With "Village of the Damned," a sleek and scary remake of the 1960 classic thriller of the supernatural, John Carpenter takes us back to a beautiful Northern California coastal community, the very same Marin County locale seen in his spooky 1980 film "The Fog."
With ease and dispatch, Carpenter acquaints us with key locals in the close-knit town: its doctor (Christopher Reeve), school principal (Linda Kozlowski) and clergyman (Mark Hamill), all of whom are likable, intelligent, unpretentious types. Just as we're beginning to envy the laid-back quality of life in this beautiful and picturesque village, we're stupefied to witness in an instant its every living creature losing consciousness, dropping in their tracks. After several hours in limbo during a sunny afternoon, everyone comes to, seemingly no worse for wear, although there have been some fatalities, the principal's husband (Michael Pare) among them. Soon after the funerals, 10 young women, including a virginal teen-ager (Meredith Salenger), find themselves pregnant.
Into an atmosphere charged with conflicting emotions--people are frightened but also thrilled with the mysteriously simultaneous pregnancies--arrives a federal government epidemiologist (Kirstie Alley), a tart-tongued, chain-smoking loner who suspects that the women have been impregnated via xenogenesis--i.e., by alien beings during that inexplicable blackout.
Drawing upon John Wyndham's 1957 novel "The Midwich Cuckoos" as well as the earlier film, writer David Himmelstein and Carpenter shrewdly treat Alley's opinion almost as a throwaway line, shifting our focus to the larger question of how to deal with the children after they're born--no one takes up Alley's no-pressure suggestion to think about abortion. The infants start demonstrating deadly telepathic powers, including the ability to read the minds of their elders. The youngsters, who tend to pack and seem to share a common mind, are like ultimate Hitler Youths; sober, single-minded, blue-eyed, blond Aryans.
Carpenter's stylish authority is crucial in keeping this lethal predicament and its fast-developing consequences from seeming too implausible to accept. As a result, the children, in their indifference to emotion and suffering, can emerge as symbolic of the effects of dehumanizing media images upon today's youngsters. The film also has subtle and various implications for women's rights and roles and also for the Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest among competing species. "Village of the Damned" is the kind of supernatural allegory that invites you to find your own meanings in it as well as catching you up in its increasing tension, an effect underlined by the eerie, ominous score composed by Carpenter and Dave Davies.
"Village of the Damned" is a good-looking, well-wrought film with some knockout special effects, some dark humor and crisp portrayals. As fine as the stars are, amid a large and capable ensemble cast, the two standouts are Lindsay Haun as Reeve's icy, brilliant and implacable daughter and Thomas Dekker as Kozlowski's angelic-looking son, the one child among the towheads who suggests the possibility of possessing a capacity for human emotion and compassion.
* MPAA rating: R, for some sci-fi terror and violence. Times guidelines: Parental caution is advised because of the depiction of small children as possessing aggressive, deadly powers and for brief but gruesome images.
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'Village of the Damned' Christopher Reeve: Dr. Alan Chaffee Kirstie Alley: Dr. Susan Verner Linda Kozlowski: Jill McGowan Michael Pare: Frank McGowan Meredith Salenger: Melanie Roberts Mark Hamill: Reverend George A Universal Pictures presentation of an Alphaville production. Director John Carpenter. Producers Michael Preger, Sandy King. Co-producer David Chackler. Executive producers Ted Vernon, Shep Gordon, Andre Blay. Co-executive producers James Jacks, Sean Daniel. Screenplay by David Himmelstein; based on the book "The Midwich Cuckoos" by John Wyndham and the 1960 screenplay by Stirling Silliphant and Wolf Rilla and George Barclay. Cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe. Editor Edward A. Warschilka. Visual effects supervisor Bruce Nicholson. EFX supervisors Robert Kurtzman, Gregory Nicotero, Howard Berger. Costumes Robin Bush. Music John Carpenter and Dave Davies. Production designer Rodger Maus. Art director Christa Munro. Set decorators Don De Fina, Rick Brown. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.