John Carpenter Disappoints Me! – Horror Movie Month

John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors and not just because I was lucky enough to meet him in 2002. During his heyday he created several masterpieces and many unique films. I like that he didn’t revisit stories for the most part. The Fog is not like The Thing is not like Halloween is not like Prince of Darkness…and most of his films were untold stories. The exceptions were Escape From L.A. and Village of the Damned and those were easily his worst two films. I’ve previously covered Prince of Darkness and his two Masters of Horror episodes, Pro-Life and Cigarette Burns so I’ll skip those even though they are still available.

The Ward (2011) – Rated R

Master of horror John Carpenter returns to form — and to the director’s chair — for this chilling thriller in which a young woman, Kristen (Amber Heard), is sent to a mental institution with a past as dark and haunted as her own. Terrorized by a ghost, each of the other patients in Kristen’s ward begin to disappear, and that’s just the beginning of her long nightmare. Jared Harris (“Mad Men”) and Danielle Panabaker (Friday the 13th) also star.

The triumphant return of a master horror director? Sadly no. I was really looking forward to this movie. After stating my love of Carpenter’s originality, I sat down and watched this carbon copy of <>. I’m omitting the film name because it is a major spoiler but if you have seen it, you’ll begin to realize what film this rips off at about the halfway point. Yes the setting is different and it plays out a bit differently but this is for the worse.

It reminds me of how perfect Dangerous Liaisons was in 1988 and then another studio quietly dropped Valmont on us in 1989. Valmont would have been an interesting albeit flawed film had Dangerous Liaisons not landed first. As it is Valmont comes across as quite dull if you have seen Dangerous Liaisons.

That said, The Ward isn’t bad – simply unnecessary.

Village of the Damned (1995) – Rated R

John Carpenter’s remake of the 1960 sci-fi thriller stars Christopher Reeve and Kirstie Alley as doctors who must try to stop a group of alien children from taking over the world. An alien force impregnates every woman in a small town, and the spawn — who grow at an incredible rate, and can read everyone’s thoughts — attempt to conquer the earthlings. Mark Hamill and Michael ParĂ© co-star.

John Carpenter’s twist in re-imagining The Thing was fabulous. In Village of the Damned, Carpenter does not re-imagine so much as simply update. The film is now in color, a few oddities have been updated to make them more realistic, and there is a little R-rated mayhem tossed in.

The cast works against the film. Christopher Reeve is fine as the hero but George Sanders was much better in the original. It is good to see Mark Hamill post-Star Wars but he is over-the-top here and Kirstie Alley is just awful. Carpenter is a great visual director but he is not an actor’s director. Sometimes he gets great performances and sometimes he gets Village of the Damned.

If you can’t stand cerebral movies or if you hate black & white movies then go ahead and watch Carpenter’s version – otherwise stick with the far superior 1960 version.

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