Friday, November 27, 2009

Reeling Backward: "Village of the Damned"

So here's my rule on film remakes: Unless you've got a really original new take on the material, or technology has advanced significantly enough to do amazing things they couldn't do in the first movie, best to leave it alone.

If your goal is something like, "I want to bring this amazing story to today's audiences, who were too young to see the first film" -- well, then spring for some NetFlix accounts so people can watch the original.

Case in point: John Carpenter's 1995 remake of the 1960 horror cult classic, "Village of the Damned." You know the one -- creepy blonde-haired kids with psychic powers wreak havoc upon the townsfolk. It's basically one big kiddie fantasy, where they get to boss around the grown-ups, and do away with them messily if they try to stand up for themselves.

Other than adding color and a few low-rent special effects that aren't that much of a leap over what they could do 35 years earlier, Carpenter's "Village" doesn't do anything the first film didn't. If it had come out first, it would be remembered as a cheesy classic. Instead, it's just cheese.

When the opening credits first came on, I have to confess I looked at the cast and snickered to myself, "What a gang of has-beens!" The film stars Christopher Reeve (in his last movie role before his tragic paralysis), Kirstie Alley (already plumping up and forced to hide behind a lot of long coats and black turtlenecks), Mark Hamill, Linda Kozlowski (Mrs. Crocodile Dundee) and Michael Paré (who mercifully dies a few minutes in).

It's like a parade of aging stars whose careers have petered out, desperately begging the audience, "Hey, remember me from the '80s?!?"

Anyway, the plot is pretty much the same as the original film. A strange phenomenon descends on the tiny town of Midwich, causing everyone to faint for six hours. Anyone who crosses over the town border falls under the same spell. There's only a few casualties -- including a guy working the barbecue grill at a school picnic, who toasts himself to a nice charred brown. But a bunch of women turn up pregnant, all giving birth on the same night.

Alley plays a mysterious government scientist who's charged with watching over the development of the children, and Reeve is the town doctor and the father of the leader of the killer albinos, who murders his wife while still an infant.

Kozlowski plays the school principal and the mother of the one strange child who seems to feel compassion for others.

There are some creepy moods as the nine white-haired ones traipse around in perfect unison, with each girl paired with a boy. Except for Kozlowski's son, David, whose mate was stillborn and kept in a tube by Alley.

Of course, it's not too much of a leap to say that the children are actually aliens implanted into a group of human mothers, with the goal of reproducing and taking over the world. They can read minds and twist people to their collective will, with their eyes glowing whenever they exert their influence.

I guess it's scary the first time the killer kids force some grown-up to off themselves, but after the fifth or sixth time someone goes into a trance and proceeds to drive his truck into a gas tank or point his gun barrel at his own chin, it gets to be downright boring.

"Village of the Damned" is not a terrible movie, but it just doesn't have any purpose for being. If I had psychic powers, I'd have used them to convince John Carpenter not to do this remake.

2 stars

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