Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Night of Terror #2: 'John Carpenter's Village of the Damned'

I love John Carpenter, and I love (OK, really like) the original 1960 Village of the Damned, but for some reason I never got around to seeing this before today. Maybe it's because as a former evil blond-headed creepily articulate child I thought it would hit too close to home. Or maybe I just thought a mid-90s Carpenter remake starring Kirstie Alley wouldn't be A-game Carpenter.

I'll say no more on the former point but on the latter: Ehhh, yes and no (Christie is fine, incidentally, in the little screen time she actually has). There are sequences in this that rank as some of the best, or at least the most terrifying, that Carpenter has ever done. Most of the movie's big shock scenes have to do with people being compelled by the evil blond psychic alien kids to hurt or kill themselves, and unlike in, say, The Happening, it never comes off as risible in the slightest. Watch the early scene in which we first see the kids' psychic powers in action - and the kid in question's "mother" is mesmerized into plunging her hand into a boiling-hot pot of soup. This scene is vintage Carpenter - suspenseful, scary, and masterfully executed, and overall the movie is as smartly engaging as you would expect from old JC.

There are some downsides, though. I usually jump for joy when I see Carpenter's name under "music by" in the opening credits, but his score here is weirdly listless, despite being characteristically his work. And I'm sorry but the glowing-eye effect that this movie leans on so heavily is just silly. I'm surprised to see it from a Carpenter movie since he's usually so artfully restrained, and the original movie provides a pretty good template for those sequences as is. But there's no better filmmaker than John Carpenter at conveying the kind of isolation experienced by the inhabitants of the titular village.

I really want to see a movie about Buck Flower and Mark Hamill's characters just hanging out. They could have called it Village of the Hams.

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