|One of Hollywoods most celebrated genre filmmakers, Village of the Damned marks JOHN CARPENTERs 17th feature as a director. Calling the project "an opportunity to remake a kind of classic science fiction thriller," Carpenter drew his primary inspiration from John Wyndhams 1957 Novel, The Midwich Cuckoos.
When MGM and filmmaker Wolf Rilla first bought Windhams tale to the big screen in 1960 at the height of the Cold War, many critics interpreted the film, titled Village of the Damned, as yet another alien invasion masking the threat of communism, a theme prevalent in many of the sci-fi films produced during the 1950s.
CHRISTOPHER REEVE, who became an overnight star as the man of steel in the 1978 blockbuster Superman, portrays the films heroic and sympathetic town doctor who must confront an alien threat not only to his own tranquil village, but to the planet as well. Reeve notes, "When they made the movie in 1960, the evil alien, if you will, was Communism. This was the threat, the disease, that could overtake this healthy American organism of liberty and democracy."
"With the demise of the Cold War, we don't have that threat anymore," he continues. "But we have something else - the indifference to violence. And the message in this film is the banality of violence, of evil. Death has no consequence, and, metaphorically, we see that here as a kind of infection, which certainly exists in our culture today."
Emphasizing his point, Reeve says, "What these children in the story represent are kids in our society without remorse, without conscience, children with no sense of what life and death actually mean. Today, we have evil perpetrated by children, young offenders who are so sated by Images of violence, they have no remorse for having shot somebody because, to them, death isn't real."
"It's difficult for us as parents, as grown-ups, to see children as the enemy," the actor, also a father of three, adds. "My character, like any parent, has a hard time believing that his sweet little baby could be so evil, so malignant a monster. That's very hard for an adult to accept."
Co-star LINDA KOZLOWSKI (Crocodile Dundee), whose character Jill McGee gives birth to one of the children, concurs, stating "I think people will relate to the film because we are having lots of problems with our youth today. The message here is one of hope, that humanity and human beings will be good in the end and will triumph."
"This seems to fit right into the kind of movies that I've always been attracted to as a filmmaker," admits director Carpenter, who has portrayed themes of isolation and alienation in such diverse works as his 1982 remake of The Thing, They Live, and Starman.
"The real plot of the movie, in which aliens descend and impregnate Earth women who give birth to hybrid children, is kind of a tabloid news story nowadays," Carpenter continues. "The novel had a lot of rich textures that I felt weren't in the original film, and I wanted to recapture them, bring them out a bit more. I retained the feeling of the original novel, but hopefully brought it into the '90s."
Echoing the sentiments of the film's stars, the filmmaker adds, "In the movie, we get into the idea of giving birth to children who are very strange and different. They may not have any feelings, or may not care about other beings as beings, but simply as objects. They may be sociopathic. This seems to echo some of the things that are going on in the world today. I think the film is a classic science fiction story, and we have added layers of our modern dilemmas to it."
Carpenter' s new film changes the gender point-of-view from which the narrative is told. He relates that "The original movie and the novel were written from a masculine point-of-view. This was an opportunity to explore the female aspect of the story and their reaction to the situation."
Filmmaker Wolf Rilla, who directed the original Village of the Damned a generation ago, and who came from his home outside of Cannes, France to visit Carpenter's northern California set for a few days during production, found this new modernized version quite fascinating.
The retired Rilla offers, "We made (our) film at a period when the old male chauvinism was still very strong. John has brought another element into (his film), one of feminism, which is quite right. One discusses these sort of things more openly than we did in the '50s and '60s, when people would be uptight about sex and anything to do with it."
"Our sensibilities have changed so much since the '50s," Carpenter observes. "Those were the days in movies where you couldn't say the word 'pregnant.'" The original Village of the Damned was condemned by the Catholic Church because it contained a virgin birth.
The director retained this controversial image in one of his female characters, a despondent teenager played by MEREDITH SALENGER (The Journey of Natty Gann). He also populated his film adaptation with a rich assortment of strong women. In the film, he has incorporated Kozlowski as a pregnant widow; a wife who is haunted by a child conceived while her husband is away on business; a barren religious zealot who welcomes the birth as a miracle, and KIRSTIE ALLEY, in a role that represents a real deviation for the actress, as an insensitive scientist who tries to dissect the dilemma without bonding emotionally with the townsfolk whose lives begin to unravel around her.
"There is a big mistrust of science and scientists, and all the other characters see her as a villain," Carpenter relates. "She's dispassionate about their problems because she doesn't live in the town. And, that's what science is supposed to be - dispassionate. But, I think she's one of the heroes."
Alley, who has won a pair of Emmy Awards for both comedy (Cheers) and drama (David's Mother), describes her role by saying, "She's not the villain of the film. She's an antagonist, the indifferent one. She's the exposition to all the scientific facts in the film. She's not particularly compassionate, not really a team player. But she becomes afraid like everybody else."
Carpenter also further develops the female perspective on the story by presenting a girl as the leader of this brood of unearthly children, played by nine-year-old LINDSEY HAUN (HBO's Deep Red). While Wyndham's book portrayed no particular child as the group's leader, the children in the original film version were led by a 10-year-old boy (Martin Stephens).
While Carpenter praises Stephens' work as "tremendous," his acclaim for Haun is no less flattering. Admitting that "the hardest thing about this film was finding a little actress to play the role of Mara, the leader of the alien children," he challenged all the child aspirants auditioning for the crucial part with a three-page dramatic scene during which Mara recites to her father how her species will survive and dominate humanity.
"A lot of the dialogue I've used was in the book," the director declares. "Wyndham wrote this very rich scene, but a difficult scene to play in terms of dialogue. Lindsey came in and read it cold. She was just brilliant, and chilling. And then I knew I was in business."
Carpenter emphasizes another fresh, novel piece of business he incorporated into his updated retelling - "the glimmer of hope that is portrayed in this story. One of the children is a little different than his peers here. He is more human than the others because he expresses feelings."
Embodied by six-year-old screen veteran THOMAS DEKKER (The Little Rascals, Star Trek: Generations), the character of David was infused with human qualities, per Carpenter, because "in trying to make this a broad audience film, I gave David some stirrings of humanity. Where the other children are truly aliens out to destroy us, the audience wants this kid to be human, to develop feelings of empathy. Perhaps in the end, he can be saved."
"There is hope for one child, a touch that John put in which was not in the original," says actor Reeve. "It was a really nice touch and it allows my character to keep hoping 'til the very end. And we are left with the possibility that maybe the human side will win out." Kozlowski notes about the character of her son, David, "My child seems to have a spark of humanity in him. There's hope for him, and my character really clings to that"
In furthering a motif of hope in his film, Carpenter' s film draws upon the original literary source material in resurrecting a theological voice for the story. While Wyndham's novel prominently featured a village vicar, the character was excluded from the 1960 film by MGM production executives who felt uncomfortable with the story's anti-Catholic theme and it's veiled references to the Immaculate Conception. Carpenter's Reverend Miller, portrayed by Star Wars star MARK HAMILL, tries to sustain the villagers' faith and hope while struggling with the invasion's theological origins.
"To me, (this film) falls in line with all the other films I've done, although each one Is slightly different," the director notes. "It's classic science fiction. It's aliens from outer space. It's also a human drama, told on a very small scale, in a small town. It's a movie about people's feelings."
"I grew up in a little town, Bowling Green, Kentucky," the director explains. "I've always been fascinated by the idea of what it would be like to live in a small town and encounter an alien invasion such as the one that happens in this story." Adds co-star Reeve, "If aliens invade and want to take over this town of our dreams, this tightly knit community of warm, decent people, it's a lot more threatening."
As the new screenplay changes the location from the original's quaint English countryside to Marin County in northern California, filmmaker Carpenter returns to the resort communities of Inverness and Point Reyes, the same sites he employed for his classic 1980 horror film, The Fog, in which the characters of Antonio Bay were threatened by a more ghostly presence.
In casting a location for the story's fictional town of Midwich, Carpenter notes "It seems to me the story plays only in a small town, because it's an intimate place and the people know each other." The director, who owns a hilltop retreat in Inverness, which he bought after completing The Fog there 15 years ago, adds, "In many ways, It resembles the set-up in The Fog, the same location. What better place to shoot than my own backyard?"
One of the production's main locations was right on top of the San Andreas fault-line, in a huge red barn which survived the 1906 quake and is used by the federal park district for storage. Inside this cavernous facade, production designer RODGER MAUS (Scarlett, Victor/Victoria) constructed two striking set pieces for the story - the birthing center where all 10 women deliver their newborns and the Barracks, a commune which the alien children inhabit after abandoning their parents. Maus also designed the interior of the town's medical clinic, built inside the Point Reyes' YMCA.
Some of the production's other locations included the Tomales Presbyterian Church and Cemetery, where Carpenter filmed the baptism of the alien newborns and the funeral of one of the film's supporting characters; the Nicasio Elementary School, where Reeve's character begins tutoring the children; Chimney Rock, a residence on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the National Seashore, where fog added dramatic atmosphere to the suicide of Dr. Chaffee's wife; and Point Reyes Station's town center, where army troops and medical technicians scour the streets for clues to the invisible Invasion.
Village of the Damned reunites Carpenter with two of Hollywood's most renowned special effects designers, Industrial Light & Magic's BRUCE NICHOLSON and GREG NICOTERO of KNB EFX GROUP.
"Everybody remembers the first film because of the kids' glowing eyes," Carpenter notes, "so the trick here was to find a new way of doing it. And again I went to the best in the business - ILM."
Nicholson, who created the visual magic for three of the director's previous projects, Starman, Memoirs of An Invisible Man and In the Mouth of Madness, "devised a rather unique way of using computer graphics" to produce the mesmerizing, menacing glow of the alien childrens eyes.
Called fractal animation, "It is a digitally based animation technique," Nicholson explains. "You essentially write some computer software to create this kind of effect." We looked at certain references and then came up with something out of that which I thought would work well." Nicholson observes, "In this picture, we can show a character with their eyes moving, their heads moving. We can match that without too much of problem. And we tried to make it as evil as we could. When the audience sees a certain type of glow, they know what sot of horrible event is happening."
Since he new film was shot in color, ILM also had the option of a spectrum of tints for the aliens eyes, which original author Wyndham first described in his novel. Initially, the filmmakers employed KNB to design special red contact lenses for each of the nine children cast as the unearthly offspring in the story. Subsequently, producer SANDY KING decided in favor of coloring the irises optically to avoid potential on-set problems, such as production delays and eye infections.
Both effects shops also contributed other unique creations to Carpenters vision. KNB designed the disfigured fetus of an alien stillborn and a full-scale dummy of actress PIPPA PEARTHREE, who torches herself under the childrens spell. "They do the greatest burned bodies Ive ever seen," Carpenter remarks. "Even our actresses were freaked out by working with them."
In addition, ILM created the mysterious shadow that envelops the village in the films opening scene as well as the films climactic shots illustrating Reeves battle of wills with the evil children.
"In the end of the film, Chris Reeve develops a way of hiding his thoughts and develops a way to destroy the children," Carpenter relates. "The children try to break through to find out why theyre in danger. And ILM did a shot that literally travels through Chris mind, kind of an update of the original film."
All of the juvenile actors underwent dramatic changes in their individual looks to embody Wyndham's superaliens. "In the beginning, we talked about using wigs," hairstylist CHARLOTTE GRAVENOR states, "but John didn't like that look. He didn't want the kids to look like those in the original."
Instead, the hairstylists dyed the locks of each of the nine youngsters, a process that took four days to complete. Using a product called frosting bleach, this special hair stripper had to be applied several times, particularly to those with darker hair.
"Each bleaching took their hair from dark to orange, to yellow, and finally, to white," Gravenor explains. "And it was difficult to get all nine to have a uniform shade of white." To maintain consistency during filming, Gravenor and colleague Baliel "used white hairspray like paint to touch up (the roots)."
They also kept the kids in the shade during breaks in exterior filming, or had them wear hats, since the sun turned the hair yellow after just a few hours of exposure.
Shades of gray were the colors selected by costumer ROBIN BUSH when she began designing the aliens' wardrobes for the project. Without a color reference to study from the original black and white film, Bush experimented by dressing up a group of neighborhood children in monochromatic gray clothes alongside a second bunch dressed in ordinary, colorful jeans and sweats. Videotaping her test, she showed the result to director Carpenter, convincing him that "gray was an emotionless color... which would make his kids appear spooky."
Once the unearthly ensemble was dressed and dyed, makeup artist KEN CHASE added a layer of cosmetics that gave them a sallow, almost lifeless appearance. Together, the adolescent aliens appeared to exist on-camera in black-and-white, a stark contrast to the vibrant colors captured by GARY KIBBE's vivid cinematography.
Carpenter did nothing special to inspire the youngsters to become, at first, emotionless and indifferent, then evil and deadly. "If you tell a child to simply be quiet and to stare, they become alien-looking," he declares. "I had to remind them that their characters have no emotions, but sometimes, they would laugh or giggle at something."
"In a couple of scenes, they got scared when an adult was yelling at them," the director adds. "I had to remind them that that doesn't mean anything. They have no feelings. They came to it naturally and loved the idea that they were different, that they were in control of this town."