Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

31 Days of Halloween: Village of the Damned

You know what I miss? Sort of? Used media stores.

I mean, they still exist--barely--but I'm actively trying to own less stuff, so the prospect of buying used DVDs, especially when so much media is available legitimately through the Internet. Unfortunately, the Internet doesn't allow for the kind of accidental discovery that browsing in a store facilitates. People will tell you that Amazon and iTunes and Netflix are developing really good algorithms to replace that, but I simply haven't experienced that. They're good at recommending things I already like, but once start taking chances on stuff I've never heard of, the field of recommendations gets worse and narrower, and no amount of rating the stuff I've already seen seems to help. Eventually, my recommendations will be down to Two and a Half Men and Tango & Cash, and I will have to give up.

None of that has any real bearing on tonight's review. I just bring it up because a couple of weeks ago The Missus and I were at one of those stores, and I wound up buying a set of four John Carpenter films, which included The Thing, They Live, Village of the Damned, and Prince of Darkness. I only owned They Live and they were asking a price I'd have paid for any of the other three.

So now I have a DVD set of four pretty great movies, which is nice, but it's not like I need more DVDs.

Oh, well. Not the point.

I hadn't seen Village of the Damned, or rather, I hadn't seen John Carpenter's 1995 version. I saw the original from 1960 years ago (seriously, it was during the first third of my life--I don't remember it).

Briefly, Village of the Damned concerns a coastal California town called Midwich, where the entire population falls unconscious one day--animals, too. It doesn't take long for outsiders to notice and call in the authorities. Dr. Susan Verner (Kirstie Alley) shows up and sticks around after the town wakes up and twelve women are discovered to have become pregnant during the incident. Nine months later the kids are born.

The children initially seem normal, but as they grow older, it becomes obvious that there's something weird about them. They all have white hair and blue eyes, and are apparently telepathically linked. A special school is set up for the children, and it is overseen by Dr. Alan Chaffee (Christopher Reeve), who is well aware that he's been asked to supervise an infernal machine. The townspeople, all this time, have been suspicious of the children, and when the stress finally bursts, it does so in the form of an angry mob. The children have no choice but to unleash their telekinetic powers.

As I said, it's been a long time since I saw the original version of Village of the Damned, so I can't comment on the strength of the remake, but all in all, Carpenter's version is a pretty successful film. It's effectively scary and suspenseful, and it's well-executed. Most people--myself included--have a difficult time picturing Christopher Reeve as anyone other than Superman, so it's interesting to see him here. He's still a pragmatic Good Guy, but it's a darker story and a his character is a little grayer than I'm used to. He also appeared in a remake of Rear Window around the same time, and I'd be curious to see him in that. I've never felt strongly either way about Kirstie Alley, but she can play a credible Scientist Who Knows More Than She's Letting On. Mark Hamill plays a minister and doesn't get much to do.

Unfortunately, for all its good points, it's not a memorable movie. I can't see myself revisiting it often or soon. One of the reasons that I keep returning to horror is that by nature, horror movies often do remarkable things, even on microbudgets. The weirdest ideas in cinema happen in horror, and usually in low-budget horror because Hollywood is so afraid to take chances. Village of the Damned is a good story and it's well executed, but it fails to take any real chances. It really feels like a classic film; it's a little more graphic than its predecessor but there's no profanity, no gore--this screenplay could have been made in 1960 without anyone batting an eye, so why bother with the remake at all?

I guess I don't know. I'd be interested if Carpenter had committed himself to telling a new story in a classic style, but that's not what he's done here. It's a watchable film, and maybe even a good one, but there's nothing especially noteworthy here.

Click here for the trailer.
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