Director John Carpenter’s 1995 remake of sci-fi/horror classic Village of the Damned has a reputation for being bad, one it doesn’t deserve. Directed by Wolf Rilla and released in 1960, the original Village of the Damned was an adaptation of the book The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham. A critical and commercial hit, Village of the Damned is often regarded as one of the best sci-fi/horror blends out there, and a genuinely creepy, effectively unsettling usage of and twist on the “killer kid” trope.
Village of the Damned got a sequel in 1964 called Children of the Damned, but it disappointed many by not being much like the original, and presenting the titular children as sympathetic characters, instead of the sinister monsters they were before. The sequel isn’t seen as an abysmal effort, but it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to its predecessor in the success and prestige department. Carpenter’s 1995 remake presented an opportunity for a worthy addition to the Village of the Damned lineage, but most would argue it didn’t live up to that goal.
However, Village of the Damned 1995 actually isn’t nearly as bad as its made out to be. Is it an all-time classic? No, of course not. But even average John Carpenter is still better than many other filmmakers.
Just to get it out of the way, no John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned remake is not as good as the first film. This isn’t like when Carpenter remade The Thing, and people pretty much unanimously decided it was better than the original. Still, the remake has many things going for it. Carpenter could direct a horror movie in his sleep by 1995, and his usual visual style and dramatic tone are present and accounted for. Also present is a really, really good, atmospheric score, composed as usual by the director himself. Also in the winning column is the casting of Christopher Reeve as the lead hero, as it’s always nice to be reminded that Reeve wasn’t just a good actor when donning Superman’s cape.
Sure, Reeve’s co-stars Kirstie Alley and Mark Hamill don’t exactly put in their best work in Village of the Damned, but two characters who steal every scene they appear in are the main psychic children. Lindsay Haun is Mara, the daughter of Reeves’ character, and the leader of the evil kid group. She exudes menace and spite, and never once does the viewer believe she could be redeemed. On the other side is David, a young boy who seems to be the only one of the children to feel empathy or compassion. He’s played by Thomas Dekker, future John Connor on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and David is a character the viewer wants to see come out of things okay. There are also some really effective kill scenes, in which the children force Midwich’s adults to commit suicide. Village of the Damned is far from Carpenter’s peak, but it’s also far from his lowest point, and deserves more love.
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