Village of the Damned: Collector's Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (18th July 2016).
The Film

If you’re a horror fan, you’re a John Carpenter fan; that much isn’t up for debate. What divides most of Carpenter’s fans is pinpointing exactly when he “lost” it, and I’m putting “lost” in quotes because I am of the opinion he never did. Sure, a couple of his 90's entries are of questionable quality (I want to love “Escape from L.A.” (1996) more than it allows me to) but there are also some completely solid pictures, too. “In the Mouth of Madness” (1994) is a masterwork. “Vampires” (1998) holds up incredibly well, with a stellar performance from James Woods and a wonderful score from Carpenter himself. Many fans seem divided in regard to his only true remake of that era, “Village of the Damned” (1995). For me, this was my first foray into seeing Carpenter on the big screen and I was a big fan of the film at the time it came out. I’m still a fan now, too, and I think this one is unjustly maligned. It is by no means near the caliber of Carpenter’s most celebrated movies, but it is also far from terrible, featuring some solid performances by both established adults and fresh-faced creepy kids. Add in Carpenter once again providing his own score (co-written with composer Dave Davies) and this is an underrated film that deserves a reevaluation from the “nay” crowd.

The small coastal town of Midwich, California gets a shocking surprise when at approximately 10 a.m. on an otherwise benign morning all of the town’s residents are suddenly rendered unconscious. The source of this outbreak is unclear, though the affected area appears to have clear, defined borders. The government sends in Dr. Susan Verner (Kirstie Alley), an epidemiologist tasked with finding out the cause of the problem. Soon after her arrival the townsfolk begin to wake, with some discovering loved ones perished during the blackout period. Strangely, ten of the town’s women learn they are pregnant and every conception coincides with the unexplained epidemic. This causes confusion as well as numerous interpersonal problems, as some of the women were not sexually active at the time.

Nine months later the ten women simultaneously give birth, though one child is declared stillborn by Dr. Verner and whisked away to her secret lab. The remaining nine children develop in their own homes, with their own “parents”, yet each one looks like the others: platinum white hair, pale skin, and bright blue eyes. They also seem to possess extraordinary powers, including the ability to use mind control and influence the actions of those around them. As they grow older the townsfolk begin to fear them, but there is little they are able to do since the government has the situation “under control”. Dr. Chaffee (Christopher Reeve), the local doctor, finds himself father to Mara (Lindsey Haun), the leader of the alien children. Another resident, Jill McGowan (Linda Kozlowski), finds herself in the opposite position of Dr. Chaffee, as her son David (Thomas Dekker) is the only one of the kids without a partner since his intended other half died during birth.

The kids essentially run the town, executing anyone for even the faintest slight. Dr. Verner’s research has led her to discover there have been similar cases across the globe, each time targeting a remote town. And in each instance the “children” were eliminated when it was learned they were totally evil little bastards. When the residents of Midwich finally stand up to the children, the results are expectedly poor – the mob’s leader is forced to perform self-immolation as the remaining residents look on in horror. The town’s only hope lies in Dr. Chaffee, who has worked hard to construct a mental wall the children cannot see past. With all of the children living together under one roof, in a barn away from downtown, Dr. Chaffee and Jill have to devise a way to destroy them all at once or else face the same fate as all others who have opposed.

Where “Village of the Damned” may have lost some Carpenter fans is the film’s distinct lack of a “Carpenter feel”. Truthfully, this wasn’t the movie the man wanted to make; his interest lying in a redo of “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954), which the studio declined to offer him. Instead he was given the chance to remake this 1960 film, itself based on the book “The Midwich Cuckoos” by John Wyndham. Still, Carpenter pulled out his bag of tricks and made this film his own, utilizing his other frequent D.P. Gary Kibbe, as well as familiar character actors like Peter Jason and the ever-loveable George “Buck” Flower. And, of course, hearing a Carpenter score always helps to set the proper mood for one of his pictures.

Unlike the book and 1960 film, Carpenter’s movie looks at this unique situation from a mostly maternal point of view. Ten of the town’s women are at the center of this situation, so it only seems logical to experience these events through their eyes. Dr. Chaffee is the one father focused on here, due to his recently becoming a widower thanks to Mara’s early abilities snuffing out her “mother”. I thought Reeve did a fine job here as a town leader who struggles to understand these children and wants to have them see humans as equals instead of insects, but once he knows there is no reciprocity he hatches a plan to save everyone. Most of the women are tangential characters other than Jill and Dr. Verner, and I felt Kozlowski played her part well as did Alley, who is awfully sharp and subtle here.

There aren’t many opportunities for the KNB FX crew to show off their work, but a few of the children’s mind control moments are shocking and nasty. One that’s always stuck with me, despite being completely bloodless, is when Mara’s mom is forced to hold her hand in a pot of boiling water (or is it sauce?). Maybe it’s because most viewers can relate to scalding themselves with hot water, so the pain is much more palpable.

I think this film gets a bad rap because it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of Carpenter’s early work. And that’s ok. Not every movie is going to be “The Thing” (1982). This isn’t among his best efforts, nor does it deserve to be lumped in among his worst (which still aren’t that bad). This is a decidedly middle-of-the-road picture, elevated just enough thanks to Carpenter’s assured direction, good pacing, and a strong cast. I find it holds up just as well now as it did when I first saw it over twenty years ago.

Video

While it’s great to see Scream Factory giving this film its due on Blu-ray, unfortunately the master that was used originated with Universal – and they are notorious for botched transfers. The 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image is a major leap from the old DVD, let’s be clear on that, but the results are still lacking. The biggest problem: DNR. Lots of it. The image is far too smooth and waxy, rendering faces looking smeared and fine details virtually non-existent. I can’t for the life of me understand how someone can approve work this bad. On the plus side, colors are bolder than ever, black levels are quite nice, and there’s a solid sense of depth to the picture. This could have been a rock solid transfer if someone hadn’t run the DNR knob up to 11.

Audio

There are English DTS-HD Master Audio tracks available in 5.1 surround sound (48kHz/24-bit) and 2.0 stereo. The multi-channel track offers greater range, allowing for Carpenter’s score to swell with great fidelity. The separation of effects is also handled well, providing a moderately immersive experience. Bass response is decent, with a couple of strong low end moments. Subtitles are available in English.

Extras

This disc is nicely packed, with a lengthy featurette and some vintage materials, as well as the usual promo coverage. It’s just a shame we don’t get a commentary from Carpenter, nor do any of the film’s deleted scenes show up here.

“It Takes a Village – The Making of John Carpenter’s “Village of the Damned”” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 49 minutes and 17 seconds. Carpenter discusses the road to his taking on this project before he and some of the film’s cast delve into the shooting schedule, cut scenes, Peter Jason’s on-set antics, George “Buck” Flower’s awesomeness, and much more. It’s a must-watch if you like the film.

“Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 20 minutes and 58 seconds, as usual this offers a look at the filming locations as they appear today.

“The Go To Guy – Peter Jason on John Carpenter” (1080p) is an interview featurette that runs for 45 minutes and 13 seconds. One of Carpenter’s stock players since 1987’s “Prince of Darkness”, Jason talks about his lengthy relationship with the legendary director.

“Vintage Interviews and Behind-the-Scenes” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 24 minutes and 40 seconds. All of the film’s major players get some face time here, with each discussing their role on the film.

A theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 59 seconds.

A behind-the-scenes photo gallery (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 5 seconds, containing 25 images.

Overall

I am a complete John Carpenter fan in every sense of the word, and I celebrate his ENTIRE oeuvre. I’ll probably always watch this film with rose-tinted glasses and that’s fine by me, because I refuse to believe this film is as bad as many claim. There are some tense moments, good performances and a creepy vibe running through this small town horror. Scream Factory’s hi-def release is a winner, even if the transfer could have been improved.

The Film: B+ Video: B- Audio: B+ Extras: B+ Overall: B

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.