even though it kills her.

Original David has politeness but not emotions – it's because he's almost the stereotypical ideal officer class Englishman that he's so creepy! – and is the leader of the group. When he tells the hero, "If you didn't suffer from emotions, from feelings, you could be as powerful as we are," the reaction is not a Californian speech about how important letting your feelings out is, but to say "Yes". Coming in a film directed by a German fifteen years after World War II, this is morally edgy stuff.

Worst of all, even with no gore, the original is much more disturbing. For example, the gunman who attempts to shot them is a) talked out of it by the hero and b) killed by the children anyway in front of the main adult characters!

These questionable morals work both ways: "I think I've found a way of getting through to them," the hero says as he sends his wife away before going off with the bomb to kill the children…

Music: Co-composed with Dave Davies, but the nicest thing to say about the score is that you don't notice it much. There's one good sequence, 'March of the Children' (used for the confrontation between the eight nasty children getting the police etc to shoot each other and also used over the start of the end credits) but it's a bit late and I was never tempted to get the soundtrack album. However looking at the Amazon listing, clearly I am not the only one who thinks this is by far the best: it's the opening track on the album.

Miscellany: As well as wondering why he ever agreed to do this, I was left wondering why are only some of the women pregnant? We see a sign saying the population of Midwich is 2,000, and we know the area covered by the zone was large (it started not long after road sign said seven miles to Midwich). So let's say at least 500 women of child-bearing age but only ten pregnancies? In both book and probably the original film (although it's not clear) all the women who could become pregnant did so, with twelve births in the small village.

In Christopher Reeve, we have an actor best known for playing an alien with special powers who is deposited on Earth. Are there any knowing winks to the audience about this? No.

Overall: It's lost many of the things that made the original so interesting as well as the suspense. In return, it's gained bigger explosions, enough flashes of gore to get an 'R' in the US, and a sub-plot that weakens the story. That it was not going to work should have been blindingly obvious at the script stage.

I was going to give this a rating of one out of five, but then I watched the original again. Wolf Rilla, its director, never did anything else as good, before or afterwards. Carpenter has yet to do anything worse than this.

TL;DR See the original.

Film: 0/5

DVD: it'd have to be free before I had it. It doesn't apparently include any worthwhile extras, including not having a commentary. It'd be interesting to hear one, even if it should consist of him saying 'Sorry' a lot.

This one, the infinitely better original (skip its bad sequel, although it's better than this), and if you insist on owning this one, the one to get because at least you get The Thing as well:

Written by Ian

June 7th, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Posted in Cinema,Countdown

Leave a Reply