Friday, July 8, 2011

The Ward: you can't review what you can't see

UPDATE: For a limited time, John Carpenter's "The Ward" is available to rent on iTunes. Rental price is $6.99 in the U.S. and 10.99 in the U.K. According to iTunes, they have Aug. 16 as a tentative release date. You can pre-order "The Ward" for $14.99.

Today marks the long overdue return of director John Carpenter to theaters with "The Ward," starring Amber Heard.

This is where you'd expect to see a review of the new release, but none of the three theaters-- all in the same local ownership group-- decided to carry the film during its opening weekend. I am not happy about this, as you can imagine. I'm not so unhappy that I'm naming the theaters. They are the only ones in my immediate area and I don't want them to have a reason to keep me out. Maybe I'll get lucky and they will see the error of their ways and begin screening "The Ward" next week. Here's hoping.

Until then, let's have a look at Carpenter's best and worst work in the horror genre.

A few rules before we begin. This list is about horror movies. Action and sci-fi films are not included. This leaves "Escape from New York" off the best list and "Escape from L.A." off the worst list. The rules also keep "They Live," my personal favorite, off the best list. There are some gray areas and we can discuss those when we come to them. Neither list will be in a particular order, other than my own random listing. So don't get bent out of shape if you think one film is better than another. Do, however, feel free to comment. Let's get started.

The best of John Carpenter in horror

  • "Halloween," 1978.
It's too easy, I know. Classics such as "Halloween" make life easier and harder at the same time. Arguing over whether "Halloween" is better than "The Thing" is like taking sides in the "Citizen Kane" versus "Casablanca" debate. Everyone is right and everyone is wrong.

  • "The Thing," 1982. 
Warning Signs wrote about "The Thing" not very long ago.
  •  "Christine," 1983.

Rarely do icons join together to create art. Carpenter directed this adaptation of the Stephen King novel. It's more California than King's novel and that's just fine. Carpenter gives us a dose of all-American terror here. Who isn't just a little bit afraid of being run down by a flaming jalopy in the middle of the night?

And, let's face it, Christine is one of the most badass cars in all of cinema.

  • "In the Mouth of Madness," 1994.
I might be the only one, but I love this movie. With references to Stephen King and Dean Koontz, "In the Mouth of Madness" is pure Lovecraft. A writer is working for the Old Ones, attempting to bring them into our world through his novels. But the movie, thankfully, isn't about the writer. It's about insurance investigator John Trent, played by Sam Neill in one of his first roles after "Jurassic Park." Neill is hit and miss in the horror genre, but works a paranoid magic here.

I would be remiss if I did not mention "The Fog" and "Vampires" on my best list. I love both of these movies, just not quite as much as those above.

The worst of John Carpenter

This list is almost as easy as saying "Halloween" is one of the best horror movies of all time. But let's not dawdle.

  • "Memoirs of an Invisible Man," 1992.
Have you actually seen this travesty of cinema? Chevy Chase was in his not-very-funny phase and Carpenter doesn't really do straightforward comedy, either. I don't know what studio executive was in charge when this marriage made in hell was given the green light, but I hope he (yes, it was probably a man) got fired.

Oh, you WANT to see a clip? God help us all.

  • "Ghosts of Mars," 2001.
Those who have forgotten about "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" claim "Ghosts of Mars" to be Carpenter's worst. I actually liked "Ghosts of Mars," even if it did drive Carpenter out of theaters for a decade. Yes, I have it on the worst list, but it's probably been 10 years since you've seen it, so why not give it another try?

  • "Village of the Damned," 1995.
Carpenter was masterful when he remade "The Thing." Handing him another remake probably seemed like a good idea. Part of what made the 1960 original so creepy was that it was in black and white. The colorless children just aren't as disturbing in color.

This was also one of the last films starring Christopher Reeve before his accident and before Kirstie Alley became known for being a "fat actress."

Every bad movie has a highlight, you know. In "Village of the Damned," the highlight is an almost unrecognizable Mark Hamill -- um, Luke Skywalker, for my less informed readers -- going absolutely apeshit before turning a rifle on himself. Awesome.

So that's it. There are more good John Carpenter movies than bad ones. "Prince of Darkness," "Assault on Precinct 13" and "Big Trouble in Little China" are all worth watching.

I imagine "The Ward" is worth watching, too. Unfortunately, I can't verify that. I will let you know if that changes.

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