1995, in terms of quantity, was a pretty big year for John Carpenter. His undervalued masterpiece In the Mouth of Madness was released in February of that year with the Universal remake of the 1960’s cult classic Village of the Damned following shortly after in April.
Long time fans already know that seeing Carpenter behind the camera on a studio film was big news given the problems he had working them on his previous two studio films Big Trouble in Little China and Memoirs of an Invisible Man. However, this time was different. Carpenter and producer Sandy King had a plan: he would direct this long-gestating remake for Universal, and in return, he would be given the directing duties on the studio’s upcoming Creature from the Black Lagoon remake (spoiler alert: that remake never happened).
Whether through unfortunate timing (The Oklahoma City bombing was carried out April 19th, 1995) or studio interference, John Carpenter’s remake of the 1960 Village of the Damned cult classic was mostly overlooked during its theatrical run, with the film only pulling in a little under 10 million at domestic box offices. Upon revisiting Village of the Damned for its 25th Anniversary, I found it nearly impossible to keep the current situation of the world out of my mind. With the film’s opening shot of an invisible enemy flying through the sky, looking for the perfect hosts, to the government’s eventual mismanagement of the situation, I found all these things unintentionally relevant and more than a little frightening during these strange times of isolation.
For those unfamiliar, Village of the Damned tells the story of the small town of Midwich and how one afternoon, each member of the town passes out for six hours. Shortly after the blackout, ten women discover they are pregnant. Eventually, the women all go into labor on the same day, with nine of the ten babies born at the same time and one dying during birth. Skip ahead a few years and the children are now older, with all of them sharing the same pale skin, silvery-white-blonde hair, eerie-eyes, and the lack of individual personalities. The children exhibit deadly psychic abilities that they frequently use when unhappy or threatened.
“All [of Carpenter’s] trademarks are here, with stunning widescreen photography, a beautifully menacing score, and an ending that makes you question the real outcome.”
As the children grow stronger, as well as more distant, they soon begin traveling in packs of two’s, with each seemingly born to have a predetermined mate. David, the runt of the group, who’s mate was stillborn, is the only exception. It’s David, through his interactions with his mother (played by the excellent Linda Kozlowski Crocodile Dundee, 1986) and various town residents, begins to show signs of humanity. This hope in seeing David form signs of empathy leads Alan Chaffee (Christopher Reeve, Superman 1978), the town’s doctor, to accept the responsibility of teaching the children basic humanity. However, after more gruesome deaths, things in Midwich soon spiral out of control as the residents grow more freighted of the children and their growing lack of humanity, and increasing abilities. Eventually, this leads to a standoff between the children and townsfolks, with the world at stake.
Village of the Damned will never be considered one of Carpenter’s best films. With that said, I do think history has been kind to this film. Sadly, much of that goodwill comes from the tragic fact that Village of the Damned was Christopher Reeve’s final completed role before the horrific accident that paralyzed him only a month after the release of the film. In hindsight, Reeve’s star might shine the brightest, but that doesn’t diminish the other great performances in this whos-who of recognizable faces. That includes Mark Hamill (Star Wars, 1977), Linda Kozlowski (Crocodile Dundee, 1986), Kirstie Alley (Star Trek II, 1982), and Michael Paré (Streets of Fire, 1984).
Despite Carpenter often referring to Village of the Damned as a paycheck job, it’s clear that he’s fully invested in the project. All the director’s trademarks are here, with stunning widescreen photography, a beautifully menacing score, and an ending that makes you question the real outcome. I’m glad I revisited Village of the Damned for its 25th Anniversary, and I think viewers looking to revisit Carpenter’s catalog or anyone looking for a scary reminder of the unknown during these troubling times will find plenty to like in the under-appreciated remake.