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‘Village of the Damned’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 28, 1995

Has John Carpenter lost his mind or just his talent? On the heels of "In the Mouth of Madness" comes the director's rehash of the 1960 classic, "Village of the Damned." Unfortunately, Carpenter simply makes a hash of it.

Based on John Wyndham's horror novel, "The Midwich Cuckoos," as well as the script from Wolf Rilla's original film, this new "Village of the Damned" transfers the setting from an isolated British village to an isolated Marin County town populated by actors we already tend to speak of in the past tense: Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Linda Kozlowski, Mark Hamill and Michael Pare.

It's just another dull day until everybody within a perfect circle surrounding Midwich falls into a Big Sleep and the town is quarantined. Six hours later they all wake up under the watchful eye of one Dr. Verner (Alley), a secretive, chain-smoking government epidemiologist. Ten of the women soon find themselves pregnant, including a virgin and one whose husband has been overseas for a year.

"This is all because of that blackout, isn't it?" asks one mom-to-be.

Duh.

Nine months later 10 babies pop out at exactly the same time. Even spookier is that, with their platinum blond hair and pallid skin, they all look like they have the same father. It's soon apparent that Someone . . . Something . . . Else has been at work. The kids have carbon-copy psyches: They are super-smart, totally emotionless and communally conscious. As they grow just a little older, it turns out they're also mind-reading empaths with monstrous psychic powers, thanks to cobalt eyes that are definitely more creepers than jeepers.

Reeve assumes the role originally played by George Sanders, a sensitive teacher with bricks-for-brains who finally realizes that Midwich has become a battleground for species survival. What citizens remain briefly rise up with blazing torches no less, and once again it's up to Superm . . . um . . . Reeve to save the world.

There are some deviations from the original film, which reflected its era's hang-ups through the idea of reproduction without sex. And in the 1960 film, the teacher's unwanted son was the leader; now it's his daughter Mara (a spooky Lindsey Haun). Most of the women in this version come across as Stepford Mamas. As for Alley and her ever-present cigarette, if "Village of the Damned" was as long as it feels, she'd die of lung cancer on screen.

Carpenter, whose batting average is dipping dangerously low, shows no grasp of character development, plot line or time passage. Much of the film was shot in the same locations Carpenter used for "The Fog," which he still seems to be in. As he does all too often, Carpenter insists on using his own overly familiar heart-pulse-and-cheesy-synthesizer score. And please forget the Hitchcock-like cameos, John: I've seen Hitchcock, and you, sir, are no Hitchcock.

Village of the Damned, at area theaters, is rated R.

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