Village of the Damned (1995)
The original 1960 version of Village of the Damned is regarded as a classic of science fiction film genre and it remains one of the creepiest movies of its kind. The mixture of nuclear age paranoia and “evil children” reflect the social concerns of the decade. The 1995 remake directed by John Carpenter, trades subtlety for more explicit chills and violence. That is not to say it doesn’t show the director’s usual creative flair and the basic premise of the story remains effective, drawing on the original 1960 screenplay and John Wyndham’s novel, The Midwich Cuckoos. However, despite being stronger in content than the original film, Carpenter’s movie actually has a softer tone overall and opts for a less bleak and somewhat incongruous ending.
In the tiny, idyllic town of Midwich, a strange mist causes the entire population to fall asleep, and when everyone awakes the town physician (Christopher Reeve) discovers that ten women, including his wife and a local teenage virgin, have mysteriously become pregnant. Their children are all born on the same day, with matching white hair and strange glowing eyes. They grow at an accelerated rate, thus raising Reeve's suspicion that they are not of earthly origin. The children can control minds and wreak havoc with the power of their thoughts, so of course they must be destroyed. Now before you shout "xenophobia", it should be noted that attempts to communicate with the aliens are made, yet prove fruitless. The alien children wish to dominate over man.
Village of the Damned is driven by a measured cast of character actors, such as Kirstie Alley, Mark Hamill and Peter Jason. The depiction of a close-knit community is credible as the town inhabitants struggle to understand what has happened to them. There are some superficial updates to the narrative, one of which alludes to the government doing more harm than good during their clumsy intervention with the aliens. The effects work by the KNB EFX group is relatively minimal and the emphasis is still very much on tone and atmosphere. Sadly, despite several well-conceived ideas Village of the Damned never seems to assert itself in any particular way. It struggles to find its tone, which is unusual for John Carpenter.
Ultimately it is Christopher Reeve who dominates this somewhat superfluous remake with sufficient credibility to hold the viewer's attention. Once his character establishes how to break the alien children’s mind control there is a genuine sense of tension. This was his last major role before the tragic accident that led to his paralysis. As mentioned previously there’s a concession towards a more mainstream ending than the original film, which is a little weak. Yet despite its flaws, Carpenters version of Village of the Damned is still intriguing and shows the occasional flash of innovation. However, if you want chills of a subtler nature, check out the original version. It runs twenty minutes shorter and is twice as spooky.