In the Mouth of Madness Reviews
Apparently, the only thing worse than being stuck in a hack Sutter Cane story is being stuck in a hack John Carpenter movie.
The plot is creepy as it is surreal. Sam Neill is hired to find a missing horror writer in a small sleepy leafy US town, boy does Carpenter love small US towns. He must find Sutter Cane and retrieve his final novel for publishing. Sounds simple eh? well think again.
When I first saw this film it creeped me out a lot, these days it doesn't have the same kind of punch but its still solid. Carpenter goes into overdrive here with lots of trademark icky effects and monsters, most of which look like ideas from 'The Thing'. As usual effects are created with models and puppets which do now look a bit hokey but plenty of makeup and prosthetics and good use of suggestion.
The whole film is extremely surreal and plays out like a nightmare, in fact the whole point is you don't know if it is a nightmare or reality. Pretty much anything goes really as Sam Neill goes nuts trying to get out of Hobb's End and destroy the final evil horror manuscript. This surrealist approach does work and offers up plenty of weirdness which does equal some nice eerie moments, the ghostly boy cycling along the dark deserted highway at night being a good one.
The start of the film is definitely better than the second half and ending. The film is much more creepy as Neill and his female sidekick leave for and arrive at Hobb's End. After Neill gets what he needs and we return to reality the film slightly loses its mysterious spooky essence, the final sequence is an interesting twist to make you think.
Basically a descent into madness for Neill's character, but we're not even sure if he is a real person or not, could it all be part of the horror novel itself?. Its left to your own thoughts really which is cool but annoying also, I like to know what happens period.
If your a Carpenter fan then this will appeal with tentacled monster puppetry, creepy kids running about, satanic references and all set within a Michael Myers type American pie town. Just don't expect too many final answers regarding characters and plot.
When renowned horror writer Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) makes a sudden disappearance, strange things begin to happen. His ability to describe evil, literally, starts to come to life and effect everyone in society. To investigate his mysterious disappearance, Insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) is sent to a little East Coast town called Hobb's End. However, this little town is actually a figment of Cane's imagination and Trent soon finds himself questioning his own sanity as he is drawn further and further into the dark recesses of Cane's twisted mind.
As always with Carpenter, the concept and premise is one of sheer brilliance and it possesses more than few references to real life horror writers Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft but unlike his previous efforts there is something amiss here. Maybe it's because Carpenter doesn't actually write the script himself or even compose the soundtrack with the idiosyncratic and atmospheric style that fans of his will be accustomed to. Despite the excellent premise, I found that the films major issue was a lack of drive. It didn't catch me the way it did when I first seen it. Also, it suffers from a failure to bring a depth to any character other than Sam Neill's investigator. Sutter Cane is a very intriguing antagonist with a lot of potential but he features very little and when he does appear, the films budget is tested in order to realise it's horror. All in all, this struck me as an attempt from Carpenter to appeal to a wider audience and as a result sacrificed the very style that made him a unique filmmaker to begin with. That's not to say that this is a poor film. It's not. It's very cleverly constructed and for the most part, very well delivered. Carpenter is a master at his build up and construction of atmosphere, meanwhile, cleverly unravelling the mystery. However, the film takes a little too long to get going and just when it's hitting it crescendo, it feels rushed and over a bit too soon.
For the most part, Carpenter does well to blur the lines between fantasy and reality but ultimately it doesn't quite come together as obscurity and pretentiousness creep in. It's a great attempt, but Carpenter has delivered better.
"Lived Any Good Books Lately?"
In The Mouth of Madness was a surprisingly good movie. From the critics response to it; it didn't sound like a great movie, but I found a lot to like from it. The story is very cool and Sam Neill makes everything very enjoyable to watch. John Carpenter's direction is solid and In The Mouth of Madness actually ended up being one of my favorite movies from him. It's not quite up to the level of Halloween, but it is certainly a better than average thriller.
The setup is absolutely amazing and for a while I wondered how Carpenter was going to wrap this thing up and make it seem satisfying. I didn't think he could. I was wrong. I found the ending to be a perfect ending to the story. It's brilliantly funny and sort of terrifying if you think about it. That brings me to the genre. I've heard this classified as a horror film, but I can't justify calling it that. It's a psychological thriller. It has a few horror elements, but a it's core it is a psychological thriller. What makes it a convincing one is the strong performance from Neill. For some reason I always think I'm going to dislike Neill; then I watch a movie with him in and I always love his performances. Here is no exception. He gives a performance where he has to play both a sane somewhat boring man and a crazy lunatic. He pulls them both off easily.
In The Mouth of Madness is an extremely underrated and overlooked movie. I think the brilliance of the concept is lost amongst some in the crazy development of the characters and plot. Movies just don't get much cooler and fun than this. I loved this film.
This film is hypnotically creepy and I loved every second of it. Mind you, in addition to my Lovecraft love, I am also fascinated with films about novel authors and love the possibilities of a sanitarium setting done to delightful melodrama proportions like this one.
Those goodies said, this is not an accessible film because it is essentially set inside the mind of a madman. If you hate dream sequences come alive and living scenes descending into nightmare, with all the odd and inexplicable dream logic intact, you will find yourself swamped by WTF? moments and not be able to enjoy the creepiness on display here.
The ending for me is one of the few "twist" endings I find satisfying. The effects are top notch as one would expect from Carpenter. THE BIG FX EXCPETION: On principle, I disagree with showing full "Old Ones" or any such Lovecraft "deities" or "indescribable" creatures because they are MEANT to be indescribable and thusly impossible for us to even comprehend were one ever to be real and appear to a human, much less be possible for any human to replicate the experience - and to IMAGINE what these creatures could look like is an insult to Lovecraft's central driving theme of fear of the unknowable. In this film, the Old Ones on display are not an exception to this rule of "Don't show the top tier Lovecraft nasties" - they aren't indescribable horror finally and unbelievably realized, but instead just the exact sort of effects installation style you would expect from John Carpenter. I LIKE his style so I'm not as offended by what was done here to Lovecraft creatures so much as the horrendously awful CGI Dagon in Stuart Gordon's Dagon.
To me, this is undeniably a horror classic and every horror fan should have this on their to-see list or objective "Best of Horror" lists. The real test of genuine greatness is that my dreams the night after screening this film were looping bits from the film with tiny touches of my own subconscious added details.
I think In the Mouth of Madness falls into that column of John Carpenter films that fans of his will either love or hate and I could understand the points made for the latter. It is a little hard to get into, at first, as being a very strong film based on the sharply timed shocks and paranoia of Carpenter's horror as a director as well as the ideas presented by the writer, and it does veer into going into the same wild level of deliriousness that soon enough becomes the lead character. But it's a work as well where Carpenter is testing himself, and succeeding in a carefree but controlled way, where he goes for having his cake and eating it too. He gets to throw up on the screen some grisly (and, as a possible tip of the hat to the groundbreaking effects from the Thing, a sometimes funny knock-off) special creature effects and with some masterful displays in editing through the images of abstractions into the character's subconscious, while questioning what he's doing all the time, or at least the genre he and others (notably Stephen King) make their bread and butter.
It's a sort of slightly smarter pulp sci-fi/horror piece, not quite at the insane brilliance of They Live though perhaps in its more deliberate fashion a little creepier, as investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) is investigating the disappearance of a severely popular horror novelist, who's books sometimes make people go a little nuts. Trent sees this first-hand from novelist Sutter Cane's agent, who comes at him wielding an axe (it's one of those pure points in the film that mixed the macabre and satire) He thinks it's a hoax, and soon discovers that he may be in a (fictional?) town called Hobbs End in New Hampshire. What he finds, in typical Carpenter fashion, is describable as being a psychological flip-flopper, where Trent goes from thinking it's all a gag with it being very elaborate, to it suddenly not being, at all. Creatures (supplied wonderfully by KNB) start popping out, disgusting ones that aren't much human, and it even gets to Trett's female companion/literary liaison on the trip. Soon Cane is found in some dank cellar (Jurgen Purchnow, one of Carpenter's most chilling villains in how subtle he is), and he has a new book ready for Trett to bring to the world...
This isn't quite where the film gets weird, though it's probably a little before or a little after this point, and the kind of weirdness I had been hoping to build up. Although it does get close for writer De Luca to being shaky with balancing really dark humor- however in small doses, and depending on how seriously one takes the more overt horror elements- and at the plight of Trent's mind-set in the midst of total Armageddon, Carpenter levels the playing field without missing too many beats. I kept having my mouth hang open either in a 'what the hell' mode or just in sort of plain shock. But it's an entertaining mix and match all the way for a genre fan, and Sam Neill is definitely up for the challenge of playing as well level-headed and rational Trett for the first half, then slowly but surely descending into his own subconscious state of peril- or, perhaps, Trent losing sight on what is perceived as reality or not. Only Neill could go between serious dramatic roles to films like this and Jurassic Park, where his characters' confidence as the practical pragmatist starts to waver as a descent into disaster goes further and further.
What Carpenter ends on in the last section of his "apocalypse" trilogy isn't necessarily a closed-and-shut ending either; I sense that he wants things to be a little closer to the ending of The Thing where it's all doom and gloom but there's a wink to the protagonist's state of mind. Trett's last minutes wandering the streets and going into the movie theater watching himself doesn't really spell anything conclusive, I think, which adds all the more to the fun and intrigue. He could just be still in his hospital room, still in the world that dismisses Cane as pulp-sensationalist trash, albeit successful pulp-sensationalist trash (a little relevant today, eg Dan Brown), and not among the total bat-s*** mess that the world has become while locked in his padded room. It's a question left to the viewer, and a smart one to put up in a film that has by this point thrived mostly on its own sensationalism as well, tongue-in-cheek in the guise of crazy small-town break-out scenario. As a Carpenter fan, I say, bring it on.