I started out my 31 Days of Halloween by reposting my review of the 1960 classic Village of the Damned and was resigned to see this remake as a point of comparison. I’ve heard incredibly divisive reviews of this 1995 remake ranging from indulgently praising it (“It’s better than the original”) to outright condemning it (“It’s the worst hunk of shit you’ll ever watch”). With that being said I found John Carpenter‘s remake to be fairly bad. Not worst film ever made bad (I’d save that moniker for several films in my Golden Age on the Silver Screen series) but far, far from good. I refer back to the original if I had to recommend one of these films to fans. The original has logic where this tries to recreate the film for the most part (failing) while liberally slathering on a heaping helping of PG-13 gore (mind you this film is rated R).
The coastal town of Midwich suffers from a mass blackout where everyone inexplicably passes out. When they awake several of the women discover their pregnant and birth a series of children that aren’t normal. As the children grow up it becomes apparent to everyone within in the town that these “bundles of joy” might be from another planet.
I remember not loving the original Village of the Damned but at least liking how it presents the story of invaders impregnating women and birthing psychic children; and who can forget the awesome way the kids looked with their matching outfits and white hair that shimmered in black and white? Sadly, it’s things like this that make little sense in the remake. I actually wrote in my notes “Did the kids ask to be dressed alike or did their parents psychically pick matching outfits.” In the original it made sense due to the English school uniform system. It’s bizarre that something like this Carpenter faithfully recreates only to diverge from the story, to its detriment, in other areas.
Let’s just say that the 90s weren’t kind to John Carpenter (and it doesn’t seem like they’ve let up) as he made In the Mouth of Madness (a film I really didn’t like in my original review of it), this, Escape From L.A., Vampires, and Ghost of Mars in rapid succession. On top of that you have a script penned by David Himmelstein whose only written five things with this being his only screenplay credit. There’s two other uncredited writers on this script which includes Larry Sulkis who would eventually pen Carpenter’s Ghost of Mars! The combination of elements proves this film was doomed to failure. The problems lie in what’s added and taken away on top of some Syfy level acting that tries to make this film a stage drama.
I’ll start with what this film takes away and that’s in trying to create a unit of children worth fearing. The original had all the children be evil, led by the philosophical David. In this version David is the lone child capable of feeling emotion and yet he’s never cast out for this. Sure there’s mention of him not being of any use but he’s never seen as a threat and yet these children are supposed to be intelligent and work as one! With David comes his single mother Jill (Linda Kozlowski) and on the other side you have the evil little girl Mara (Lindsay Haun) and her father Dr. Alan Chaffee (Christopher Reeve in his final film pre-paralysis). The issues arise from separating the story to focus on two sets of characters. In the original you had George Sanders being the one trying to control and eventually outsmart the children. By separating the two you have the action abruptly shifting from one character to another in a disjointed manner. I never understood if Alan or Jill was meant to be the hero. At one point Alan’s wife dies and you half expect him and Jill to pair up romantically as well as to defeat their kids. The film also includes a government subplot; well I shouldn’t say subplot as that would imply it’s developed. There’s a few scenes between Dr. Verner (Kirstie Alley) talking to some unseen government force about the children. Like other things in this film you expect the government plotline to go somewhere, maybe emphasizing how the government was involved or something but no, it’s two scenes and dropped despite Verner’s constant pleading to Dr. Chaffee to “rejoin the project.” What project, that’s the question!
Of course we have stereotypical gender tropes that weren’t in the original film. David learns compassion from his single mother who is willing to risk her life to save him because “he’s not like the others.” Alan is the protective, strong, intelligent man that everyone looks to including Jill. I swear, if I had to hear Jill ask him “what do we do” one more time…I dream of punching her in the womb! Alan comes to loggerheads with his evil daughter Mara creating a stereotypical father/daughter rebellion. In many ways I desperately wanted Lindsay Haun to just be Rhoda Penmark in a remake of The Bad Seed. For being 11 at the time Haun is such a piercing villain in this craptastic film. When she condescendingly calls Alan “father” with a smile, she’s obviously eating up playing on his emotions and I loved it. She’s really the only bright spot, acting wise here.
All the atmosphere and eeriness of the original is forsaken in favor of gratuitous violence and for 1995 it’s not even gross violence. You get a man who barbecues himself during the initial blackout and dare I ask what’s Carpenter’s fascination with burned corpses? We see two of them in the film. There’s also a suicide, a massacre, an impaling, an immolation, and a third act evisceration that should have been far gorier than it is. Honestly, being rated R there’s no blood or grue considering how cruel some of these death sequences should be so why include them in the first place? And lest we forget the 1995 CGI. Oh yes it’s in there and it’s pretty bad. It’s generally reserved for the weird eye effects of the children that look like something out of Species. At the end there’s a bizarre sequence showing the inside of Mara’s skull. Why is this important? What power has she developed that we need to see inside her skull? Who knows, it apparently is meant to be cool. It’s elements like these that leave one scratching their head wondering why Carpenter would remake this at all short of a cash grab.
If you’re expecting the actors to be at the top of their game well when your upstaged by an 11-year-old girl, you know it’s bad. All the actors have about as much connection to the story, their characters, and the children as the aliens have to their parents! The majority of the acting is wooden and maudlin. Reeve tries to be a tough father figure and he succeeds as far as the plot will let him but he’s just too uptight and uncomfortable looking (maybe because he was realizing what a stinker this was) to have an effect. Kozlowski is frantic and that’s it. Kirstie Alley, for some strange reason, recites her lines like she’s on stage or in a very old film. Case in point, when she asks a smiling Mara “Why do you smile?” Um, why does that sound so weird? Why not just say “Mara, why are you smiling?” There’s other line readings that sound oddly formal in contrast to the other’s dialogue, almost as if she’s trying to talk like the children for some reason. Alley is fairly over the top in this film and I started to worry she’d develop lung cancer at the end. She smokes in almost all the scenes she’s in. She smokes in a freaking hospital! Mark Hamill is also in this (why?) as the town priest who sounds like Voldemort by hissing his lines. I’m inclined to say a few of these actors owed John Carpenter money, particularly
Eddie sans Cruisers Michael Pare who you’d expect to be a big part of the film but he shows up, complains to Jill about her not getting pregnant (jerk) and dies within the first ten minutes. Did John Carpenter have dirty pictures or something on you Mr. Pare? You and BBQ guy beef it in the first ten minutes!
I’ll mention a few plot elements. Once the children are born Dr. Verner finds it to be “a good question” as to why all the mothers want to keep their babies. You seriously think that’s a question you can’t figure out Doctor? Um, how about that several of these women have wanted children? Or that they don’t believe in abortion? Or the tiny tidbit of you offering $3000 to anyone who had their baby and let you run tests on it! I DON’T KNOW WHY ANYONE WOULD KEEP THEIR ALIEN BABIES! Hell, Dr. Verner you kept the alien fetus we had to see at the end. No one found that to “a good question.” And another thing, I never understood why neither version addresses that a slew of religious groups should be descending on Midwich, after all Melissa Roberts (Meredith Salenger) is a pregnant virgin! Where are all the Christians showing up expecting the birth of Jesus (or the Antichrist for that matter)? Another fact, for a small town apparently information travels slow. For example, there’s talk of all the mysterious accidents and suicides that have sprung up after the birth of the children. In one scene the crazy, drunken school janitor picks on the alien children and drunkenly asks why their not crying, you know like regular kids. This guy has to be drunk because A) Do they look like regular kids to you? B) Have you not heard ANYTHING that’s been going on in town over the last 11 years drunky? and C) Yeah pick on the kids that travel in a group and dress alike, that’s a swell idea. Suffice it to say he
goes on to live a fruitful life dies horribly. And one shouldn’t ignore the end when John Carpenter outright steals from Frankenstein with a fire and pitchfork mob!
The film ends with Jill and David leaving town and planning to start over in a town where no one knows them. Sweetie, I hate to break it to you but your kid has white hair and is weird as hell, he’s going to stick out. Supposedly this was to leave the door open for some type of sequel and thank the good Lord that didn’t happen. Ultimately, for every scene where John Carpenter tries to remain faithful are about ten more than just don’t make sense. Gone is any sense of tension or a feeling of unsettling terror that builds to a crescendo, instead you have predictable scares that are executed with a wet slap and all the terror of a Nickelodeon show. I don’t love the original Village of the Damned, but it’s far better than anything churned out in this remake except for Lindsay Haun. She’s bad-ass but not enough to make this worth watching.
Type of Horror: Children, Gore, Alien
Fright Meter: 0
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