John Carpenter’s The Ward (2010)
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen
Produced by Peter Block, Doug Mankoff, Mike Marcus, Andrew Spaulding, Adam Betteridge, Rich Cowan, David Rogers, Mischa Jakupcak, Hans Ritter
Starring Amber Heard, Jared Harris, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, D.R. Anderson, Lyndsy Fonseca, Laura-Leigh Claire
Never mind its trademark titular credit, for any major studio’s unimaginative hireling might’ve helmed this tepid thriller as professionally and perfunctorily as did Carpenter for hire at the conclusion of his cinematic career. Not an idiomatic flourish is to be savored through a dreary slog initiated by a young woman’s (Heard) arson of a farmhouse and subsequent consignment to a psychiatric hospital where a rotting, roughhousing revenant menaces she and her fellow inpatients (Gummer, Panabaker, Fonseca, Claire). More interesting than the predictably prosy plot is an occupation of opposite extremes by the progeny of famed leads: the most frantic inmate, Gummer’s as hammily horrid as hideous, while Harris exudes sangfroid skillfully as the facility’s chief psychiatrist. With mixed success, otherwise photogenic players contend with their script’s daffier dialogue and considerable cliches; Heard’s as able as forgettable, and thusly fit for a picture notable only for its directorial berth and satisfactorily restrained period detail of attire and appointments. His fans may wince at momentarily successive dissolves or a cribbed conclusive shot, but the auteur can scarcely be blamed for the clumsy conventions of a project for which he invested minimal creative input before collecting John Carpenter’s Final Paycheck.
Someone’s Watching Me! (1978)
Directed and written by John Carpenter
Produced by Richard Kobritz, Anna Cottle
Starring Lauren Hutton, David Birney, Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Grainger Hines
Unsolicited, progressively suggestive gifts purported as promotional items delivered by a travel agency accompanied by menacing phone calls aren’t the sorts of romantic overtures for which a television station’s glamorous program director (Hutton) might’ve hoped when she relocated from NYC to her posh luxury apartment in Los Angeles. Her composure’s corraded by a stalker surveilling her with a powerful telescope and hidden bug until she enlists the aid of her apt production manager (Barbeau) and unruffled, professorial new boyfriend (Birney) to investigate her agitator as his advances escalate to murderous intent. Helmed with Hitchcockian pizazz by Carpenter months prevenient to the Halloween shoot, this televised umpteenth homage to The Master is essentially an inverse Rear Window replete with its bright, breathy lead, impuissant police investigator (Cyphers) and wireframe animation accompanying opening credits (evocatively imitative of Saul Bass’s NXNW introduction) that dissolves to a described establishing shot. It’s as tightly and cunningly composed as any of his most renowned flicks, and Carpenter enhances his script of modest ingenuity with considerable creepy devices at a painstaking pace evidencing a prowess that’s twice regrettably negated by the brazen swells of Harry Sukman’s overbearingly timeworn score; one can’t help but wonder just how much better this could’ve been if Carpenter — also a composer who’s always appreciated the petrifying potential of silence — had time and liberty to score his scenes. His cast’s every bit as competent: in her prime, Hutton’s a combatively appealing lead whose charisma’s occasionally overshadowed by the charm of the auteur’s future spouse, and both Birney and frequent collaborator Cyphers are unobtrusively fine, if typecast. If it’s the least of Carpenter’s early pictures, this derivative teleplay still patefies the idiosyncratic quality of his craftsmanship.
Recommended for a double feature paired with When a Stranger Calls.
Body Bags (1993)
Directed by John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Larry Sulkis
Written by Billy Brown, Dan Angel
Produced by John Carpenter, Sandy King, Dan Angel
Starring Alex Datcher, Robert Carradine, David Naughton, Stacy Keach, David Warner, Debbie Harry, Mark Hamill, Twiggy, John Agar, John Carpenter
In his first speaking role since his underwhelming cameo in The Fog, Carpenter humorously, hammily hosts the frame story of this playful, triplex horror anthology as an undead coroner expressing a morbid fondness for wordplay and anatomical gore. Assigned to her first night shift at an isolated Gas Station on the outskirts of Michael Myers’ hometown, Datcher’s a comely collegian contending with her inexperience and strangers creepy and clownish during a spate of serial murders. His receding hairline spurs a vaingloriously insecure bachelor (Keach) to patronize an agency touting by telecast their top-grade crinal restoration procedure; though their treatment augments his Hair to flowing locks, this restoration is but a side-effect of its pestilential objective. A car crash deprives of a major-league heavy hitter (Hamill) one vital Eye, but a successful opthalmic transplant performed by a pioneering surgeon (Agar) replaces it with another of heterochromatic hue; maddened by visions of his donor’s atrocities, the batter terrorizes his loving wife (Twiggy). These segments were initially intended to be episodes of an eponymous series pitched to Showtime as a rival to HBO’s thematically and stylistically conformable Tales from the Crypt. Though the network scuttled the series, it cablecast this feature-length alternative. Carpenter’s portions are respectively exciting and as pleasantly risible as ruffling, but Hooper’s offering is the longest and least of the three, and hardly as interesting as Eric Red’s kindred and coeval Jeff Fahey vehicle, Body Parts. Nevertheless, if the frights and frolic of Bags aren’t satisfactorily frequent to sustain the interest of Carpenter’s or Hooper’s devotees, it may for them be redeemed by its cast of fan favorites and a copiousness of cameos: Hooper, Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, Roger Corman, Tom Arnold, et al. Hardly a career highlight for any of its participants, this peripheral curiosity is nonetheless essential viewing for completists of its star moviemakers.
Recommended for a double feature paired any Creepshow feature or Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.
Halloween II (1981)
Directed by Rick Rosenthal
Written by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Produced by John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Barry Bernardi, Joseph Wolf, Irwin Yablans, Moustapha Akkad, Dino De Laurentiis
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Dick Warlock, Charles Cyphers, Pamela Susan Shoop, Jeffrey Kramer, Hunter von Leer, Lance Guest
Carpenter and Hill were no slouches as power couples come, producing a few original, indelible contributions to cinematic genre corpora until their divorce and subsequent career divergence propelled them to greater individual successes. Howbeit, this competently crafted yet sluggish sequel to their classic slasher hit won’t be recalled as one of their best efforts: their pedestrian script, the score by Carpenter and frequent collaborator Alan Howarth and Rosenthal’s perfunctory direction all resound but feeble echoes of the antecedent movie’s potent and idiosyncratic horror. Commencing contiguous from the prior pic, lumbering, implacable, inexplicable mass murderer Michael Myers slowly stalks Curtis’s effete schoolgirl while amassing a fresh body count, himself pursued by Pleasence’s increasingly crazed and prehensile psychiatrist. It should be riveting, but despite a few chillingly grotesque murders, this plot plods pari passu with Myers himself, and the fine cast merely replicates their activity (and in Pleasence’s instance, his exposition) of the previous outing. Moreover, a laughably stale consanguine revelation cheaply undermines the antagonist’s mystique. It’s a tolerable slasher, but by ’81, a battalion of flicks glutting the genre created by Clark and popularized by Carpenter were yielding much more intriguing and bloody offerings than this rather limp iteration.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Halloween.