Release Date(s)1995 (April 12, 2016)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A-
Village of the Damned is a remake of the 1960 movie of the same name. It was directed by John Carpenter, released by Universal Pictures in 1995, and features a plot about a small town being run by a group of telepathic children with all of the adults under their thumb. The adults soon realize that they must find a way of stopping the children before they’re killed for disobeying them. The movie flopped when it was originally released, but due to Carpenter’s involvement, it managed to gain a small cult audience over time.
There were lots of reasons why Village of the Damned didn’t do so well when it was released and didn’t have a strong cult following afterwards. Much of the blame was laid at the Oklahoma City bombings that occurred that year, as far as the box office take was concerned. It also seemed like a film without much of a John Carpenter spark to it. He later admitted that the movie was a "contractual assignment" and producer Sandy King admitted that they were both more interested in doing a remake of The Creature of the Black Lagoon, which was also up for grabs at the time. The studio, however, insisted that Carpenter and King take on Village instead, and being forced into making a movie usually doesn’t yield the best results. It didn’t help that the studio ostensibly tampered with the movie in editing before its initial release anyway.
That all being said, Village is not a terrible movie at all, but it’s a fairly mediocre one, especially for a John Carpenter movie. There are flashes of some decent ideas and special effects, but overall, it winds up feeling very run of the mill. Carpenter did attempt to do something a little different from the original film by showing events through the mothers’ point of view instead of the fathers’. Of course, making comparisons between Carpenter’s other films and this one is unfair, but when you look at the original version of The Thing from Another World and compare it to his remake, it’s clear how vastly different and authoritatively-driven it is. That’s just not the case with Village of the Damned, which feels more like an updated clone of the original.
For me personally, I simply don’t care for movies about killer children. It’s just not a section of the horror genre that I have a temperament for. I also seem to remember there being a rash of small towns-going-berserk type movies during that timeframe, most of them being Stephen King TV adaptations. It also wasn’t different enough to make it worth the effort. The most positive thing about the movie was Christopher Reeve’s performance, but overall, the movie simply felt uninspired. Carpenter later admitted that it wasn’t a movie that he was all that excited about making, but still maintained that he was proud of what they ended up with, which is fine. Despite its very small cult following, it’s simply not one of Carpenter’s best films, which is sadly the case for most of his output during the 1990’s and beyond.
Even if it’s not a great movie, the transfer found on Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition release of it is a strong one, with some minor hiccups along the way. First of all, it’s a very natural and organic-looking presentation with strong detailing and a lush color palette. It’s also sourced from a very clean print of the film, so there’s little in the way of dirt or debris on display. Black levels are pretty deep, but contrast levels seem a tad too high. There has been some edge enhancement applied to the presentation, but it may be due to it likely being a carryover transfer, which is the case for a lot of Universal-sourced transfers. For the audio, you get two options: English 5.1 and 2.0, both DTS-HD tracks. The 5.1 doesn’t add much as it’s mostly a stereo presentation anyway, but there is some decent ambience and score in the rear speakers from time to time. Overall, the 2.0 track is probably the more appropriate track of the two. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
What this release gets right better than anything else is its supplemental material. For my money, the extras are far more entertaining than the movie itself. They begin with an excellent mini-documentary It Takes a Village: The Making of John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned, which gets brutally honest about the problems during and after the filming of the movie, even featuring some stills from some of the deleted scenes; a new Horror’s Hallowed Grounds with Sean Clark visiting some of the filming locations; The Go To Guy: Peter Jason on John Carpenter interview; a set of vintage interview snippets with Carpenter, actors Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Linda Kozlowski, Mark Hamill, and director Wolf Rilla; vintage behind-the-scenes footage; the movie’s original theatrical trailer; and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery.
The bottom line is that even though I don’t really appreciate Village of the Damned all that much, this new Blu-ray release certainly helps to see it through the eyes of the people who made it and see their reactions to its reception. I certainly don’t hate the movie, but it’s just not very good. However, the extras definitely make this a release worth checking out, and if you’re a John Carpenter fan at all, it’s a no-brainer.
- Tim Salmons