Tag Archives: john carpenter

Plotopsy Podcast #25 – Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

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The Ward

The Ward

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Today’s entry into “Worst of the Best” is John Carpenter’s 2010 effort, The Ward.

The Ward was written by the duo of Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, who also wrote the movies Long Distance, Dark Feed, and The Inhabitants.

The Ward is (to date) the final directorial effort of John Carpenter, who is highly regarded for both his horror and action movies, including Halloween, They Live, Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Starman, Christine, The Thing, and Vampires.

The cinematographer for the film was Yaron Orbach, who has worked extensively on Orange Is The New Black, as well as on movies like The Ten, Birds of America, The Open Road, and The Joneses.

The editor for The Ward was Patrick McMahon, who cut the 2008 remake of It’s Alive, Little Monsters, Strange Brew, P2, and A Nightmare On Elm Street, among others.

The producers for the movie included Peter Block (Saw, Saw II, Saw III, Crank), Doug Mankoff (Nebraska), Mike Marcus (You Kill Me), and Hans Ritter (Hard Candy).

The musical score for The Ward was provided by Mark Kilian, who provided music for movies like Traitor, Rendition, Pitch Perfect, and the television series Castle. This is particularly notable because historically, John Carpenter has provided most of his film’s scores himself.

The makeup effects were provided by a team that included Howard Berger (976-EVIL, Intruder, The People Under The Stairs, Vampires), Greg Nicotero (The Black Cat, Dreams in the Witch House, From Dusk Till Dawn 2, From Dusk Till Dawn 3, Maniac Cop 3), Kerrin Jackson (Son of the Mask, Jonah Hex), and Kevin Wasner (Catwoman, Jennifer’s Body).

The special effects unit for The Ward was made up in part by Brian Goehring (The Last Airbender, Species), Stephen Klineburger (Drive Angry), Dirk Rogers (The Stepford Wives, Collateral, Death Proof), Casey Pritchett (Vampires, Face/Off), Ray Brown (Class of 1999).

The cast of The Ward was made up of Amber Heard (The Rum Diary, Drive Angry, Zombieland), Mamie Gummer (Cake, Side Effects), Danielle Panabaker (The Flash, Friday the 13th), Laura-Leigh (We’re The Millers), Jared Harris (Dead Man, Lost In Space, Mad Men), Mika Boorem (The Patriot, Hearts In Atlantis), and Lyndsy Fonseca (Agent Carter, Kick-Ass).

The plot of The Ward is summarized on IMDb as follows:

An institutionalized young woman becomes terrorized by a ghost.

theward1The Ward currently has an IMDb user rating of 5.6, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 33% from critics and 27% from audiences. Financially, it lost a significant amount of money: on an estimated budget of $10 million, is grossed barely over $1 million, almost entirely from international markets.

The Ward isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Really, it isn’t anywhere close to the worst. However, it represents a really disheartening fall from grace for both John Carpenter and the genre as a whole, because it is just so overwhelmingly mediocre and familiar. If there is anything that John Carpenter has never been in his career, it is familiar. Even his other arguable missteps, like Ghosts of Mars and Escape From L.A., still feel like John Carpenter at the end of the day. The Ward, however, seems like it could have been made by any half-assed horror director in Hollywood, and people just expected something better than that from Carpenter.

The most similar film in Carpenter’s filmography to The Ward is probably In The Mouth of Madness (though it is a stretch). Comparing the ways that the two movies (and the two versions of Carpenter) deal with a similar steady blurring of fiction and reality reveals a lot about why The Ward feels so tired and unremarkable. In The Mouth of Madness presented an eerie world from the start, where things feel off-kilter naturally, and the environment steadily declines until the conclusion of the second act, when sanity takes a nosedive. It is a profoundly surreal movie that utilizes fantastic effects work and visuals to create the atmosphere of a world descending into a Lovecraftian hell. The Ward, on the other hand, is never quite so dramatic. It is a slow story punctuated solely by jump-scares (a tired tactic), where the entire world seems to exist in a bland scale of sepia tones. The visuals are never particularly compelling, and the tension is mostly reliant upon musical cues. The world doesn’t feel as curious or strange on the whole, which ruins what could have been a really cool claustrophobic atmosphere. The whole direction of The Ward strikes me as passionless, like Carpenter went into autopilot and just wanted to color between the lines.

That said, there are some definite positives to The Ward. Specifically, I think that the performances are solid from top to bottom: Amber Heard deals with her leading responsibilities well, and Jared Harris absolutely kills it as the hospital’s primary doctor. The last act also sees the story and action start to kick into gear, and makes for a pretty compelling last 25 minutes or so.

Overall, The Ward isn’t bad so much as it is disappointing. I don’t think it is worse than the field at large, but Carpenter’s reputation looms over it, and might have put expectations on it that it couldn’t possibly have been lived up to. Regardless, it may very well stand as the final entry in Carpenter’s filmography, as much of a shame as that might be. However, for what it is worth, I though it was better than the flaming garbage pile that is Ghosts of Mars. Stay tuned for that one.

Vampires

Vampires

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Today’s feature is John Carpenter’s 1998 movie, Vampires.

Vampires is based on a 1990 novel called “Vampire$” by John Steakley, with a screenplay written by Don Jakoby (Evolution, Double Team, Death Wish 3, Philadelphia Experiment II), who also served as a producer on the movie.

Vampires was directed and scored by John Carpenter, one of the living legends of the horror genre. His credits have included  Halloween, The Fog, Big Trouble In Little China, They Live, Escape From New York, In The Mouth of Madness, The Thing, Christine, and Assault on Precinct 13 over his storied career.

The cinematographer for the film was Gary B. Kibbe, who also shot the movies Double Dragon, RoboCop 3, and John Carpenter’s films Prince of Darkness and Ghosts of Mars.

The editor for the film was Edward Warschilka, who cut such films as The Running Man, Big Trouble In Little China, Escape From LA, In The Mouth Of Madness, and Child’s Play 3.

Outside of writer Don Jakoby, the producers for the movie included Sandy King (Ghosts of Mars, They Live), Barr Potter (Omega Doom), and David Rodgers (Double Team, Total Recall).

The special effects crew included Gene Grigg (Rush Hour), Jason Gustafson (The Green Mile, Jarhead), Scott Kodrik (Mortal Kombat, The Faculty), Corey Pritchett (Space Jam, Showgirls), Darrell Pritchett (Die Hard, Fright Night), and Wayne Toth (Army of Darkness, Wishmaster).

The makeup effects for Vampires were provided by a unit that was made up of Howard Berger (The Faculty, Sin City, Evil Dead II), Robert Kurtzman (It Follows, Maniac Cop 3), Greg Nicotero (Intruder, Maniac Cop 3, The People Under The Stairs), Jill Cady (Weeds), Chris Hanson (S. Darko, Hellboy, The Faculty), Monica Kenyon (Suspect Zero, Phone Booth), Douglas Noe (Van Helsing, From Dusk Till Dawn), Scott Patton (The Mangler, Pick Me Up), and Janna Phillips (Hook, Batman Forever).

The cast for the film was made up of James Woods (Videodrome, Best Seller, Casino), Daniel Baldwin (King of the Ants, Car 54, Where Are You?), Mark Boone Jr. (Sons of Anarchy), Sheryl Lee (One Tree Hill, Winter’s Bone), Thomas Ian Griffith (xXx), Gregory Sierra (Papillon), Tim Guinee (Hell On Wheels, The Good Wife), and Maximilian Schell (Deep Impact).

vampires5Apparently, Vampires suffered a massive studio budget cut before filming began, cutting the initial production estimate by roughly 2/3.

John Carpenter was reportedly initially attracted to the prospect of directing Vampires because the offer allowed him to design the film to be a sort of horror-western, with non-traditional, savage vampires instead of the suave ones in vogue in the popular mindset.

The screenplay, according to John Carpenter, was entirely rewritten by himself based on a combination of the book, another screenplay by Don Mazur, and the one written by Don Jakoby. However, Jakoby ultimately received sole credit for the screenplay.

Vampires features a number of similarities to other popular vampire films in style and tone, including 1998’s Blade (which predated the Vampires release by two months), 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn, and the television show Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which ran from 1997 to 2003.

Russel Mulcahy (Highlander, Highlander II: The Quickening) was originally on board to direct Vampires in the early 1990s, but dropped out after the production dragged out too long. His vision apparently had action star Dolph Lundgren in the lead role. After he left the project, the studio approached Carpenter with the opportunity to lead the movie.

Vampires ultimately spawned two low-budget sequels: 2002’s Vampires: Los Muertos starring rock star Jon Bon Jovi, and 2005’s Vampires: The Turning. Neither film was particularly well-reviewed or publicized, and both released straight to video.

Vampires was made on an estimated budget of $20 million, on which it managed to gross $51.3 million in its theatrical run. Even though this was certainly profitable, it was eclipsed by the similar movie Blade, which raked in over $131 million worldwide after releasing two months prior.

vampires6Vampires had a mixed reception from critics and audiences alike. It currently holds an IMDb rating of 6.1, alongside Rotten Tomatoes aggregated scores of 36% from critics and 48% from general audiences.

James Woods is fantastic as always in Vampires, bringing his mixture of humor and sleazy grit to his vampire hunter character. While his attitude is right, he doesn’t have the sort of physicality you would expect from a top vampire hunter, but I think that is a pretty minor and unavoidable gripe that is more than made up for by his performance. Daniel Baldwin, on the other hand, is weird to see in a key role outside of a b-movie. His performance is good enough, but I can’t help but wonder if the role couldn’t have been better cast. I assume the budget cuts impacted the production’s options, but it is hard to believe that Daniel Baldwin would ever wind up on the top of a pack for this role.

vampires3The opening vampire hunting sequence in the film is undeniably fun, and reminded me a bit of the moments in Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness when Bruce Campbell was on top of his game. However, there isn’t a whole lot of action to be had in the film, likely as a result of the budget being pressed. Still, the film never quite feels boring in spite of the long periods without action, which is a testament to how well shot, scripted, and acted it is.

The release of Blade clearly really hurt this movie, because the creatures in that film seem to be the sorts of rough and tumble vampires that Carpenter wanted to have here, but couldn’t execute. The fact that it had a higher budget and a bigger push behind it made Vampires look all the smaller by comparison, and it is nearly impossible to talk about Vampires now without bringing up its big brother blockbuster. However, at the end of the day, Vampires isn’t nearly as good or memorable as Blade, and is a pretty weak effort from Carpenter considering his body of work. That said, it certainly isn’t bad, but it is somehow the weakest of the wave of late 1990s vampire flicks (the others being Blade and From Dusk Till Dawn).

Overall, Vampires is worth checking out for horror fans and anyone who appreciates the works of John Carpenter. However, it is definitely one of his lesser efforts, and marks the beginning of a serious career slide for the lauded horror icon. Woods is solid, the action is fun, and the film is generally appealing visually, but it pales next to Blade and From Dusk Till Dawn for one reason or another.

The Fog (1980)

The Fog (1980)

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Today’s feature is one of John Carpenter’s many cult classic films: 1980’s The Fog.

The Fog was co-written, directed, and scored by horror master John Carpenter as his follow-up to the smash hit Halloween, and was  co-written and produced by his frequent collaborator Debra Hill.

The cinematographer for the film was Dean Cundey, and accomplished shooter who has worked on such movies as Jurassic Park, Garfield, Flubber, Apollo 13, Hook, Road House, Back To The Future, Big Trouble In Little China, Halloween, Escape From New York, and many more.

The Fog featured work by two credited editors: production designer Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween, It, Fright Night 2) and Charles Bornstein (Halloween, Critters 2, Howling 2, Return of the Living Dead 2).

The distinctive musical score for The Fog was provided by director John Carpenter, something he often did for films he was involved with.

The team of producers for the movie included co-writer Debra Hill, Pegi Brotman (The Philadelphia Experiment), and Barry Bernardi (The Punisher, Christine, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Pixels, The Devil’s Advocate, Click).

The special effects team for The Fog included Rob Bottin (The Thing, Fight Club, RoboCop, Legend, Piranha, RoboCop 3), Edward Ternes (Clue, Wonder Woman), Erica Ueland (Children of the Corn, Halloween), Richard Albain Jr. (Assault on Precinct 13, Malcolm in the Middle), and James Liles (1941, Logan’s Run).

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The cast for The Fog included Tom Atkins (Maniac Cop, Halloween III, Creepshow), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, Prom Night, Trading Places), Janet Leigh (Psycho, Touch of Evil, The Manchurian Candidate, Night of the Lepus), Adrienne Barbeau (Creepshow, Swamp Thing, Escape From New York), John Houseman (Rollerball, The Paper Chase), and Hal Holbrook (Capricorn One, Creepshow, Wall Street).

The Fog notably featured the mother and daughter acting combo of Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis, who have both had highly acclaimed acting careers. However, they only appeared in one other movie together: Halloween H20.

Special effects worker Rob Bottin plays the role of Blake, the lead ghost, in The Fog. He wound up being cast specifically because of his size after he expressed interest in taking an on-screen role in a John Carpenter movie. He would later famously head the effects team for John Carpenter’s memorable take on The Thing.

Director and co-writer John Carpenter was married to lead actress Adrienne Barbeau at the time The Fog was filmed, and the lead role was apparently written specifically for her from the outset. They divorced only a few years after the film’s release, in 1984.

In order the achieve the desired, surreal effect for the fog retreat sequences in the movie, the film had to be run backwards. This means that Adrienne Barbeau had to act in reverse for these sequences, a notable feat.

Reportedly, horror legend Christopher Lee was initially intended for Hal Holbrook’s character, but had a scheduling conflict that prevented him from taking it up.

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The Fog received a 2005 remake directed by Rupert Wainwright, but it was very poorly received by audiences and critics alike. Ultimately, it racked up an astonishing 4% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, along with an abysmal 3.6 rating on IMDb.

The Fog had a reported budget of just $1 million, and in total grossed over $21 million domestically in its theatrical run, making the movie significantly profitable.

While The Fog was not nearly as profitable or well loved by audiences or critics as Halloween, it is certainly a cult favorite for many. Currently, it holds a 6.8 rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 69% from critics and 63% from audiences.

First and foremost, The Fog has an excellently constructed, creepy atmosphere, which is effectively emphasized by Carpenter’s eerie score. Personally, I think that the music is an improvement on Carpenter’s previous work on Halloween, though that is a point that is certainly up for debate.

With the ghostly sequences, Carpenter makes very interesting use of light in conjunction with the eponymous fog, creating a lot of back-lighting, imposing shadows, and halo effects over the monsters. The obscured vision also keeps the tension high, as both the audience and the characters are never quite sure where in the fog the monsters are.

In his review, Roger Ebert pointed out a significant issue with The Fog: that “it needs a better villain”.

The problem is with the fog. It must have seemed like an inspired idea to make a horror movie in which clouds of fog would be the menace, but the idea just doesn’t work out in “The Fog,” …The movie’s made with style and energy, but it needs a better villain.

In general, I agree with this overall sentiment. Horror movies are almost always defined by the threat, and while the image of “The Fog” itself is menacing, the figures within it just aren’t quite scary or imposing enough. The fog effects certainly allow for a lot of horror ambiance, but it doesn’t feel to me like it ever really pays off.  The story is a bit too slowly paced to begin with, which certainly doesn’t help with the lack of viewer satisfaction, particularly in the minds of 1980 theater audiences expecting to see another Halloween.

Overall, The Fog is a solid atmospheric horror movie that has been perhaps unjustly buried in John Carpenter’s body of work. It may not be his best film (or even one of his best films), but it is fantastic on its own, assuming you can divorce it from the reputations of its predecessors and descendants in the Carpenter filmography. If you dig horror movies, you certainly owe it to yourself to give it a watch.