Psycho Ward 2007
Directed by: Patrick McBrearty
Starring:Jacqueline Betts, Bobby Horvath, Liam Card
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s interesting that not many slasher completists mention that there were far more slasher movies released during 1998-2008 than at any other period of the genre’s timeline. Even the eighties heyday didn’t churn out as many psycho killers, which is an interesting piece of information. It’s likely because it is so much easier now to get a film made and a distribution deal sorted and anyone with a camera and a few keen friends can put together their own effort. In the old days, it was all about walking around cap in hand and begging for funding.
On top of that, we have also seen entries emerging from more and more countries over the past fifteen years. These include Russia, India, Pakistan, South Korea and Thailand. There were so many newer titles finding their way direct to DVD at one point that even the IMDB is still catching up with listing half of them. I keep looking out for Final Curtain and Demon Day Killer and to this day they don’t seem to be on there.
There’s a massive difference between the low budgeted modern entries and the ones that came out thirty-years earlier. Take for example movies like Blood Reaper, Sawblade and Heart Stopper. They can at times be fun to watch, but they lack the charm and wit that was such an allure for the entries from the golden years like Sledgehammer or Home Sweet Home. Psycho Ward to look at offers nothing notably different from any of the three post-Scream titles I mentioned above, but it does have one thing that allows it to somewhat stand apart. This was not (yet) another direct-to-disc shelf-liner from Brain Damage or Film 2000, but was actually distributed by a major, major studio.
What on earth Lionsgate, the most commercially successful independent film and television company in North America and the third most profitable movie production suite, were thinking when they picked this up is anyone’s guess? Maybe they paid peanuts for it? Maybe they did it for charity? Maybe a video was sent to the board of directors showing one of them in a ‘compromising position’ with a hooker and a bag of coke? Anyway I was keen to see if it was worthy of such a ‘blue chip’ release…
A group of students head off to a dilapidated prison with a psychiatrist to uncover the truth behind rumours of government mind experiments that had been taking place before it was shut down. It seems that there were some military tests on the inmates that had to be kept classified. What they uncover is a vicious masked killer who seems hell bent on slashing them to pieces.
Are prisons creepy? I guess they could be. You see, there probably are only a few places more claustrophobic than a concrete cell and you have to give the director 10/10 for effort on his choice of location. In the opening scene, McBrearty hits the right switches by giving us a nice pair of boobies, some fun gore and a glimpse of a masked menace. It’s a good start, but as you all know so well dear readers, from then on its more likely that things will traverse in a downward trajectory
The characters that carry us through the story are comfortably delivered and unlike the majority of slashers, Ward doesn’t make the necessary development parts something that would send an amphetamine addict into a coma. There’s some genuinely impressive structure in some of the camera-work and I really liked one lingering POV shot, which sees the unseen assailant watch his prey wander through the door to their impending doom from an upstairs window. It was truly a postcard horror shot that proved our director knew the genre’s background. When the trouble starts, the group decide to stick together and work in tandem to escape and there are hints of paranoia directed at the girl that they met mysteriously outside of the prison. Could she be involved? Is she the killer’s daughter? It’s not as predictable as you might think.
About halfway through, two unknowns pull up in a car outside the building and the maniac makes very quick work of them with minimal endeavour. They are never mentioned or referenced again and it’s pretty obvious that the scene was added during post-production because someone noticed that there hadn’t been any killings for a while. We do come across moments when the pace does stagnate a bit, but all in all I think that things cruise along at an acceptable gallop and sustaining momentum is not the flaw that ruins Psycho Ward.
The movie’s weakness is that it doesn’t make the most of the few good elements that were there to be expanded upon. I mentioned in my plot write-up about evil doctors and military mind experiments, right? Well that led me to expect some kind of super-human survivor like Robocop who that a sympathetic reasoning behind his murderous intent. He doesn’t want to kill but was programmed to do so by twisted CIA agents or Military generals. Keep in mind that this was produced long BEFORE Shutter Island, and could have been really unique with an approach that hinted at a shady conspiracy or a manchurian candidate type of backstory. What we got in the end though was absolutely nothing. Nada, zero, nic, nix, naught. Just a normal (overweight) nut in a mask with no imaginative motive outside of the fact that he ‘likes to kill’. So why build us up like that only not to follow through? Your guess is as good as mine and it was really disappointing.
The script seems to have been written in five-minutes on the back of a fag packet and it includes moments that seem incredibly dumb. INCREDIBLY so. There’s a part where two of the characters get locked in a prison cell together; and I repeat, LOCKED.IN.A.PRISON.CELL.TOGETHER. I laughed out loud when one of them looked at the other and said, “Ok right, so we should just wait here!” An early victim has a chance to flee the hulking maniac and so she runs, no, not out of the open doorway to freedom, but into a concrete cell with no lockable door (?). I also liked it when the ‘heroic’ male lead discovers a cell block that is littered with the bodies of his chums. He finds corpse A and like a real gentleman takes of his jacket to place it over the victim’s face. Then he comes across corpse B and removes his shirt to do the same. Secretly inside, I wondered if he really would strip right down to his polka dot y-fronts if he came across the rest of the deceased?
Psycho Ward at last check has a 2.1 rating on the IMDB. 2.1! To put that in perspective, even Camp Blood has 3.4. In fairness, I didn’t think it was 2.1 worth of bad and I’m glad that I watched it. There’s a touch of suspense in the final five minutes and I did like the downbeat ending. I just think that because it was released by a major brand, I had the expectation that it would fair better. I wonder what the producer from Lionsgate that picked this up thought would become of it? I mean the killings have the whole ‘torture porn’ thing going on, so perhaps he imagined that it was the next SAW? Oh gosh, my head is spinning. People have lost jobs for a lot less. In fact it plays a lot like another of the same studio’s trashy throwaways, See No Evil. I was going to say that maybe Psycho Ward ripped that movie off, but I have heard on the grapevine that this was left in a vault for a while before it was finally launched onto the public, so it’s a few years older. Thinking about all this is actually making my head hurt. I see Psycho Ward when I close my eyes… THERE’S NO ESCAPE FROM THE CONCRETE CELL WITH NO DOOR!!!! HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELLLLLLPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!!!
Anyway dear readers, this one is not particularly memorable, but if you’re in dire need of some junk, then you can give it a whirl. In the meantime, I just filmed myself with a pillow case over my head heavy breathing on my iPhone 4S. I’m on hold to Lionsgate now. If they give me a contract, I’ll buy you all a beer. Peace…
Killer Guise: √√