Sunday 15 January 2012


John Carpenter's first film in nearly a decade is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, but has he still got what it takes to scare audiences? Watch the trailer and read my review, next...

Set in 1966, after setting fire to a farmhouse Kristen (Amber Heard) is sent to a psychiatric hospital that specialises in dealing with troubled young women. Quickly getting to know the other girls, Kristen soon learns of Alice, a former resident who disappeared in mysterious circumstances and is now haunting the inhabitants of the ward. As Alice starts to take her revenge on the patients, will she target Kristen next?

The second certifiably sexy heroine of the year after Zack Snyder's "epic" Sucker Punch, but perhaps only slightly less stupid. After going into semi retirement in the 2000's, I assumed that Carpenter must have had something special ready for his comeback. Sadly not, as The Ward is extremely derivative and not what you'd expect from a 'master of horror'. There's no disputing that Carpenter had an amazing run of horror and sci-fi hits in the late 70's/early 80's (Halloween, The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing, etc), but it appears that his deal with the devil must have run out long ago or his creative juices have run dry, as he's not made a movie of the same calibre in nearly 25 years.

Carpenter's films still generate a lot of interest and he definitely still has his fans out there, but can any of them seriously say that they prefer Ghosts of Mars over The Fog, Vampires over They Live, Escape From L.A. over Escape From New York? I don't think so, and that's coming from an apologist of his 1992 Chevy Chase vehicle, Memoirs of an Invisible Man.

Perhaps the most troubling thing is that not only has Carpenter failed to adapt to a new era of filmmaking, but that he's needed to at all. 1978's Halloween is still regularly voted as one of the scariest films of all time, a great premise sitting on the shoulders of one of horror's greatest boogeymen ever. Having the kind of success it'd be nigh on impossible to replicate, it's tough to see the shambling corpse of one of horror cinema's all time greatest directors try to do so by altering his style to appease an audience that prefers jump cuts over lingering threat.

John Carpenter's The Ward (to give it its full, easily marketed title) is an interesting counterpoint to Scorsese's Shutter Island, but only by looking at how two directors, both considered masters of their fields, can make two films with similar stories but with drastically different levels of success. There's clear parallels between the two films, but Scorsese's film is exponentially better at building tension than Carpenter's. Hey, if Scorsese can get great reviews by making a psychological horror, maybe Carpenter should try his hand at a Gangster film?

One of the main problems the film has is its 1960's setting, or rather how poorly Amber Heard fits into that world. Whereas the costuming and appearance of the other girls is late 60's chic (and works fairly well), Heard is sooo 21st Century with her bleach blonde barnet and sassy attitude. She's thoroughly unbelievable as a 1960's schoolgirl, something even the ultra-modern Angelina Jolie was able to do to great effect in Girl, Interrupted.

There's also the root problem that as a horror movie, it's just not scary. The killer, Alice, likes to surprise her fleeing victims by stepping out of doorways just like Ghostface in Scream, or perhaps more accurately, just like Ghostface from Scary Movie. Honestly, it's hard to stifle the laughs as Alice blocks their escape route, a rather pointless exercise for a ghost that could easily murder them in their sleep. I'm sure Mr Carpenter would agree, they don't make villains like they used to.

It's a very run of the mill, stock haunted house plot that offers little surprises on the way to its oh so predictable conclusion. The ending doesn't make a lick of sense and ruins whatever goodwill you had towards the film, particularly if you've seen Shutter Island and can see the twist coming before you've even put the disc in. And if you haven't seen Shutter Island yet, do yourself a favour, watch that instead.


Special Features: Cast Interviews, Interview with John Carpenter, Interview with the Producers and Production Designer.

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