“Village of the Damned” is a risible remake of the British 1960 sci-fi classic. With John Carpenter at the helm, potential seemed to be there for a scary and dramatically legitimate updating of John Wyndham’s story of ghastly albino kids with glowing eyes who create mayhem in a small town. But awful scripting and an unimaginative approach to re-imagining material’s potential have left Universal with a theatrical in-and-outer on its hands.
Times certainly have changed since MGM produced the original low-budget, black-and-white quickie about malevolent children mysteriously born at the same time who employ superior cerebral skills and mental telepathy to gain the upper hand over adults. Thirty-five years ago, tale was read as an allegory for a sinister Communist takeover and the Catholic church was so incensed by the plot element of virgin birth that it condemned the picture.
With those concerns now irrelevant, it would have seemed incumbent upon Carpenter and screenwriter David Himmelstein to develop a new angle from which to view the threat posed by these enfants terribles. But unlike, for instance, the subversively anti-Reaganite undercurrents in Carpenter’s 1988 “They Live,” there are no unsettling frissons here to lend any dimension to the minimal surface thrills of the kids asserting mind control over normal citizens by staring at them with radiating eyeballs.
Set-up is moderately effective, as the town of Midwich, a small Northern California community (lensed in Inverness and Point Reyes, where Carpenter previously shot “The Fog”), is hit by a mysterious force that knocks out the entire population for six hours. Soon thereafter, 10 women in town turn up pregnant, resulting in a mass birthing supervised by local medic Alan Chaffee (Christopher Reeve) and brash outside scientist Dr. Susan Verner (Kirstie Alley).
By the time they are a few years old, the kids — who sport platinum hair (the wigs on the girls are particularly obvious) and dour expressions — begin sticking together, walking two-by-two in formation, being taught in special classes and exercising practice sessions in domination. The ringleader, Mara (Lindsey Haun), a particularly formidable little girl, is Chaffee’s daughter, and when Mara trains her glowing green-then-red eyes on her mother, Mom obediently jumps off a cliff into the Pacific.
More suicides-on-command follow but, just as the kids prepare to seize control, Chaffee figures out a way to thwart their brain-penetrating powers and do them in. Pic ends with a big closeup that immediately suggests the potential for a sequel but, unlike the original, which was succeeded by the inferior “Children of the Damned,” there will be little clamor for a follow-up to this one.
Pic’s one notable adjustment lies in shifting more importance to the women in the story, which would have been a fine idea were it not for the silly roles they have to play and the atrocious dialogue they have to speak. Alley’s high-handed interloper is just the sort of imperious smarty-pants audiences like to see cut down to size, while the mother characters, understandably concerned about their weird offspring, are all dully directed to the same level of neurotic anxiety. Sex change of the top-dog tiny tyrant works well.
Male thesps, including Reeve as the perturbed doc and Mark Hamill as an overwrought cleric, don’t fare any better.
Special effects, mostly repetitive uses of the glowing-eye routine, are good enough, but pic relies far too much on shock cuts and heavily amplified use of synthesized score for impact.