John Carpenter's The Ward

Halloween has been and gone, but we still have one last terrifying review for your delectation...

Regular readers of this site will know that the film was originally scheduled to make its UK DVD and Blu-ray debut on May 16 this year. However, the release date ended up being delayed after review copies were sent out to the press and were found to present the film in an incorrect (open matte) aspect ratio. Almost a month after first contacting Warner Home Video with our discovery (during which time our story had been picked up by other sites and had even got back to Carpenter himself, who Tweeted about the situation), the studio finally announced that it was delaying the release until later in the year, so that it could master the film in the correct aspect ratio. So, let's find out if it's actually been worth the wait...

It's been a decade since John Carpenter last directed a film (Ghosts of Mars) and a whopping 17 years since he actually made one (In the Mouth of Madness) that was anything close to the quality of those early films that established him as one of the legends of modern horror cinema. Now, after so many years of collecting money from less talented filmmakers buying the rights to remake those early classics and a couple of outings behind the camera to direct episodes of defunct TV series Masters of Horror, Carpenter has finally been tempted back to the world of bigscreen horror. But after watching The Ward, it's difficult to really get a grip on why it was this particular director-for-hire job that appealed to him.

Dealing with ghostly goings on and revenge from beyond the grave in a psychiatric hospital during the mid-'60s, The Ward isn't actually a bad film. It's just a surprisingly derivative one. There's nothing here that really grabs you by the throat and sends chills down your spine. Instead, it's content to simply tell a pretty straight-forward ghost story bolstered by Carpenter's trademark mastery of the widescreen frame and some engaging performances - particularly from lead actress Amber Heard, who is rapidly become this generation's leading scream queen.

Picture: Presented in its correct 2.40:1 aspect ratio, The Ward certainly looks the part on Blu-ray. The AVC 1080p encode always looks incredibly cinematic, whether dealing with brightly-lit external scenes or the (much more frequent) shadowy interior of the hospital. As well as a healthy and extremely film-like patina of well-defined grain, the image also features an impressive level of clarity and fine detail. Colours aren't particularly vibrant, but this is an aesthetic choice on the part of the filmmakers, rather than an issue with the Blu-ray encode itself, giving the film a much more downbeat and sombre atmosphere.
Picture rating: 4/5

Audio: Speaking of atmosphere, this Blu-ray's lossless 5.1 soundtrack packs in plenty. A rare appearance by the Dolby TrueHD codec ushers in a terrifically engaging and enveloping surround mix that makes full use of the soundstage to generate its chills. There's no shortage of sudden audio jolts assaulting your from the surround speakers (a cheap scare, but when employed correctly, still an effective one), and they also get plenty of use for more general ambient effects. Like many horror films, there's also quite a bit of punch to the disc's LFE when it comes to slamming doors and other oppressive/spooky sounds. Elsewhere you'll find extremely natural dialogue presentation that's pinned cleanly to the front stereo spread and rich tones in the treatment of the film's score (composed by Mark Kilian, rather than Carpenter himself).
Audio rating: 4/5

Extras: Sadly Warner has opted to disappoint Carpenter's UK fans by not licensing the director's commentary that appeared on the earlier US Blu-ray release of The Ward. Even if, as has been reported online, it's not one of the his best chat-tracks, Carpenter's commentaries have almost always proved to be a fascinating and enjoyable experience for enthusiasts and it's a real shame to miss out on one when it exists elsewhere.

As it is, you're simply left with a selection of EPK-style video interviews that cover the production in fairly broad strokes, but which don't offer anything particularly revelatory. Carpenter himself only gets 3mins to chat, 'The Cast' (Amber Heard, Jared Harris, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Mamie Gummer, Lyndsy Fonseca and Mika Boorem) are grouped together in a 26min reel, and 'The Producers and Production Designer' (producers Andrew Spaulding, Mike Marcus and Peter Block, executive producer Rich Cowan and production deigner Paul Peters) share an 18min reel. On the positive side, all of the interview material is at least presented in 1080p.
Extras rating: 1/5

Warner Home Video, All-region Blu-ray, £20 approx, On sale now