An orphaned kid and alien-fathered babies wreak havoc and like ending the lives of adults in “Village of the Damned” and “Mikey”.
Two films from the 1990s explored the creepy kid theme in very different ways, but both offer similar results. The 1992 horror film Mikey follows a young boy who on the surface comes across as a polite and soft spoken kid, but really he just likes killing people who adopt him. As for 1995’s Village of the Damned, these kids take a different approach and let you know right away that they’re here to give you nightmares…and probably kill you if you piss them off.
Most of the adults in both films sense the bad vibes from these kids, but can’t seem to believe there could be something wrong with the innocent children, the hope for the future. But that illusion of innocence makes the evil within these little tykes that much more terrifying. I mean come on, haven’t they ever seen a movie about creepy kids before? Just look at the twins from The Shining for example, and all they wanted to do was play!
“Remember, Jason and Freddie were kids once, too,” is the tag-line to 1992’s Mikey. For those with a keen eye, when referring to everyone’s favorite razor fingered dream demon in the tag line, they misspelled ‘Freddy’ on the poster for the film. How many eyes passed over the poster design before the final product was officially signed off on? It makes you wonder how such a mistake was missed.
If that’s not a big enough oversight, one of the stars of the film, Ashley Laurence of Hellraiser fame, has her last name misspelled in the opening credits of the film: Ashley Lawrence.
Perhaps these 2 mistakes should be big enough red flags warning of a sloppy and cynical production.
While Mikey may indeed be a little sloppy, it is entertainingly so — and the film goes out of its way to make a monster out of its titular character.
Electrocution (twice), a hammer, a bow and arrow, a baseball bat, a diving board, even marbles and a slingshot, 9 year old Mikey uses whatever he can to get the kill done. He also likes to record and watch his killings, “Mikey’s Funniest Home Videos, isn’t it funny,” he menacingly asks later in the film.
Mikey is a sleazy and enjoyable evil kid/slasher movie hybrid with an impressively melodramatic performance from young Brian Bonsall in the title role that wonderfully matches the Lifetime movie-esque melodramatic script.
The script is always reminding the viewer of the evil of Mikey and the obliviousness of the adults around him through cheesy, wink-wink dialogue. “Do you like to pitch,” asks Mikey’s new adoptive father, inquiring if the kid likes baseball. Mikey responds with “yeah, but I’m a better hitter.” This after he bashes in his previous adoptive father’s head with a baseball bat.
“I mean, he’s just like any other kid,” says Mikey’s new adoptive mother (Mimi Craven, daughter of Wes) to her friend, Shawn (a drop dead gorgeous Ashley Laurence). Mikey even puts the moves on his older, hot next door neighbor Jessie, played by Josie Bissett.
Bissett really shines here, convincingly working her way around some awkward scenes and dialogue. Mikey is by no means like any other kid.
I was 11 years old at the time of Mikey‘s release, and I distinctly remember seeing commercials on TV advertising the film.
Having discovered Friday the 13th the previous year, my attention was immediately captured by the mention of Jason in the films tagline (at least they spelled his name right). It can’t be validated whether or not the film was originally intended to be released theatrically, but those commercials I remember seeing might hint at that being the case.
Although the film played in theaters in Germany, a theatrical release in the US never happened, and Mikey went straight to video on September 23, 1992.
Mikey is a twisted little film with one creepy little kid.
Brian Bonsall as Mikey does stellar work, playing up his sweet, innocent sounding voice when fooling his adoptive parents and other adults into thinking he’s an angel. An instant later, he nails the heartless and icy yet fascinated evil stare when he watches people die at his own doing.
This type of role was a change of pace for young Bonsall who at the time was known as Andy Keaton from the hit 1980’s sitcom Family Ties. After Mikey, he would go on to have a $30 million box office hit in Disney’s 1994 family film Blank Check and co-star with Bob Saget in the 1994 TV movie Father and Scout before dropping out of acting altogether.
Bonsall would later play in a number of bands and have numerous run ins with the law. His first film credit since 1994 popped up on IMDb in 2018 with Bonsall acting in a short film called Slaughsages.
Mikey had its world premier in March of 1992 at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (David S. Twohy’s Timescape starring Jeff Daniels took the top prize that year). Distribution rights in the US for Mikey were quickly secured by Tapestry Films, whose biggest and only films at the time were 1990’s Kid starring C. Thomas Howell and 1987’s The Killing Time starring Keifer Sutherland.
The company would later find success at the box office with such hits like She’s All That, Van Wilder, and Wedding Crashers. But it hasn’t done much since 2012.
Of all the films Tapestry has released, Mikey has the strangest footnote attached to it regarding film history.
In November of 1992, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) cleared Mikey in the UK with an 18 certificate (equal to an R rating in the US). But in an odd turn of events after a horrific crime, the BBFC revoked the certificate and the film was withdrawn from sale in the UK.
The crime was the horrifying murder of a toddler named James Bulger who was kidnapped from a shopping center in Liverpool, tortured and beaten until he died in what would become one of the most shocking crimes in Britain’s history. When the murderers were identified as two 10 year old boys, the media went into a frenzy.
What would possess kids to do something so terribly unimaginable? The answer they came up with was horror movies. When it was discovered the family of one of the boys had rented horror movies, famously Child’s Play 3 more than once, the media found a boogeyman and the BBFC saw Mikey as another film that could encourage such violent behavior —banning the film from being seen.
To this day Mikey remains one of very few films still banned in the UK.
The ending of Mikey is a treat to behold.
Not only does Mikey murder his new family and their friends, he assembles them around the dinner table, their propped up corpses sitting upright as if in the middle of a conversation. As Mikey lets his adoptive father see his murdered wife and friends dead before he blows the place up and burns it to the ground, he managed to steal the school skeleton which happens to be the bones of a 10 year old boy.
Looks like Mikey is dead, and when the cops find a young boy named “Josh” wandering in the road, they take him in and find a lovely, suburban couple to adopt him. “Are you going to be my new mommy and daddy,” Josh asks, in a sweetly innocent, familiar voice.
The answer to this question is of course yes, but as the screen fades to black, we know they won’t be his mommy and daddy for very long.
As the end credits scroll up the screen, notice Ashley Laurence is spelled correctly.
Village of the Damned (1995)
While The Midwich Cuckoos sounds like the title of a harmless children’s story, it’s actually the source material for 2 horror movies filmed 35 years apart. The John Wyndham novel, published in 1957, led to the 1960 Village of the Damned, a critically lauded and audience approved British horror film that is considered a classic.
The 1960 film was then remade in 1995 for U.S. audiences from legendary horror filmmaker John Carpenter, unfortunately to much (much) less fanfare. Beware the Children indeed.
John Carpenter saw the original Village of the Damned as a boy and has said the film stuck with him for several reasons.
First and foremost was an admitted crush on one of the creepy young girls saying it was the first crush the future Halloween director ever had. You know what they say, first loves last forever. But it was the scene where the entire town blacked out that really grabbed young Carpenter. And this is of note because his own town blackout sequence is one of the best moments in the 1995 film. It’s highly effective as we see dozens and dozens of limp bodies strewn about and twisted this way and that in supermarkets, churches, backyards, and even as they were driving down the road, now crashed off to the side.
Interest in a Village of the Damned remake first started way back in 1978 with the success of another remake with source material from the 1950’s: Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Sharing similar alien visitation themes and with the successful updating of that story, updating the classic 1960 version of Village of the Damned seemed like a no-brainer.
It was Universal Pictures that finally was able to get the project off the ground.
The studio hand picked Carpenter to direct the film from a script by David Himmelstein — with a re-write from Carpenter himself, going back to the roots of the original story of Wyndham’s 1957 novel.
Carpenter chose Inverness, California and Point Reyes to shoot Village of the Damned, an area where he not only shot The Fog, but he himself owned a house. In addition to choosing the filming location, Carpenter also did the score for the film, as he famously does with his projects. While the score has that familiar synth/bass beat to it, some of the music early on bears a strong resemblance to and seems to strike the same notes as the score of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
For a 1995 film, the score for Village of the Damned plays more like the score of a movie from 1987.
The overall impression of the film is a wonderful b movie experience.
There’s one scene that takes place in the town hall (these things always take place in the town hall) that addresses the pregnancies of all the women after the mysterious town blackout. As the townsfolk get inevitably rowdy complete with crowd interruptions, yelling, and bursts of noisy agreement, the town officials shout “alright, SETTLE DOWN,” and “QUIET,” in attempts to calm the confused population of the small town of Midwich.
Another scene that takes place after the birth of the alien-inseminated babies finds one of the new mothers compelled by her baby (because that’s what they do) to kill herself. As she walks behind her house to the edge of a rocky cliff that leads down to the sea below, her husband (Christopher Reeve) frantically runs after her.
As the camera pulls up to the sky with Reeve screaming his wife’s name in anguish (Reeve is so good at genuine emotion), the audience knows it’s too late and his wife has jumped to her death. It’s here in the openness of the sky we see his baby’s face fade in and superimposed on the screen, closing her eyes to sleep. Corny, b movie stuff here, but so confidently executed and so dark that it has a fun, late night cable movie feel to it.
These bleach blonde tiny terrors are evil little buggers.
When their eyes glow orange red (an effect applied by future The Walking Dead special effects artist Greg Nicotero), watch out, because they’re about to make you do something you don’t want to do. Most likely it’s something that will lead to a horrific death, like jumping off a building through a broomstick, blowing your head off with a shotgun, burning yourself alive, or driving into a propane tank and exploding. Combine their short tempers with their high IQs and these creepy alien kids come up with some creative deaths.
The cast of Village of the Damned is a who’s who of 1980s superstars who wouldn’t qualify as A-listers in the 1990s, but were still well regarded in the hearts of moviegoers.
Just 2 years removed from the finale of the mega hit TV show Cheers, Kirstie Alley convincingly plays Dr. Susan Verner, the no-nonsense government official overseeing the mysterious pregnancies and tracking any and all developments.
Late 80s teen dream girl Meredith Salenger has a brief but vital role as Melanie Roberts, a young woman whose baby was the only stillborn after the blackout. Salenger raised the temperature of boys everywhere starring in such 1980s teen movies as A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardan and Dream a Little Dream alongside teen magazine heartthrobs River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Corey Haim.
Mark Hamill, forever immortalized as the galaxy saving Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies, is miscast as Reverend George, giving an out of place and cartoonish performance.
Playing Dr. Alan Chaffee, the local, small town doctor is Superman himself, Christopher Reeve. Reeve really grounds this film with his all around nice guy/everyman charisma. And when his character loses his wife, he is a very tortured and sympathetic character the audience can get behind.
Apparently Reeve would keep his distance from the child actors on set to help portray the friction between their characters on screen.
Reeve is so good later on when he tells the non-emotional children they should “FEEL! You should FEEL something,” as he pounds the table. This avoidance tactic also paid off during the film’s bomb-in-the-schoolroom sequence at the end. It’s a tense and chilly scene with Reeve and the kids giving commendable performances.
Director John Carpenter shines here as well, adding an increasing white knuckle element as the bomb ticks down to take out the children before they realize it. As the children’s eyes grow blazing orange in an attempt to read Dr. Chaffee’s mind, Reeve really sells the struggle of a man fighting not to think what he’s thinking.
This is the last time movie goers would see the great Christopher Reeve before a devastating horse riding accident on May 27, 1995 left him paralyzed, just one month after Village of the Damned‘s release. That’s a footnote everybody wished the movie didn’t have.
The film was not received well by critics and audiences alike, debuting in theaters April 28, 1995 with a meager $3.22 million.
It would go on to earn a $9.42 million total gross and currently sits at a 29% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, almost identical to its 27% audience score. John Carpenter has since described Village of the Damned as a “contractual assignment” that he was “really not passionate about.” Perhaps his lukewarm feeling about the project was sensed by movie goers, who in turn largely stayed away from the run-of-the-mill looking remake.
Had the film succeeded at the box office, Universal and Carpenter had a loose plan to work together again on a Creature From the Black Lagoon remake. Imagine that.
Village of the Damned takes a lot of heat for being a mediocre film at best and displaying a mail-it-in type of performance from director John Carpenter. But there is a wonderful b movie feel to the whole of the film that never feels uneven. Not only did Carpenter go back to the roots of the original novel from 1957, he also went back to the style of the 1950s alien invasion flick. You know, the b flick of the Saturday afternoon matinee.
Sure the film has flaws and is by no means a classic like its 1960 predecessor, but watching the 1995 Village of the Damned with a drive-in theater mind-set makes for a highly enjoyable experience.