Skip to main content

It isn't a matter of hate. It is a biological obligation.

Village of the Damned
(1995)

(SPOILERS) It’s probably easiest to point to Village of the Damned as the beginning of the end of John Carpenter as an estimable director. He was only 47 when it came out, but watching it, you’d be hard-pressed taking away any notion that he cared anymore. I tend to place the beginning of the rot earlier, post-Big Trouble in Little China, when he stopped working with Dean Cundey as DP and hooked up with Gary B Kibbe. Sure, they made In the Mouth of Madness together, and They Live! but the effect isn’t so dissimilar to Spielberg relying on Janusz Kaminski, even when the latter has been utterly unsuited to a picture (the biggest reason the announcement of the Berg vacating the director’s chair for Indy V is no bad thing).

Cundey lifted everything Carpenter did. Kibbe brought everything down, to some degree, exposing in the most unflattering fashion his director’s failings. Village of the Damned looks threadbare, as if no one involved could be bothered. As such, it couldn’t be more different to his previous remake, The Thing, where everyone seemed truly invested and giving 110 percent. The compositions are flat and uninteresting, but whereas, in other previous Kibbe pictures, the material or performances made up for this, here Carpenter seems to have wilfully lined up a selection of slumming-it-never-quite A-listers, given paper-thin characters and so cumulatively confirming the argument that their falls from favour were justified: Christopher Reeve as the lead, the town doctor, Kirstie Alley the NSA rep, Linda Kozlowski, Michael Paré (for about five minutes) and Mark Hamill (in a role that seems largely excised).

Wolf Rilla’s atmospheric and creepy 1960 adaptation of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos is something of a minor classic. In stark contrast to The Thing, Carpenter seems to have zero idea how to make this version sufficiently different or impactful; perhaps his assertion that it would be a “pretty easy movie to make” represented his being too laidback about the challenges he faced. He later dismissed the picture as “getting rid of a contractual assignment”. Yet he rewrote David Himmelstein’s screenplay to make it closer to the original, the concept having been moved away from an alien influence. Unfortunately, the consequence of his decision is that there’s no strong sense of why this Village of the Damned needed to exist; making violence or pregnancy more explicit is hardly sufficient. And the most impactive moments (the guy on a rope who drops unconscious going into the zone) are simple restagings.

For example, he retains the blonde-haired, glowing-eyed kids motif, but shorn of black-and-white photography, they look faintly silly. Indeed, only the decent performances of Lindsey Haun (as the imperious leader) and Thomas Dekker (as the empathic one) prevent them from becoming a complete joke; there’s certainly no spookiness, Carpenter treating their murderous acts in the most rote and least inspired fashion (the one unnerving death comes early on, when the townsfolk are recovering from the force that rendered them unconscious for six hours, and its revealed that one resident fell onto his grill).

With no emphasis on atmosphere or terror, Village of the Damned must focus on plot and motivation, and the effect is starkly unflattering. Sure, there’s a foetus that’s a riff on the classic grey alien, but there’s little attempt to interrogate what it is the children want or why they are there, or even play out those themes between Reeve and Alley. You’re left with a great deal of empty space, twiddling your thumbs waiting for the next kill, conscious of a pervasive sense of undernourishment. Carpenter’s made his movie when The X-Files was hitting its stride; consequently, this comes across as a pallid cash-in, yet one failing to capitalise on the themes of a government willing to treat the population as guinea pigs. Less likely still, they remain at arm’s length and then decide to dispose of the kids, something they’d surely never do if there was the faintest prospect of weaponisation.

Instead, Village of the Damned falls back on the need for the good doctor to blow up the infants, thanks to a wall in his mind (they might just have used, you know, common sense to suss out that something was up). They in turn promise “If we co-exist, we shall dominate you. That is inevitable”. Carpenter throws in references to Charles Fort and Conan Doyle as the polar positions on the mystery, but fails to establish an interesting dynamic between any of the protagonists and antagonists.

Unsurprisingly Village of the Damned bombed – as had everything the director attempted prior to that point during the decade, and everything he would subsequently (although Vampire’s home video afterlife meant it spawned sequels). It may also have been the final nail in the coffin of Carpenter’s desire to remake another Universal property, The Creature from the Black Lagoon (although Memoirs of an Invisible Man bombing is also cited as contributing). If Gary Kibbe was going to lens it, that’s probably not such a bad thing.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

Well, it seems our Mr Steed is not such an efficient watchdog after all.

The Avengers 2.7: The Decapod
A title suggesting some variety of monstrous aquatic threat for Steed and Julie Stevens’ Venus Smith. Alas, the reality is much more mundane. The Decapod refers to a Mongo-esque masked wrestler, one who doesn’t even announce “I will destroy you!” at the top of his lungs. Still, there’s always Philip “Solon” Madoc looking very shifty to pass the time.

Madoc is Stepan, a Republic of the Balkans embassy official and the brother-in-law of President Yakob Borb (Paul Stassino). There’s no love lost between him and his ladies’ man bro, and dark deeds are taking place with the embassy confines, but who is responsible proves elusive. Steed is called in, or rather calls Venus in as a replacement, when Borb’s private secretary is murdered by Mongo. Steed isn’t buying that she slipped and broke her neck in the shower; “I shouldn’t like a similar accident to happen to you” he informs the President.

The trail leads to wrestling bouts at the public baths, where the Butcher…

Genuine eccentrics are a dying breed.

The Avengers 3.11: Build a Better Mousetrap
This really oughtn’t to work, seeing as it finds The Avengers flirting with youth culture, well outside its comfort zone, and more precisely with a carefree biker gang who just want to have a good time and dance to funky music in a barn all night long. Not like the squares. Not like John Steed… who promptly brings them on side and sends them off on a treasure hunt! Add a into the mix couple of dotty old dears in a windmill– maybe witches – up to who knows what, and you have very much the shape of the eccentric settings and scenarios to come.

Cynthia (Athene Seyler) and Ermyntrude (Nora Nicholson) are introduced as a butter-wouldn’t sisters who, concerned over the young bikers riding nearby, threaten that “We’ll put a spell on you”. But this amounts to misdirection in an episode that is remarkably effective in wrong-footing the audience (abetted to by Harold Goodwin’s landlord Harris: “Witches, that’s what they are. Witches”). We might have caus…

You can’t keep the whole world in the dark about what’s going on. Once they know that a five-mile hunk of rock is going to hit the world at 30,000 miles per hour, the people will want to know what the hell we intend to do about it.

Meteor (1979)
(SPOILERS) In which we find Sean Connery – or his agent, whom he got rid of subsequent to this and Cuba – showing how completely out of touch he was by the late 1970s. Hence hitching his cart to the moribund disaster movie genre just as movie entertainment was being rewritten and stolen from under him. He wasn’t alone, of course – pal Michael Caine would appear in both The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure during this period – but Meteor’s lack of commercial appeal was only accentuated by how functional and charmless its star is in it. Some have cited Meteor as the worst movie of his career (Christopher Bray in his book on the actor), but its sin is not one of being outright terrible, rather of being terminally dull.

Do you know what the hardest substance in the world is?

Flawless (2007)

The present day framing of this nifty little heist flick knocks a star off it, since it's truly lousy. Natalie Dormer is a horrendously annoying reporter interviewing a rather ropily aged Demi Moore, neither of them helped by atrocious dialogue. Back in the '60s Moore fares much better as a much passed-over aging manager in a diamond business who is tempted by Caine's cleaner into cleaning the place out. 

Caine's on good form; nothing he hasn't done a hundred times, but full of energy, and the plotting makes it as much fun to work out how he done it as it is to watch the actors. Joss Ackland is surprisingly cast against type as an evil South African while Lambert Wilson has fun as the man investigating who stole what.
***