@thesubstream ♥'s Midnight Madness #5 - THE WARD

"An old-school horror film, from an old-school horror filmmaker."
-John Freakin' Carpenter


John Carpenter's face loomed on the screen, projected above the cast of The Ward who had come on stage to introduce the film in his absence. He was needed in L.A., he said. Jury duty intervened, apparently, but we were to enjoy what he called "An old-school horror film, from an old-school horror filmmaker." He was dead right.

The Ward is set in the '60s, in a special ward of a creaky, rusty, spooky mental hospital. Kristen (Midnight Madness fave and deservedly so Amber Heard) is delivered kicking and screaming to her room, one recently occupied by the mysteriously departed Tammy (Sali Sayler). The spooks and ooks start immediately, and as Carpenter himself said, they're decidedly old-school. Kristen's blanket is pulled by an unseen force under the bed, beads appear scattered on the floor, a mangled girl's face appears in her cell's peep-window before disappearing. Soon the other residents of the ward begin to disappear and Kristen must unravel the secret behind the ghost that is terrorizing them… before it's too late!

It's old-fashioned, high-spooky stuff pitched squarely at the horror-lover's nostalgia bone. There are a handful of goofy, clunky script moments, the majority of which are explained in hindsight as the film nears its not-incredibly-surprising surprise ending, that trouble things a bit. The details of the machinations of Kristen's perambulations and escape attempts - locks picked with letter openers, a massive ventilation system accessible from directly behind a toilet - are the kind of stuff that would be aggravating had the film taken itself more seriously. It also doesn't hurt things that Amber Heard, as out of place in a '60s period piece as she seems, as Hollywood thin as she is, is fantastic.

Thankfully Carpenter's The Ward is content to be slightly goofy, shooting for pleasant spookiness over gore and favouring instead that old horror saw, the jump-scare. The ghost in The Ward appears in windows, in showers, in mirrors, in front and behind of characters, from above and below, from inside locked doors and at the end of empty hallways. The film is an absolute masterclass on the art and science of shooting, cutting and scoring these shout-out-loud scary moments. It's not surprising. Carpenter's been doing this for a long time, and while the film's stolid nostalgic tone leads to a few goofy moments, it only adds to the film's charm.

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