Sunday, October 11, 2015

In the Mouth of Madness




Directed by John Carpenter and written by Michael De Luca, In the Mouth of Madness is the story of an insurance investigator who tries to find a mysterious horror writer who has disappeared as he deals with the phenomenon of his work. Inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, the film is an exploration into the world of books and its power where a man deals with the chaos that surrounds him. Starring Sam Neill, Jurgen Prochnow, Julie Carmen, David Warner, and Charlton Heston. In the Mouth of Madness is a strange yet thrilling film from John Carpenter.

The film revolves an insurance investigator who is asked by a publishing company to find a popular horror writer and the manuscript of his new book as the writer itself had disappeared. The film plays into a man who went through a hellacious journey as he would tell his story to a doctor at a mental institution about what happened where his attempt to disprove a writer’s power would only have him question the world he is in. It’s a film that also explores the power of fiction where the investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) is trying to believe that the small town he is in isn’t real but there’s too many things that have him question what is real and what is fiction.

Michael De Luca’s screenplay begins with Trent being taken to a mental asylum as he claims he’s not crazy though Dr. Wrenn (David Warner) wants to disprove that as Trent tells him his story. Trent is a very unique character as someone who is good at disproving many insurance claims as he thinks his search for the popular horror writer Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) is nothing more than another easy assignment as he’s joined by Cane’s editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen). Styles is more in tune with Cane’s work though Trent is very dismissive but once they believe where Cane is, things become very strange where they arrive into a town that is named after one of Cane’s books. Styles would see things as she admits to try to fool Trent in getting the insurance money but what she and Trent would see wasn’t part of the plan where it becomes clear how dangerous the book is as well as Cane’s influence.

John Carpenter’s direction is very stylish not just in his approach to some of the compositions he creates but also in the strange world that is presented which plays into the works that Cane has created. While it is set largely in New York and New Hampshire, the film is actually shot in parts of Toronto and small town areas in Toronto play up this look of a world where it seems very innocent and quiet. Instead, Carpenter goes for something that is odd in terms of the compositions he creates in its close-ups, medium shots, and wide shots to display a world where it could be real, fictional, or both. It’s these kind of ambiguities that adds to the tone of the film where its second and third act is about the journey Trent and Styles would go to and the things they encounter. Plus, it is also clear that any chance for any of them to get out would be impossible as it adds to this blur of reality and fiction.

By the time the Crane character is formally introduced as well as the world he is in, the influence of H.P. Lovecraft does come into play as far what Crane has written over the years as it starts to become real. Even in its third act where Styles’ encounter with Crane would have some serious repercussions on Trent who has no idea what is real and fiction. Some of it plays into the kind of creatures that Lovecraft is known for such as Cthulhu where it added to some of the elements of horror and dark fantasy that emerges where it would have a far more troubling aftermath once the film returns to the mental asylum where Trent tells his story to Dr. Warren. Even as the aftermath would not only play elements of the Apocalypse but also an ending that is very weird where it also breaks the fourth wall about the impact of the book. Overall, Carpenter creates a very eerie yet riveting film about an insurance agent who encounters the strange world of a horror novelist.

Cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the colorful look of the small town exteriors in the day to the usage of lights for the scenes set at night as well as the scenes in the church where Crane lives. Editor Edward A. Warschilka does brilliant work with the film‘s editing with its stylish usage of fast-cut montages as well as rhythmic cuts to play into its suspense and terror. Production designer Jeff Ginn, with set decorator Elinor Rose Galbraith and art director Peter Grundy, does fantastic work with the look of the hotel Trent and Styles live in to some of the design of the place that Crane lives and works at which adds to the sense of horror and Lovecraft visual style. Costume designer Robin Michel Bush does nice work with the costumes from the casual clothes that Trent wears to the stylish clothes that Styles wear.

Special makeup effects designers Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, and Greg Nicotero do amazing work with the design of some of the creatures as well as some of the makeup and such in some of the characters who follow Crane and his work along with the look Trent would give to himself early in the film. Visual effects supervisor Bruce Nicholson does terrific work with the visual effects from the look of some of the backgrounds in the realm between the real world and fantasy as well as a few scenes involving the monsters. Sound editor John Dunn and sound designer John Pospisil do superb work with the sound to create some sound effects as well as some of the moments in the violence and terror. The film’s music by John Carpenter and Jim Lang is wonderful for its mixture of haunting electronic textures with some metal-based guitar music as it plays into the sense of darkness that looms in the film.

The film’s incredible cast includes some notable small roles from a young Hayden Christensen as a paperboy, Wilhelm von Homburg as a local from the small town named Simon, Frances Bay as a hotel owner named Mrs. Pickman, Bernie Casey as a friend of Trent early in the film named Robinson, and John Glover as the mental asylum director Saperstein. Charlton Heston is fantastic as the publisher Jackson Harglow who hires Trent for the insurance investigation claim as he wonders what is going on with Cane. David Warner is superb as Dr. Wrenn as the man who interrogates Trent at the asylum as he tries to figure out if Trent is really insane. Julie Carmen is brilliant as Linda Styles as an editor who joins Trent in the trip as she tries to comprehend what she is seeing while being the one person who knows Cane’s books as she tries to hold on to her humanity. Jurgen Prochnow is amazing as the writer Sutter Cane as a man whose imagination comes to life as he believes in the power of his work where he would unleash the Apocalypse. Finally, there’s Sam Neill in a remarkable performance as John Trent as an insurance investigator who is good at disproving things where he is challenged by what he sees as he tries to make sense of the chaos as there’s elements of humor in his performance that makes it one of his best.

In the Mouth of Madness is a phenomenal film from John Carpenter. Armed with a great cast, an intriguing premise, and engrossing elements of horror and suspense. The film is truly an off-the-wall horror/suspense film that plays into the world of reality vs. fiction as well as the power of what fiction can do. In the end, In the Mouth of Madness is an exhilarating and evocative film from John Carpenter.

John Carpenter Films: Dark Star - Assault from Precinct 13 - Halloween - Someone’s Watching Me! - Elvis - The Fog - Escape from New York - The Thing - Christine - Starman - Big Trouble in Little China - Prince of Darkness - They Live - Memoirs of an Invisible Man - Body Bags - Village of the Damned - Escape from L.A. - Vampires - Ghosts of Mars - The Ward

The Auteurs #60: John Carpenter Pt. 1 - Pt. 2


© thevoid99 2015

12 comments:

Ruth said...

Boy I've been meaning to see this one for ages, not sure why I still haven't seen it. I like Sam Neill, he's such an underrated actor.

thevoid99 said...

This is one of these films that not many people have seen. John Carpenter in the 1990s was hit-and-miss but this is often considered his most underrated film and this is a film that I think more people should see. It's really unlike anything and it's far smarter than it is. Plus, seeing Sam Neill be funny was actually refreshing.

keith71_98 said...

Ok, it is official. I really need to see this.

thevoid99 said...

@keith-See it now!!!! If you have Cinemax, check your listings and record that shit!

Fisti said...

UGH, I'll seek this out when I get settled in FL. I love me some Sam Neill (he deserves more recognition for his work), so I'm all in. I need to see more Carpenter anyways. Great write up.

thevoid99 said...

@Fisti-See this. This is a film that was very polarizing when it first came out but it has become this cult classic and it's certainly a film that needs to be seen a whole lot more. It's a real gem and an underrated one.

Stephanie said...

Wow ... how is it that I'd never heard of this film? I am going to suggest to my husband that this is the next movie we watch together. Terrific review, as always!

thevoid99 said...

@Stephanie-Thanks. Try and find it in your TV listings. It is definitely a film that people should see more.

Roman J. Martel said...

Really love the surreal and terrifying atmosphere of this film. Another under appreciated film in Carpenter's filmography, but man does it work overtime to get under your skin. Lots of great references to H.P. Lovecraft in this film too, and as a fan of Lovecraft's writing I always get a kick out of it. I really like Sam Neil in this film too. He does a great job of breaking down bit by bit as the movie progresses.

thevoid99 said...

@Roman J. Martel-I really think this is Carpenter's most forgotten and underrated film of his career as it is very offbeat as well as knowing where to scare and where not to scare. Plus, I think Sam Neill is overlooked for his performance in the film as he seemed to enjoy himself throughout the entirety of the film.

J.D. Lafrance said...

Love how Carpenter filters Lovecraft through his own sensibilities and makes a meta horror film that outclasses the entire SCREAM franchise and then some. This film sucks you in right from the INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS-esque opening and never lets go. Great stuff!

thevoid99 said...

@J.D. Lafrance-This is a film that more people need to see. I love the meta-ness of it where it's not afraid to blur the lines between what is real and what is fiction. Even as you're seeing how fucked up it is but let yourself have a good time with it.