Monday, June 17, 2013

John Carpenter: Village of the Damned

I knew coming into this retrospective that Village of the Damned was going to be the shortest review of this series because I had already seen it, already knew that there was nothing to talk about, and already knew that there is nothing in the film that would tell you it’s a John Carpenter film. I was hoping a second viewing would change my thoughts on the film, but alas, there just isn't, well,  anything to say substance to say about the film . Even Elvis, the most banal of Carpenter’s films, inspired me to write something because at least I hadn't seen that film before, and it was of some significance considering it was Kurt Russell’s first film with Carpenter (not to mention it killed in terms of TV ratings). Village of the Damned, though, nothing. It’s about as dull as a film calling itself a horror film can get. I have no idea what possessed Carpenter to make the film — audiences in 1995 weren’t necessarily breaking down theater doors to get to horror films — or why he would even begin to think that a remake of the 1960 film (of all the films to remake?) was a good idea.

In fact, the film fills me with so little motivation to say anything about it that I reprint for you here the equally uninspired plot synopsis DVD Verdict:

A coastal hamlet is struck by some unknown force, leaving ten women suddenly pregnant. Nine women give birth to a white-haired boy or girl at exactly the same time. Clearly, these children are evil. Soon the town learns that these kids possess telepathic powers, shoot crazy light from their eyes, and cause folks to commit suicide. It's up to a few brave adults to find out the truth about where these kids really came from. The film features Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, and Mark Hamill.

Like the 1960 film, Carpenter’s, too, is based off of the The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham. However, unlike the 1960 version of Wyndham’s novel, Carpenter seems to adhere more closely to the super-serious tone of the source material. No one seems to be having any fun in this film. And with a such an obviously campy premise, it’s a shame that Carpenter decided to do what amounts to a straight-up adaptation. If ever there was a film premise that leant itself to being a goofy B-movie, this is it. But everyone is playing it straight (only Mark Hamill, who is gloriously hammy, seems to see the movie for what it is...or maybe he’s just that bad), and it makes the film extremely difficult to get through.

And I should be clear about one thing: it’s not as though Village of the Damned is shoddily made—because it isn’t. This is indeed a good looking movie. Once again, Gary Kibbe does some nice work as DP, especially in utilizing the widescreen in a couple of opening scenes that establish an eerie, displacing tone (there’s a great shot of everyone in the town passed out, faced down on the ground for no apparent reason). The score has a tinge of Wes Craven’s score to A Nightmare on Elm Street in it, giving the film an appropriate, otherworldly feel. And the Northern California locations look really nice in widescreen and come across as a little displacing with that music playing in the background.

Unfortunately, that’s all within the first 15 minutes of the film. So, yeah, the opening has promise as a nice little horror/sci-fi movie — it’s at times a nice-looking, professionally made film (something one can never, no matter how bad the film, take away from Carpenter), but the longer the film goes, the clearer it becomes that the film’s 22 million dollar budget — and the talent behind the camera — seems wasted on such an arbitrary film project. I mean, maybe I’m way off here, but I never cared for the original Village of the Damned (In regards to “killer children” movies, I always liked Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s 1976 Who Can Kill a Child? and Sean MacGregor’s 1974 Devil Times Five better), and so I never understood why anyone would need to see it again (in color, no less). I alluded to this in my last review of In the Mouth of Madness and in the opening paragraph of this piece, but the horror film was at its nadir in 1995 — both in terms of popularity with the masses and creative output. Since there was really no demand for remakes at the time, especially in regards to horror remakes, there doesn’t seem to be any personal or creative motivating factor that comes through the screen that tells me why this film had to be made ; it just kind of sits there. And that’s what makes Village of the Damned seem a lot worse than it really is. It’s just a movie. And I hate to think that John Carpenter willingly put his name above just another movie — but he did.

Carpenter’s follow-up would reunite him Kurt Russell for the long-awaited second adventure of the iconic, cult hero Snake Plissken. The two would sit down and write the script together, and the project was on its way to securing a 50 million dollar budget from Paramount. Unfortunately, the decision was made to not make Escape from LA a sequel to the cult hit Escape from New York, but rather a “re-introduction” to the character in hopes of not alienating a new, potentially younger audience for the film. The result was the first of three films that acts as a kind of deconstruction of the western genre that Carpenter is so fond of; however, since Carpenter and Russell didn’t make the film as sequel, the film was also a repetitive, disappointing return for the Plissken character.


Post a Comment