Friday, October 10, 2014

1PanelReview John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness

While we never got a proper follow-up to John Carpenter's The Thing (aside from video game & comics continuations and a Hollywood-produced prequel), what we got instead where thematically similar films, Carpenter's own spiritual successor to the thing. The first one in 1987 was John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness, with this 1995 film forming what is collectively known as John Carpenter's "Apocalypse Trilogy".

It might not be Hollywood's idea of a "sequel", but this is as good as it gets. Same creator, same subject and different execution. Here's John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness...

What it is: In the Mouth of Madness

Which is: An horror film
Directed by: John Carpenter
Year: 1995

John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness is a 1995 psychological thriller/horror film starring Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jürgen Prochnow, David Warner and Charlton Heston. After opening in medias res in a psychiatric hospital, which has always been a recurring element in most of Carpenter work, we are introduced to this man named John Trent (brilliantly played in various stages of his descent into madness through the film by the always great Sam Neill), an insurance investigator who was sent looking for this missing popular horror book author, Sutter Cane. Looking for his last whereabout, Trent finds a trail leading to the town that possibly inspired the fictive Hobb's End that is present in all of his books. What follows then is a living descent into a nightmare where reality and fiction blurs as Trent's creepy visions turn real, and things quickly start spiraling out of control. What secret really lies in Hobb's End? Do Sutter Cane's book really drive people insane?!?

What's Good about it: In the Mouth of Madness is perhaps Carpenter's greatest work.
While The Thing and Prince of Darkness used some similar ideas and concept, those were mostly simply a blend of pure horror and shock. This one almost ends on a light-hearted note. But don't mistake it for anything it different though, In the Mouth of Madness contains some great gruesome sequences as the horror increases in intensity as the film progresses.
The film does follow a similar synopsis following a protagonist trapped somewhere with "pure evil". If The Thing was about understanding "it" and containing the situation, and Prince of Darkness got pretty damn' near an actual end of the world, In the Mouth of Madness gets to have this either alien or demonic anti-god entity let free on society in its final act. It's a formidable and unexpected dark turn of events!
For this alone makes In the Mouth of Madness one of Carpenter's best work. The film also features a fantastic cinematography and visuals. Despite its modest budget (it only had about a half of The Thing's), the effects look great, decent and subtle. Perfectly creepy and fitting for the story. Well used in modest quantity, there's still lots of gory bits and even a few "creatures" as the story progresses.
Like John Carpenter's 1982 The Thing remake using several H. P. Lovecraft elements and Prince of Darkness playing straight one of its interpretation of the story using Lovecraft lore, here In the Mouth of Madness clearly embraces Lovecraftian horror at its finest. The movie is in fact akin to psychological horror rather than proper horror. With a big emphasis on the state of mind of our protagonist. Only here despite the gore and shock value the horror here really revolves around the unknown, there's a "cosmic-like" aspect behind the horror. Trent feels the helplessness amd hopeless situation he is stranded in. Most things are left unanswered and up to the interpretation.
It's a movie greatly inspired by the work of Lovecraft. In the Mouth of Madness plays with a lot of those kind of themes. From the insanity to "the Old Ones" of the Cthulhu mythos. There's also various other references in names. Sutter Cane's novels titles come directly from H.P. Lovecraft's. (And there's even some Stephen King thrown in there as well!) 
The whole author making things he write about real doesn't have to be the definitive reality. As the title implies most of it comes from our protagonist's descent into insanity.
We even get Charlton Heston as this publisher - what's not to like!
In the Mouth of Madness was filmed all over several small towns for the exterior shots. From the shots of Hobb's Chuch in another state to an empty street in another. This variety all greatly contributing to the "unnatural" aspect of the town.
Carpenter plays with lots of repetition, like Prince of Darkness associated repetitive with schizophrenia. After a while it even feels like the audience is under hypnosis along the ride (trapped on this road forever?)
In the final act, the film allows itself to get closer to what one would expect from the direct of The Thing. Carpenter starts playing the genre straight. He's so familiar with the horror genre he can use it to get under Trent's skin. And it that last act that showcase those great special effects finally.
Like Prince Of Darkness, music plays a big part in the film's tone and feel. The film contains a very creepy eerie atmosphere. The score was composed by John Carpenter and Jim Lang. Simply fantastic music performed by our director Carpenter. Captivating and engrossing.

What's Bad about it: Not much, really.
It might not be for everyone. Not all the audience might get it.
Some might be put off as Sam Neill's character get slowly mad.
Of course, those simply expecting a retreat to The Thing are in for a disappointment. This is not a plain simple sequel to that film (nor Prince of Darkness despite sharing a lot of elements with it). This an entirely different beast. More oppressing and creepier. Think of it as merely another experiment in a different horror genre. And a great original one at that.

Overall: John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness is one of if not Carpenter's strongest film to date. If Prince of Darkness was a much more personal tale (coming from his passion for science and playing with horror elements), this seems like his most refined use of the genre.

While it didn't make much at the box office at the time, it as since thankfully and rightfully become a classic of its own like it deserved to be! 

It's a great unique horror story. The tone, however, is very much Lovecraftian. Where separating fiction from the reality is just as difficult for the protagonist as it is for the audience.

Intelligent, creepy and unique. Blurring the lines between reality and fiction. A descent into "the Mouth of Madness" as Sam Neill's character slowly loses all connection to reality. All the while the world seems to end up in destruction and the incoming apocalpyse.

A great and fitting conclusion to this "Apocalypse Trilogy".

This comes of course Highly Recommended, even if you don't usually like horror or gory films.
I give it: 3 / 3!

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