The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Ward (2010)

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I came across this while looking for movies for my collaboration with The Film Connoisseur (link is to that post) for Halloween. I couldn't believe that a John Carpenter film had only a limited European release, and a DTV release here in the States. A John Carpenter flick should be a big deal, not fly in under the radar. (Also, if you've seen this and you comment and give away the ending-- or say what movie it's similar to--, I won't publish it. I don't want to ruin it for anyone.)

The Ward has Amber Heard as a girl in 1960s Oregon who is caught setting a farmhouse on fire, and is sent to the lockdown ward of a state mental facility. There she meets her four fellow inmates, plus the mysterious fifth one, Alice, who is a ghost that is slowly bumping them off. Heard doesn't find this situation acceptable at all, and tries her best to escape. Can she do it before Alice gets her as well?

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I thought this was an excellent movie. You can see why John Carpenter is a horror master, because he hits all the right spots here, from the suspense, the tension, the creepiness, and then the brutality in the kills. How this was lost in the shuffle is beyond me, because it has the chops to compete in the US theatrical market. Maybe he personally didn't want to work with the big production houses. I don't know, and I'm not so sure I care either, because either way, this falls through the cracks and ends up in our laps, and we're better for it.

It really is startling though, when you page through Carpenter's bio, and you see all the big names, The Thing, They Live, Halloween, Escape from New York, Escape from LA, I could go on. The last one he did was Ghosts of Mars, which I saw in the theater back in 2002. I wouldn't put this one up there with any of his great classics, but from a director of his stature, this still delivers.

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I was trying to figure out where I recognized Danielle Panabaker, who played the resident vamp in The Ward, from, and it turns out she was the guy from Supernatural's partner in Friday the 13th, where she got a really raw deal I thought-- I mean, she's helping the hero out the whole time and Jason still kills her, where's the justice in that? Anyway, she was the only one outside of Amber Heard that I recognized, but I thought the whole cast did a pretty decent job. They were all supposed to play one-notes, and sometimes doing that well is too tall an order, but for them it wasn't, and gave the movie that women in prison film mixed with supernatural thriller feel that I think Carpenter was going for.

Getting back to Carpenter, I've noticed in doing this blog how much modern horror directors draw from Carpenter, so it was weird to have one of his films come into our orbit. How many bad DTV horror flicks have I seen that try to cop the Carpenter aesthetic, from the darkened locations, to the danger racing across the screen in the background. One thing they almost never get right though is Carpenter's attention to detail, and that was evident here. He never lets a moment slip that isn't in some way a tension builder or a prop or extra that isn't somehow creepy or carries with him or her an element of danger. Even in this one, that isn't one of his best, it's still that much better than a lot of his imitators.

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If you don't already know this, I'm putting it out there for you now: I'm a straight guy. And as a straight guy, I take a horror movie that takes place in a mental institution with an all young female cast for granted. I also take for granted that they're all going to be hot. I wonder though, could this movie be made with all young dudes? Us straight guys wouldn't like it, but are there enough straight women and gay men that would get into the shower scenes and all the stereotypes? Or do straight women enjoy an all hot women in a mental institution horror flick as much as straight guys do?

I enjoyed this movie-- though it might just be the straight male in me. This has all the makings of a fell through the cracks DTV gem, and with John carpenter directing, can you expect anything less? Sorry I couldn't get more into specifics about what I liked, but, again, I don't want to give too much away, because this is worth checking out if you haven't already, and I don't want to ruin it for you.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1369706/

11 comments:

  1. I was so excited when this came out, but since it never got a big theatrical release, I forgot all about it. I'm sure it's great though. I'll have to try harder to get my hands on it now. Great review!

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  2. Good review! Saw this a few months ago, it was a solid horror flick! Amber Heard put in a decent performance.

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  3. This one didn't work for me. I guessed the ending farily early on, and I think that diminished a lot of my enjoyment. It still had a couple of strong sequences and Heard is always easy on the eyes. It's definitely my least favorite Carpenter movie. But Carpenter's worst is better than most directors' best.

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  4. I didn't see the ending coming, which I guess was why I liked it. I'm in the Ty camp, that this is a solid horror flick, which isn't common in the post 2010 world. If you have Netflix Watch Instantly robotGEEK, you can get this on there.

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  5. Massive Carpenter fan - have got nearly all his films on DVD. Was just waiting for this to go down in price a bit. Heard mixed things so lowered my expectations in preparation.

    It's good to see him back directing even if it's not his best.

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  6. This was ok, but the twist at the end ruined it for me, cuz it was used in so many movies before.

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  7. Thanks for the tip! Watched it last night on Netflix Instant and as a die hard Carpenter fan, I was extremely satisfied and enjoyed it thoroughly. It felt like old school Carpenter, like from The Fog era. I'll be posting a review in the next day or so. Thanks!

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  8. Based on your review alone, I am going to watch this one, but honestly, I was curious for it already, I mean, its Carpenter after all, one of the greats you know.

    My fear is that like most directors in their old age, this isnt as good as his old stuff.

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  9. I loved JC back in the day but wasn't sure about this. Maybe i'll give it a go.

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  10. I think robotGEEK and Ty hit this on the head for me: a solid flick, and a quality Carpenter effort, so I'll be curious to hear what you guys think, but I have a feeling you'll enjoy it too.

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  11. Just caught this one recently and remembered your review of it. I enjoyed it. Not the best Carpenter has done, but a solid horror flick with some good gore and a few jump scares. I didn't see the end coming and enjoyed it, but my wife did see it coming and thought it was a bit on the weak side. I noticed that Carpenter didn't actually work on this script and I find his stories to be pretty interesting. The acting all around was solid as well. Easy to recommend to fans of the director or anyone looking for a good horror film on a weekend night.

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