Village of the Damned Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by David Himmelstein
1995, 98 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on April 12th, 2016
Christopher Reeve as Dr. Alan Chaffee
Kirstie Alley as Dr. Susan Verner
Linda Kozlowski as Jill McGowan
Michael Paré as Frank McGowan
Meredith Salenger as Melanie Roberts
Mark Hamill as Rev. George
Thomas Dekker as David
Lindsey Haun as Mara
The town of Midwich falls under the shadow of an ominous cloud that causes the entire population to simultaneously fall unconscious. Four hours later everyone awakens, but things are never the same. During the blackout, the government quarantines the area, as anyone that crosses into the vicinity faints and this has caused numerous accidents. Once the all clear is given, the residents are treated and examined and everyone seems to be okay, but something is wrong. All of the women in town capable of getting pregnant suddenly are, including a young virgin named Melanie. Dr. Alan Chaffee does his best to calm his neighbors’ growing concerns, but must rely on the efforts of government scientist Dr. Susan Verner who has come to supervise the situation. The pregnancies mature at an accelerated rate and within a few months, all the women are giving birth simultaneously.
A few years later, the town is a different place, one drained of energy and fun as the new generation of children is proving most peculiar. They look and dress alike and apparently share a similar consciousness. They also have telepathic powers and can not only read the minds of others, but they can also control them. What follows is a rash of new “accidents” and suicides as the town slowly tears itself apart. These children continue to grow faster than normal in both size and power and something clearly has to be done before they leave Midwich behind and branch out into an unsuspecting world. How can you fight an unstoppable evil and more importantly, who can harm a child? Dr. Chaffee may have a way to keep the children contained, but it will take everything he has to convince them of his loyalty until he can set his plan in motion.
From 1978 to 1988, director John Carpenter (The Fog) enjoyed a successful turn as an unmatched Master of Horror, complete with a ravenous fan base that supported him even when critics did not. Beginning with his third feature Halloween (1978), Carpenter became a household name at least in genre circles. His later efforts were marred by a lack of excitement as though he were simply working as a director for hire, doing the job for the money rather than the passion. He spent many years trying to launch a remake of the Universal classic Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), but when that effort ultimately fell through, he settled for a fresh spin on the Wolf Rilla cautionary tale Village of the Damned (1960).
David Himmelstein wrote the screenplay for this new version, based on the 1960 script written by Stirling Silliphant, George Barclay and Wolf Rilla. The material is updated and the setting transported from England to the United States, with additional content pulled from the original source of inspiration, John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos (1957). The story remains bleak as a loss of individuality and innocence threatens to overtake decent society. Adults must struggle against all that is rational and come to terms with the idea of seemingly innocent children as a force pure evil. Carpenter expertly builds a palpable sense of tension as he ratchets up the suspense, especially in the film’s final act.
Where the picture stumbles is in the need to include random characters seemingly introduced only to serve as cannon fodder for the body count quota of what was popular in mid-1990s horror. Reports of studio interference and a dramatic change in the final edit further suggest that behind-the-scenes meddling may have further complicated matters. Carpenter has been fairly vocal in his disappointment with the end product and seldom is the movie included in retrospectives of his career. This coupled with the limitations of the child actors’ abilities to effectively intimidate quickly sank the movie with both critics and audiences alike.
The adult cast fares much better than their youthful counterparts, as they carry the emotional burden of reacting to a world gone wild. Christopher Reeve (Street Smart) stars as Dr. Alan Chaffee, a man who represents the best in all of us, trying his best to understand his situation and later contain it. Reeve shines in the role and has terrific chemistry with everyone he shares a scene with, including young Thomas Dekker (Fear Clinic) as David, the boy that may have a conscience. Kirstie Alley (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) is the tough-as-nails Dr. Verner, a woman who conceals her true motives from the others, but is quickly in over her head as the children mature. Linda Kozlowski (Crocodile Dundee) is instantly likeable as Jill, the grieving single mother whose husband Frank (Michael Paré, 100 Feet) died while driving when the blackout occurred. She is perhaps best known as a comedic actress, like Alley, and both do a fine job playing against type. Mark Hamill (Body Bags) brings a calming presence to the nightmare as Reverend George, a decent man trying to help the women of the community, especially the frightened young virgin Melanie (Meredith Salenger, Lake Placid). Carpenter regulars Peter Jason (Prince of Darkness) and George “Buck” Flower (They Live) appear in supporting roles and both give terrific performances despite limited screen time.
In the two decades following this release, John Carpenter directed only four more features; each met with diminishing returns. Like many films that failed to connect with audiences upon their initial release, Village of the Damned has improved with age and viewerss may want to go back and give it another chance. I am a huge fan of the original picture and was initially disappointed by this version and still am, but for different reasons. I’d love to see what Carpenter would have done with the material had he been more enthusiastically involved. I also hold out hope that he gets one more shot to knock my socks off with an absolutely wonderful movie. Until that time, there is no shortage of great titles in his filmography, and honestly, even a weaker effort from this man is more satisfying than a lot of the other stuff out there.
Video and Audio:
Village of the Damned celebrates its twentieth anniversary with a solid transfer that preserves the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Colors and black levels are respectable and consistent, and flesh tones remain natural throughout. This does not appear to be a new transfer, but it is superior to the earlier DVD release.
The disc offers both a DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 stereo mix, the former being the stronger option. Surround activity is strong especially when the black cloud arrives or the children are pressing for hidden information. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion and is well balanced with the music and effects tracks.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
Despite its reputation as a lesser effort, Carpenter fans are in for a treat, as Scream Factory delivers another satisfying retrospective documentary with It Takes a Village (49 minutes). On camera interviews with numerous participants including actors Peter Jason, Michael Paré, Thomas Dekker, Lindsay Haun and other assorted cast members. Producer Sandy King, effects artist Greg Nicotero and Carpenter himself also offer their insights into the production. Everyone involved seems mostly satisfied with the results except Carpenter and to a lesser extent, Nicotero, as both men are quick to discuss the limitations of the project.
Character actor Peter Jason is The Go to Guy (45 minutes) and here he reminisces on his extensive career and numerous projects working with Carpenter. He is an affable man with a lot of good stories and it is nice that he gets a chance to share them.
Sean Clark hosts an episode of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (21 minutes) in which he travels to Inverness, CA, in search of the original filming locations, including the school, the church, the graveyard and most exciting (seriously), the faded paint line in the street!
The original EPK is not included, but a collection of uncut vintage interviews (25 minutes) offer a welcome look behind the scenes of the production and feature clips with John Carpenter, Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Linda Kozlowski and director of the 1960 film, Wolf Rilla.
The original theatrical trailer has been included for your viewing pleasure.
A photo gallery (25 images) showcases the production, cast members and marketing materials for the film.