Village Of The Damned

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In 1982, John Carpenter made The Thing, arguably one of the greatest sci-fi remakes ever mounted that took both the original movie and fused it more comprehensively with the story’s source novel and created a cinematic experience loaded with genuine fights, unbearably nihilistic tension and some truly bleeding edge special effects. In case you haven’t yet caught on, Carpenter forged a masterpiece.
In 1995, he made Village Of The Damned which, by all accounts, is an hour and thirty nine minutes of pointless shite – all but confirming to a disappointed fan base that that spotty hit rate that had kicked in at the start of the 90’s wasn’t just a temporary slump, but was fairly indicative of where Carpenter’s career was heading. As I’ve mentioned before when casting an eye over everything made after In The Mouth Of Madness, slagging off Carpenter isn’t something I particularly enjoy doing, but trying to defend Village Of The Damned would just be me kidding myself. With actual kids.

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The quiet town of Midwich seems like your usual coastal burg. Nice people, good view and – a bizarre occurrence that sees everyone within a certain radius simply collapse where they stand into an unnaturally induced, but temporary coma for around six hours. The after effects are as extreme as they are varied – firstly called to the scene is the decidedly shifty Dr. Susan Verner, an epidemiologist working for the federal government who possibly knows more than she’s letting on but by far the most startling happenstance is that 10 of the town’s women (including a virgin) has fallen pregnant.
As Verner jumps at the chance to build a base of operations to study this phenomenon, town doctor Alan Chaffee struggles to get his head around this creepy-ass miracle, especially since his wife is one of the 10 women that now sport mystery buns in their ovens.
10 months later and the children are all born at exactly the same time and as the children age, it becomes obvious that things ain’t quite right as they all sport platinum blonde locks, lack emotion and have the unnerving ability to read and manipulate minds with only a glance. However, one of the kids, David, the son of widowed head teacher Jill McGowan, seems different, but as time goes on and weird “accidents” start occurring, the origin of the children become fairly obvious – they are the result of alien interference for some nefarious plot.
While the townsfolk start to turn on the kids (yeah, good luck with that) and the death toll mounts, Chaffee soon realises he has to figure a way past the children’s freaky mind powers and do something fast. However, that’s going to be tough when you consider that Mara, the leader of the group, is his “daughter”.

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When I first watched The Thing, many years ago, I watched it in less than ideal circumstances. Sat in a friend’s kitchen as Saturday morning sunshine streamed in through the windows, I watched a copy of the film taped off television (complete with advert breaks) and yet despite these decidedly unthreatening surroundings, Carpenter’s masterpiece still managed to be utterly terrifying – in comparison, Village Of The Damned would be hard pressed to scare a baby suffering from anxiety while on a bad LSD trip.
However, maybe I’m being too harsh by constantly demanding comparisons to one of the greatest sci-fi/horror films ever made, especially since the film of Carpenter’s filmography it most resembles is The Fog with its coastal setting, varied townsfolk and a inhuman menace that unfurls under everyone’s very noses. But then, Village doesn’t hold a candle to The Fog either, lacking the slow burn and simmering atmosphere of that earlier classic and it’s this comparison that reveals exactly where Carpenter’s gone wrong.

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John-boy, by his own admission, took the movie on as a contractual job and never had much of a connection with the material (not surprising since the script has all the spark of a soggy cabbage), as a result, his apathy is fucking palpable as his usual talent for pacing and composition falls by the wayside. The characters are insipid despite being played by a distracting array of mismatched character actors (the combination of Christopher Reeve, Kirsty Alley, Linda Kozlowski and Mark Hamill sounds less like a cohesive cast and more like a bunch of guests for a classic episode of the Muppet Show) the pace is non-existent (the story takes place over ten months but it feels bately like a week) and there’s barely a whiff of tension to be found despite the presence of a bunch of bleached-mopped ankle biters that’s been giving people the extraterrestrial stink eye.
Carpenter himself has stated that Village is his least favorite of the films he’s directed and I’m inclined to agree, but every now and then a but of that old magic slips through. The ocular light show these alien little shits give off while they turn some poor bastard’s will into tapioca pudding is an undeniably cool image (which is fortunate considering the film uses it incessantly) and the visual image of Chaffee creating an actual brick wall in his mind to keep prying, extraterrestrial eyes off his real intentions is exactly the kind of out of the box kind of stuff the director became famous for in the place. But it’s all bludgeoned into apathy by the sci-fi/horror equivalent of a long streak of beige with even Capenter’s usually rousing score being instantly forgettable – surely the greatest sin of all.

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Future movies from Carpenter ran the gauntlet of silly (Escape From LA), obnoxious (Vampires) and just plain sloppy (Ghosts Of Mars), but for all of their accumulated faults, you couldn’t accuse a single one of them of being dull, whereas Village Of The Damned rarely gets off the ground even when the alien ankle biters get a bunch of soldiers to gun each other down. Gone is the keen hunger from the 70’s, not to mention the boundless innovation from the 80’s and you can tell that years of butting skulls with studio heads who weren’t in on Carpenter’s various visions had finally taken the fight out of him and the era of him taking the money and running towards fully burning out had finally begun.
Village be damned…

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