Beware of these 'Village' people


Now, children. Be nice. Don't impale anyone with a broom today.

A fat lot of good it would do to scold the kids in "Village of the Damned," John Carpenter's remake of the 1960 sci-fi flick. In their platinum-blond wigs, gray outfits and bad attitudes, they make the Hitler Youth look cuddly.

This down-with-people story began with a John Wyndham novel called "The Midwich Cuckoos," so named for the cuckoo, which lays its eggs in other birds' nests. Carpenter, who also remade "The Thing," has updated the 1957 book and 1960 movie to the '90s, but sometimes it's hard to tell. Despite an eerie gloss of modernity and diabolical special effects, the movie feels a bit sheltered from reality.

For example, when the entire town of Midwich is knocked out by an unseen force, a handful of investigators show up, headed by Dr. Susan Verner (Kirstie Alley). They are unprofessional and confused. Where are the folks from Centers for Disease Control when you really need them?

Alley plays her thankless, expository role with stylish bravado, but her character's investigation disappoints. There's a lack of the high-tech goodies we've come to expect to put the science in the science fiction. Gadgets and technobabble might have lent a little credence to this rather fantastic plot, as the blackout leaves 10 women in town mysteriously pregnant.

The cursed pregnancies are predictable, like many of the film's plot "twists," mostly consisting of gruesome new ways for people to die. The enigmatic children, with their murderous indifference and psychic powers, lay waste to anyone who gets in their way. In classic horror tradition, there's a steep body count.

That's another reason the movie runs out of steam; when it's obvious death is inevitable, there's not a lot of suspense. One passes the time by guessing how each victim is gonna go. For instance, when you get a bunch of townspeople on a witch hunt with torches (Torches? Instead of automatic weapons? This is contemporary California!), well, you know what happens when you play with fire.

(A word of advice: Don't bring the kids. They might get ideas.)

Although flawed, "Village of the Damned" is still pretty entertaining sci-fi. It starts with some good scares and creepiness, and considering the dim-bulb plot, it's lit by some high-wattage performances. Christopher Reeve provides empathy and depth; Kirstie Alley is bright and tough; and Linda Kozlowski ("Crocodile Dundee") is pretty good as one of the anguished moms.

Wasted, however, are Meredith Salenger ("The Journey of Natty Gann"), whose intriguing character could have been -- gasp! -- developed; and Mark "Star Wars" Hamill, who's working on the light side of the Force as the town minister. Did he lose a scene on the cutting-room floor?

We'll have to ask the children. They know everything.

"Village of the Damned"

Directed by John Carpenter

Starring Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley and Linda Kozlowski

Released by Universal

Rated R (violence)

** 1/2

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