Monday, December 13, 2010

A Very Carpenter Christmas 1: In The Mouth of Madness

So, yes, Christmas is upon us, and unfortunately that's not really an opportune time for horror movie buffs such as myself. Sure, as a human being who enjoys good food, gifts and company, it's quite excellent, but the hateful little gnome that lives in my brain just can't find sustenance through a month centered around joy and the goodwill of man. Sure, one could try surviving on darkly humorous and, for some reason, very controversial horror comedies centered around the Yuletide, but I say bah to that. So instead, this Holiday, I will be covering some of the works of John Carpenter, not all of them obviously, he's made a lot of movies, and I can't use my hands for writing all the time, you know, it's hard to drink mulled wine without the help of ones hands, after all. But enough about that, let's start the first installment of A Very Carpenter Christmas, where we'll be looking at a rather Lovecraftian flick called In The Mouth of Madness. Oh, and as per usual, here be spoilers.
Uh, what were we talking about again?

So, the thing about Lovecraft is that one thinks "Oh, interdimensional horrors and all that is groovy-pants and all, but no way anyone's going to make a movie out of it." Then, along comes John Carpenter and goes "HA," in a way that usually implies that one is about to prove the previous speaker wrong. In The Mouth Of Madness is the medium he chose for this. The story follows John Trent, played by Sam Neil, resident sceptic and insurance fraud investigator and Linda Styles, played by Julie Carmen, chief editor for the enigmatic writer and target of the journey, Sutter Cane, played by Jürgen Prochnow. In short, Cane's gone AWOL, and the publishers is claiming insurance since it doesn't look like he'll be able to deliver the manuscript for the titular book in time. Neil thinks this is a scam, of course, and starts to track down the town of Hobb's End, where Cane's books are set. This seems to be difficult, since Hobb's End doesn't seem to exist, but hey, finding the unfindable is step 1 in any self-respecting Lovecraftian story. So needless to say, he finds the town, but it would seem it has a little problem. One, nobody can quite determine if the town existed at all before Cane started writing the books and Two: Beings from a different world who seems keen on invading the earth because beings from a different world in nine out of ten cases are humongous dicks.

This is probably bad news...

Now, this movie does something right a lot of other "otherworldly horror"-movies often does wrong. They keep the beasties mysterious. Sure, there are some degree of explanation about just what the hell they're supposed to be, but the definitions that are made are vague enough that one can easily imagine that it's merely the most complete way a human can understand it without going insane. Though, that doesn't seem to help Neil, who takes just a couple too many hits to the SAN (Geek Joke, ho!) in the end, and one could be forgiven for wondering how much of what we saw really happened.

This film is also delightfully meta, since it turns out Cane's writing either changes reality, or that he's tasked to "narrate" the fall of all that is known by the mindrendering powers that be. Either way, one could interpret that the whole tale is about a character that realizes he is a character in a book. Unfortunately for him, it wasn't precisely a romantic comedy he landed himself in. If one accepts this way of looking at it, one could ask oneself if this wouldn't have been a story better told in a book. Well, concepts not quite unlike it have worked before, but it also demonstrates the strength of Carpenter's filmmaking, when he actually can communicate the incredibly tricky idea in a medium that requires such a degree of visual coherency and sense as film, if you excuse me slipping into film geek overdrive for a moment there.

Not that the cover spoils anything of the above

Now, for the most important question to me, right up there with "is it well made" is "is it scary?" I'd say yes, there's plenty of foreboding freakyness before shit hits the fan, and once it does... well, it's Lovecraftian. It's interesting how it kinda feels like the world is going to hell, and the characters are just surviving the shit that happens to fly their way. It's a bit like that one scene in Pulse, well, both of them, but the original did them better, where our heroes run out to see a plane crash while the streets filled up with ghost-thingies. It's a refreshing break of pace from the scary movies that more or less entirely revolve around the main character, thus bumfucking any sense of scale and dread. Ironically, one could argue that the story is a lot more centered on the protagonists than even these, but that's getting into metafiction-territories that I don't feel like braving.

All in all, I'd recomend In The Mouth Of Madness, both to people who already like Lovecraft-styled terrors, and to people who would like a quick and (relatively) easy taste at what sort of terrors this horror subgenre can bring you, although you might want to be able to stomach metafiction, if you're going to brave this one.

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