John Carpenter’s The Ward and Child’s Play :: Saturday Horror Movie Double-Feature
Our latest installment of the Saturday Horror Movie Double Feature includes a new film from a classic horror movie director set in a psychiatric hospital in the sixties, as well as the start of another horror franchise, this time instead of killer flying balls we have a killer living dolls in this series.
The Ward is a rather brilliantly told story that has a twist that on one hand could have been taken as contrived, but is actually well executed, enough so to make it a surprise ending, something that is often hard to accomplish in film these days. Child’s Play is a movie I feel like I should have seen when it was released, especially since I think I saw every other horror movie out that year at the drive-in, but somehow the franchise escaped me until the recent reboot (of sorts) that we reviewed here, about a year ago.
So, why don’t you make yourself comfortable, keep away from any creepy dolls, pop some popcorn, and give our double-feature a read. We watch the movies so you don’t have to, or so you can feel inspired to. As a reminder, we will be doing these reviews every other week, trading off with our year-by-year at the drive-in feature (except in October when it will be horror movies double features every weekend). Stay tuned for more and send us your horror movie suggestions. You can give us some titles in the comment section, or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org (Laura), or my husband at email@example.com (Charles).
Please note, no choice is too cheesy or possibly bad, we accept the challenge to watch them all, the good, the bad, the awful, the hilarious, and everything in-between.
Also, if you are a producer or promoter of any independent horror films we would love to watch and review here, just reach out to us and send us a viewable copy and we will put it as part of our double-feature.
We will be doing all weekends horror in October, so we welcome some suggestions to add to our scary-cinematic-play-lists and queues.
The Ward (2010)
Written by Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen
Directed by John Carpenter
The Ward starts out in typical Carpenter fashion, with action, in this case a somewhat obstructed view of a girl being murdered in what seems to be a psychiatric hospital. We then shifted to the view of a hospital hallway that lengthens, as the camera pulls back, and the title comes into view. Oh how I love a good title treatment, and a horror movie that pulls you in right from the start.
We then find ourselves out in front of a farm house in North Bend, Oregon, where a young blonde woman in a torn white slip sets said house on fire and stands in front of it, in a daze, watching the house burn. The police arrive and try to help her, or at least move her from the blaze. She screams and tries to fight them off, to no avail, as they take her away in cuffs and then deliver her eventually to the North Bend Psychiatric Hospital. It is at said hospital that our story really begins.
Amber Heard plays the blonde firestarter, Kristen, who seems to be completely confused with how she has wound up in an institution. She is shown to her room but not before she sees a room full of other young women her age. I am reminded of the film Girl, Interrupted, which was also set in a psychiatric hospital in the sixties, and I find myself curious and hoping that we learn all the others’ stories.
We do not so much as learn about their stories as we do their unique personalities and mental instabilities. Some of the women seem much more stable than others, and they all seem to possess strong, defining traits.
Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca) is an artist with a journal full of drawings of all the patients, including one that has been murdered in the hospital by the other patients, Alice. Lyndsy Fonseca, who was in both Kick Ass films and Hot Tub Time Machine, also played the “daughter on the couch” on How I Met Your Mother (too much time spent listening to your Father drone on and on about himself may lead you to be institutionalized – be warned). Iris was my favorite of the supporting characters, and I do wish her character had stuck around a little longer.
Emily (Mamie Gummer) is the free-spirit, tough character who is somewhat similar to the Angelina Jolie role in previously mentioned Girl, Interrupted, just way tamer. She acts out on purpose, speaks her mind loudly, and tries to intimidate those around her. She seems to have all this bravado to hide the guilt of her participation in the killing of Alice. Mamie was on the short-lived TV series Emily Owens, and is Meryl Streep’s daughter.
Sarah (Danielle Panabaker) is a narcisstic, flirtatious character that seems to be the token “mean girl” of the group. This fact makes it somewhat confusing when Alice is described as the mean one. She is the least flushed out of the women in the hospital.
Zoey (Laura-Leigh) acts as if she is a little girl trapped in the body of a young woman. She sucks her thumb, carries around a stuffed toy rabbit, and seems to be the most emotionally traumatized in the bunch. Kristen seems to be the most protective of Zoey, and tries to eventually take her along on an attempted escape.
The ghost of Alice seems to be after all the women in the hospital, despite what the main nurse (Susanna Burney), hospital guard (D.R. Anderson), and the main doctor (Jared Harris) seem willing to believe. Jared Harris is fantastic in this, though he is another character I wish had been more flushed out and given a little more screen time to. He was the best part of our last double-feature night’s film The Quiet Ones, and is becoming an interesting actor to watch for, to me.
I will not give away, or even hint at, the ending. I will just say that this movie is worth checking-out and watching on your own. Just do yourself a favor and avoid the film’s Wikipedia page as it gives all of it away.
All in all, I really enjoyed it, and loved how it contained a strong female cast who were never naked or perceived as weak, troubled and traumatized, but not weak. The film was tasteful in the way it was unraveled, not leaning on gore and nudity (even the shower scene was done tastefully) for cheap scares and thrills, but on actual story development. My only complaint? I think they could have done a better job with the way the ghost/demon appeared.
Thoughts from my husband:
As a long-time John Carpenter fan I was glad to see that he is back in force. One of the things you can count on with a Carpenter film is that he starts off with some type of action and has few lull points in-between. Such is the case with The Ward.
This is a film that warrants a second viewing due to random statements made throughout the film by various characters hold a completely different meaning once you’ve seen the ending (no spoilers here), as well as making you see certain scenes in a different perspective. Its interesting how many recognizable actors are crammed into a film with only eight main characters.
Also worth noting is how much suspense Carpenter was able to insert into the film without much blood or gratuitous gore. The film also has no nudity. In a lot of ways this film harkens back to his “Halloween” days. This film is definitely worth checking-in.
A few fun facts:
On the audio commentary, Jared Harris asks John Carpenter why he did not compose the soundtrack, John replied “quite frankly, I’m just too old.”
All the actresses did an on-line search to learn their individual dance moves for the dance sequence. (Note: I LOVED the dance scene!)
John Carpenter’s first full-length feature film since Ghosts of Mars (2001), and his first feature not shot in Panavision since his debut Dark Star (1974).
Movie clips and movie score :: The Ward
Child’s Play (1988)
Written by Don Mancini, John Lafia and Tom Holland
Directed by Tom Holland
A new franchise for us is the Chucky series, and this first film is a well-executed origin story. It develops the rules of this “monster” and gives us just enough history to understand where the evil has come from. We also are introduced to a sympathetic family, single Mother Karen (Catherine Hicks) and her very young son Andy (Alex Vincent). Chucky is a little different than other possessed toys I’ve seen in horror stories, this one has an attitude and a mouth on him, he’s not just violent, but all-around unlikable. This is an interesting detail because it gives the doll more humanistic character, and makes it seem all that more alive.
This movie looks and feels so late eighties, from the hair, to Karen’s long trench coat, to the way detective Mike (Chris Sarandon) talks, walks, smokes and presents himself, to the way the city is captured on film. There is one shot of the building that Karen and Andy live in that looks almost exactly like the building that Sigourney Weaver lives in, in Ghostbusters. Just the presence alone of Chris Sarandon is so eighties to me, what with his notable roles in both Fright Night (1985) and The Princess Bride (1987).
We start the story off with Mike chasing down notorious killer Charles Lee Ray (played so well by Brad Dourif, even if he has very little screen time), the final showdown taking place in a toy store (how plot convenient) where Charles (known on the street as Chucky) conjures up his voodoo-learned powers in order to transfer his soul into something else.
In this case the closest thing is a Good Guy doll (i.e. some weird crossbred Raggedy Andy and Cabbage Patch creation).
The night of young Andy’s birthday his broke and overworked Mom buys said possessed doll from a peddler (really, a peddler? Is that what we called them?) in the back alley of the department store she works at (honestly looks like a crack alley right behind a fancy department store). Chucky tries to play off an innocent talking doll act, biding his time until he can seek revenge on his murderer (detective Mike), but he’s impatient and has a nagging anger problem, so violence starts pretty quickly.
Andy’s babysitter, his Mom’s best friend Maggie (the oversexed, redhead best friend played by Grease’s Marty) is the first casualty, after Chucky chases her through the apartment and right out the kitchen window (they live on a high rise floor, Andy and his Mom). The small sneaker marks on the floor lead the police to think Andy is the killer, and that he is not mentally well since he keeps talking about the doll that did it.
Chucky vs. Maggie
We get another glimpse into a psychiatric hospital (and another electric shock treatment death), and a lot of crazy doll violence. This one had quite a few “jump scares” in it and reminded me of how much possessed, evil dolls freak me out. The movie has its share of laughs, too, making this a fun and scary romp of a horror film – a great way to start the series. I look forward to what comes next.
Thoughts from my husband:
Why do some franchises survive thirty years after their first film, and why do some just fade away? Primarily the good ones develop a formula and stick with it, without arbitrarily changing it to suit just to crank out a next film. Such is the first three, and sixth, Child’s Play films (we’ll get to the others eventually, stay tuned).
This film gives you a serial killer who hedges his bets by learning voodoo in order to place his soul in another form. Of course, it wouldn’t be a good horror film unless the forms he takes is either a) so horrifying it begs description, or b) so innocuous you can’t imagine it being a threat. Chucky wound up with b after being killed in a toy store and presented with limited options, being stuck putting his soul into a Cabbage Patch kid rip-off (Cabbage Patch kid would have been more terrifying).
Our killer doll is then given to Andy, a disgustingly sweet six year old. This leads to Chucky doing what Chucky does best, cursing and killing whoever pisses him off. The downside of this resurrection, besides being in a three-foot tall, anatomically incorrect doll, is that the longer he stays in one form the greater the odds he will be stuck in in, and be mortal again. Fortunately Chucky finds a loophole and starts tracking Andy and his Mom down to solve this doll-dilemna.
There’s a reason Child’s Play has lasted this long, and that’s due to the fact that the writers found a way to have fun while sticking to the rules they set in this first film – and the fact that kids have a tendency to want some of the creepiest shit toy companies can come up with doesn’t hurt the horror of it all either.
A few fun facts:
Chucky’s full name, Charles Lee Ray, is derived from the names of notorious killers Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald, and James Earl Ray.
To help get into the right mood for Chucky, Brad Dourif would run around the recording studio, work himself up into a real frenzy and then deliver his lines. This would often leave Dourif feeling drained after each take. In fact, he nearly fainted after recording Chucky’s scream when he gets burned alive.
In the scene where Chucky runs behind Maggie in the hallway, Chucky was actually played by Alex Vincent’s younger sister.
Original writer Don Mancini stated in an interview that his original script toyed with the audience a bit longer, making them wonder if young Andy was the killer rather than Chucky. This idea was used by Kevin Tenney in Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996).
In an interview, Don Mancini said in the original script, Child’s Play (1988) was at first a satire on toy marketing and merchandising for children, before the idea morphed into a horror film instead.
The original plot idea was to have life-like Good Guy dolls that had blood and latex skin. If the kids tore the latex skin, they could go out and buy Official Good Guy bandages. In a blood-brother pact, Andy cut his own hand and mixed his blood with Chucky’s, thus causing him to come alive and become human.
The working title for the film was “Blood Buddy,” which seems to confirm the widely believed notion that the film was inspired by Hasbro’s My Buddy toy doll, which also dressed in denim overalls and a striped shirt.
Hasbro’s My Buddy doll
Catherine Hicks (Karen) and Kevin Yagher (Chucky’s creator) met on set and were married a year later.
Child’s Play (1988) continues a theme in Tom Holland’s films of people seeing something supernatural, but they can’t get anyone else to believe them. For example, Scream for Help (1984), Cloak & Dagger (1984), and Fright Night (1985).
The film was released on the same date (November 9, 1988) as the opening scene, when Charles Lee Ray transfers his soul into the doll.
Child’s Play (1988) was disowned by the studio, MGM/United Artists, because of qualms with the film’s subject matter, and accusations that it promoted violence to children. Universal bought the rights for the sequels.
2 thoughts on “John Carpenter’s The Ward and Child’s Play :: Saturday Horror Movie Double-Feature”
Adding the first one to my Netflix.
When Child’s Play came out me & all my friends had My Buddy Dolls so just the commercials scared the living bejesus outta us.
Let me know what you think of The Ward when you watch it – I think you’ll enjoy.
My brother wanted a My Buddy doll. I think he may have had one at our Grandparents’ house. I’ll have to ask him the next time I see him…