One of John Carpenter‘s biggest successes, critically and in a cult capacity, was The Thing, a complete reimagining of the 1951 sci-fi classic The Thing From Another World. As many agree that The Thing is the best film in Carpenter’s canon, the smart money would see him adapt other sci-fi films of the black & white era to equal or even greater success. However, by the mid-’90s, Carpenter’s creative cache was wearing off a bit, and his adaptation of a 1960 British science fiction chiller didn’t re-imagine so much as it de-imagined. But, thanks to Blu-ray, we have the opportunity to revisit this intriguing misstep: 1995’s Village of the Damned.
Based on the John Wyndam book, The Midwich Cuckoos, Village of the Damned is a creepy little film about a small town in which every fertile woman gets pregnant on the same exact day following a strange sleep. The resulting children all appear to be genetically similar. For instance, they all have platinum blonde hair. Not only that, but they’re scarily hyper intelligent. Not only that, they’ve got psychic powers that make people do horrible things. Not only that but they’re pretty clearly evil aliens of some measure. It’s the same old story, really.
Carpenter’s update adds a bit more of a graphic nature to the violence of the people being forced into self harm, including a mother putting her hand in a scalding pot of soup before hurling herself off a cliff, an eye doctor blinding herself with a caustic chemical, and a shifty drunk janitor impaling himself on his own broom. Naturally, these acts come after the offending person causes any harm or perceived insult to the children.
Christopher Reeve plays the town’s doctor who is as baffled as anyone as to how all of these pregnancies and similar children came to be, not least because his own daughter seems to be the heartless ringleader of the group. Linda Kozlowski plays the suddenly widowed mother of David (a very young Thomas Dekker), who is the only one of the children who seems capable of understanding empathy. Kirstie Alley plays the duplicitous government scientist who literally pays all the women to have their pregnancies go full term and keeps paying them as long as she can study the kids. And Mark Hamill surprises as the town’s reverend who believes the children to be harbingers of the end times and tries to take action on them himself. Creepy-ass role.
I certainly don’t think this is a bad movie, and I’m not saying that just because I’m a huge Carpenter fan. Believe me, he definitely made some stinkers in his career. I just think Village of the Damned is a slightly uninspired movie, made by a director who enjoyed the material but didn’t have any sort of passion for it. He was hired by Universal to make a film, and by god he did. The performances are for the most part very solid, and there are some decent scare moments, despite some of the early CG not holding up much under scrutiny. I just think it’s definitely second or third tier Carpenter; good, not great.
What is great, however, is that Scream Factory has again pulled out all of the stops to deliver an edition worth adding to your Carpenter collection. They’ve already put out volumes for Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Escape from New York, Prince of Darkness, They Live, Body Bags, and co-produced a box set of all the Halloween movies. They clearly have a love for Carpenter and his catalog and I hope they eventually get to put out all of his movies.
And the reason Carpenter seems to really love Scream Factory is because of the level of commitment they put into getting and producing great extras you wouldn’t necessarily get anywhere else. Especially for a title like this, which would likely be a vanilla release if put out by any other distributor. The main feature on the disc is “It Takes a Village”: a nice long making-of that features interviews with Carpenter, his producer (and wife) Sandy King, actors Michael Pare, Peter Jason, Meredith Salenger, Karen Kahn, kid actors Thomas Dekker, Lindsey Haun, Cody Dorkin, Danielle Wiener, and make-up effects artist Greg Nicotero. It’s a fun watch that tackles every aspect of the film, the good with the bad.
My favorite new feature is a half-hour discussion with actor Peter Jason. You’ve seen him on everything; he’s been a character actor for years. He’s also been in several Carpenter films and was a producer on Village of the Damned. He’s got lots and lots of great stories to tell about every one of the movies he worked on with Carpenter, as well as about working in Hollywood in general. Love things like this.
The disc also has a new episode of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds which visits the locations in the film, vintage interviews and behind-the-scenes featurettes, a stills gallery, and a trailer.
Like I said, this is nowhere near the top of the list of John Carpenter movies, but it definitely deserves to be seen and does justice to a classic of b&w sci-fi.
John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned Collector’s Edition Blu-ray his shelves Tues, April 12.
Images: Universal/Scream Factory