BLU-RAY REVIEW: JOHN CARPENTER’S VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED / CERT: 15 /DIRECTOR: JOHN CARPENTER / SCREENPLAY: DAVID HIMMELSTEIN / STARRING: CHRISTOPHER REEVE, KIRTSIE ALLEY, LINDA KOZLOWSKI, MICHAEL PARE, MARK HAMILL / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 27TH
Poorly received at the time of its release in 1995, John Carpenter’s reworking of the original British 1960 version of John Wyndham’s novel Midwich Cuckoos isn’t the best of Carpenter’s patchy body of work, but it’s a decent, atmospheric, low-key science-fiction thriller in its own right, suffering inevitably from the fact that it doesn’t really bring much new to the story and so can’t help feeling a bit unnecessary.
The Midwich of Wyndham’s novel (and the original film) has been transported from the sleepy English countryside to San Francisco’s Marin County. A mysterious shadow falls over the village accompanied by an eerie whispering voice - and the entire population falls briefly unconscious. Ten women simultaneously become pregnant, including a few who... y’know, haven’t done it… and nine months later (that’s how it works) ten babies are born but one is stillborn. But these are no ordinary gorgeous goo-goo charmers; it quickly becomes apparent that these nine nippers with their bleached hair, pale complexions and ferociously blue eyes are devoid of emotional response and possessed of extraordinary - and unearthly - abilities. The children work together to subvert the people of Midwich and wipe out those who stand in their way or try to impede the progress of their own mysterious agenda. But the group are at risk from one of their own; young David (Thomas Dekker) is in touch with his human side due to the death at birth of his intended ‘partner’. And it turns out that the children of Midwich aren’t unique…
The film’s greatest strength lies in the fact that Wyndham’s source material is classic edgy British sci-fi storytelling and even embellishments to the original - the hints of similar ‘colonies’ all over the world, an ambiguous finale, a bit of trendy violence and an increased horror content - do little to derail the intriguing narrative. The creepy, largely-mute children, walking in unison, mature beyond their years and coldly dispassionate, are as unsettling here as they were in the stiff-upper-lip British black-and-white original.
And yet it’s the original which remains the better film. Carpenter captures the atmosphere and sense of dread inherent in the story and yet there’s little energy in the production and after a gripping opening twenty minutes the film seems content to just trundle along ticking boxes and offering little to really justify revisiting a story already well-realised over three decades earlier. The performances are all decent - Christopher Reeve reminds us, as he often did, that there was so much more to him than Superman’s cape - but the whole enterprise never really comes alive because it never tries to surprise us or give familiar material a new spin and there’s little evidence of Carpenter’s quirky originality on show. It’s a thoroughly watchable but achingly routine remake which looks stunningly-sharp on its new Blu-ray transfer but in the end it’s really a bit more Village of the Dull than Village of the Damned.
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