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Village of the Damned (1995)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/12/2016
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/6/2016
In film criticism the auteur theory states that the director is the "author" of the film and the director's vision is the core of the film. Despite the use of the word "author", this does mean that the director wrote the screenplay, but it can be argued that a writer/director truly puts their stamp on the stamp. If you want a prime example of this branch of the auteur theory, one need look no further than John Carpenter. Looking at the filmmaker's filmography, one can see that Carpenter had a hand in writing half of the films which he directed and those films, constitute the high-points of his career. (One would want to add The Thing to that list, despite the fact that Carpenter didn't write that one.) When one looks at the films which aren't based on a Carpenter script, we see some movies which lack passion and drive. Village of the Damned is the perfect example of this.
Village of the Damned takes place in the sleepy town of Midwich (which is clearly on the northern California coast). On the day of the big school fundraiser, everyone in town falls unconscious for six hours. Local doctor Alan Chaffee (Christopher Reeve) and government scientist Susan Verner (Kirstie Alley) (who somehow arrives on the scene with the National Guard in record time) are baffled by this situations. When everyone awakens from their mysterious nap, they seem unharmed, save for those who died in tragic accidents. However, many of the town's women soon learn that they are pregnant, and each gives birth on the same day. As these children become toddlers and then school age, two things become obvious -- one is that they all have white hair and blue eyes, no matter what the parents look like, and two, they have special powers which they can use to kill those who offend them. Soon, Midwich is a town which is falling into ruin, as more and more adults have "accidents". What do these children want and can anyone stop them?
Village of the Damned is based on the 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos and the 1960 film Village of the Damned. As in Carpenter's film, the earlier version deal with a town which dealt with unexplained, wide-spread unconsciousness and the birth of strange children. The 1960 film is considered by many to be a classic, thanks in no little part to its crisp black-and-white photography and the subtle way in which it addresses the notion that Brits must be good hosts, even if it is too a group of homicidal children.
I can remember that when Village of the Damned was announced, many questioned why a remake was necessary. It's no secret that is a fan of science-fiction from the 1950s and 1960s, and he had found critical and audience acceptance with his 1982 remake of The Thing. So, even though a new version of Village of the Damned was a questionable move, perhaps Carpenter was the one person who could pull it off.
But, he didn't.
Before we jump into that, let's look at the film as not only a remake, but an updating. Again, the story is similar to the original tale with the addition of Dr. Verner being the one notable change. So, if the story is close to the source material, then the story has been change for modern times, right? Not really. The main plot is still pretty straight-forward and there's no inclusion of technology or modern advances to make the movie feel like it's clearly a product of today. Midwich is still presented as a quiet, safe town and there are no outlandish or distinctly modern characters here. In fact, the only thing which makes this feel like a decidedly modern film are the deaths in the film, which are somewhat graphic at times. (Which is the only explanation for the R rating.) These deaths feel out of place when compared with the rest of the film. So, why did Carpenter include them? Was it because that's what people expected from one of his films?
Carpenter has never been one to make fast-paced, thrill-a-minute movies. His films rely more on a slow-burn pace in which he ratchets up the tension. Village of the Damned is certainly slow-paced, but there is never any tension here. And this is where it feels like Carpenter's heart truly wasn't in this film. The movie is well-shot (although we don't get enough of Carpenter's moving camera) and competently acted, but it is also terribly boring and utterly lacks in emotion. There are many events in the film which should be emotional (death, birth, accusations of infidelity), but the movie always keeps us at arm's length and it's incredibly cold. How ironic that the children are accused of not understanding emotions, when the movie itself doesn't seem too. The finale brings in a bit of suspense, but, otherwise, the movie plods along, never bothering to explain why no one makes a truly well-thought-out plan on how to kill the kids.
When you first watch Village of the Damned, the first thing which jumps out at you is the number of familiar faces in the film. This notable cast of second-tier stars is completely wasted on a movie which has an interesting premise, but takes it nowhere. I'm a huge fan of Carpenter's, but this is on the list of those Carpenter films which I only watch about once every ten years, just to remind me of why I didn't like it more.
Village of the Damned gets all wiggy on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Shout! Factory. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. Shout! Factory has done a fantastic job with this transfer, as the vidoe looks great. The colors are sharp and bold, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is notable and the depth is fantastic. Carpenter allows places things in the background of the picture and we can really sense that depth here. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We get good stereo effects here, which show nice separation. The surround effects work well when the whispering is introduced. The explosions and the finale offer good subwoofer action.
The Village of the Damned Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras. "It Takes a Village" (49 minutes) is a very detailed making-of featurette. Kudos to those involved, as they were able to get Carpenter and Producer Sandy King for interviews, as well as Special Effects Make-up Artists Greg Nicotero. From the cast, we have Actor Thomas Dekker (who gets immediate props for calling the Nightmare on Elm Street remake a "horrendous mess"), Actress Lindsey Haun, Actor Cody Dorkin, Actress Danielle Keaton, Meredith Salenger, Actress Karen Kahn, Peter Jason, and Michael Pare. The piece begins by focusing on the story and then moves through the cast and characters, eventually looking at the location shooting and the special effects. We get just a smattering of on-set footage here. (Is Carpenter wearing a Duke hat? I'm out!) We get another installment of "Horror's Hallowed Ground" (21 minutes) where host Sean Clark visits Inverness, California to see the locations from the film. "The Go To Guy" (45 minutes) has actor Peter Jason discussing his long history of working on John Carpenter films, having appeared in a half-dozen movies with the director. "Vintage Interviews and Behind-the-Scenes" (25 minutes) reveals that it is a Duke hat. Well, that changes so many things...my whole life is a lie. We get comments from Carpenter and all of the cast members who didn't appear in the modern piece. The extras are rounded out by the THEATRICAL TRAILER and a "Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery".
Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long