Village of the Damned

Village of the Damned ★★★★

Why are John Carpenter's women's pictures so undervalued? Village of the Damned and Ghosts of Mars are almost always written off as lesser works in the director's oeuvre and yet I find myself endlessly fascinated by the stories they tell. Maybe even more importantly Ghosts of Mars and Village of the Damned are films that are so distinctly John Carpenter that I'm surprised auteurists haven't embraced these works more fully. Their dismissal is completely baffling to me.

I think one of the biggest reasons why I enjoy Village of the Damned (and horror in general really) is because it's never afraid to tell a narrative from a woman's viewpoint. While other genres of film have often shied away from female narratives, fears and concerns horror has always embraced those stories and it's apparent in Village. The horror at the center is about pregnancy and child rearing. It is maybe a little troubling that Carpenter's views on the female characters here are so conservative likening their desires to motherhood, but I think those are held off enough with Kirstie Alley's character who has risen in a primarily male field and serves as a different kind of woman to everyone else. She's even thoroughly confused as to why these women wouldn't want abortions. She's clearly the liberal voice in a sea of conservatism. What I like though is that none of these women's decisions regarding their mysterious pregnancies are shamed. The women keep their children and are given the space to grieve when necessary. One woman loses her child in labour and spirals downward until she hits a kind of breaking point. Her pain is never looked down upon either. Their emotions and actions are real and that's incredibly respectful of the women in this picture.

Aside from the gender politics Village of the Damned is just a lot of fun as well. It takes it's b-movie premise and runs with it. Carpenter has always been a taut action director and the big shootout sequence here is thrilling. Carpenter is a consummate pro and he really elevates a lot of this material by sheer force of skill. The scene at the end where Christopher Reeve is trying to keep his mind free so they can't control him while he waits for his bomb to blow up shouldn't work, but it does because Carpenter is a master of pacing. The Village of the Damned isn't a perfect film by any means but it damn sure deserves more respect than what it gets because it's seriously undervalued. The more I dwell on John Carpenter the more I'm convinced he's one of the very best American directors there ever was.

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