VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED *** USA 1995 Dir: John Carpenter. 97 mins
Carpenter’s modern interpretation of the John Wyndham novel (and its much admired 1960 film adaptation) relocates the story to small town USA and opens on a suitably uncanny note. Whispering voices and ominous music on the soundtrack accompany the quiet invasion of sunny Midwich, as a shadowy force causes everyone to pass out, ultimately resulting in eight inexplicable pregnancies – and the rise of a telepathic super-intelligent band of blonde children.
Carpenter’s menacing use of montage and beautifully composed widescreen visuals capture the sense of a town overcome by an imperceptible threat in a similar fashion to THE FOG. He gets the best out of a typically excellent cast, from regulars like Buck Flower (gloriously nutty as a mad caretaker who smacks the kids around shouting “Pissants!”) and big stars like Mark Hamill (as a priest) and Christopher Reeve, in his final pre-accident role as the doctor hero. A chain-smoking Kirstie Alley forms part of a cynical subplot suggesting government-centered conspiracy theories around the kids’ origins.
The eerie mood does sap a little whenever the evil sprogs open their mouths or their eyes glow a hokey shade of red and green : somehow, the dour-faced British moppets of the original were much more effective. Forsaking the subtler approach of the 1960 film due to the 1990’s demand for action, Carpenter falls back on quite elaborate OMEN-style “accidents” as the adult cast are despatched, and Universal horror-style scenes of Midwich’s remaining grown-ups taking to the streets with fiery torches. The climax showcases immolations, downed helicopters, shootouts and explosions, but it never fulfils the promise of its first half hour. Nonetheless, “March of the Children”, the centrepiece of Carpenter’s evocative score with Dave Davies, is among the director’s finest compositions.
Review by Steven West