Friday, October 7, 2011

Movie Appraisal: In the Mouth of Madness (1995)

In the Mouth of Madness is a horror film directed by John Carpenter, and starring Sam Neill. I'd almost like to call it a post-apocalyptic horror film, or a Lovecraftian horror film, or a body horror film, or even a post-modern horror film, but none of those labels exactly fit. There are some labels that do fit this film, certainly, but the only real descriptor I can come up with is something to the effect of "meta-horror in a small-town setting," which is a complex way of saying that this movie is nuts.

It's a fun movie for the most part even if the horror elements are very much stuck in the 1980s. The body horror and horror of the mind and dreams are easily the most effective horror in the movie. When the reality and fiction of the movie is blended so heavily that there seems to be no discernible difference between the two, it does become, at least, a little unnerving.

John Trent (played by Sam Neill) is an insurance agent out to find a missing author, Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) with the help of Cane's editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen). It first starts out with both comic and horror elements like many movies of this time, feeling simultaneously unsettling and strange. Eventually the movie moves into purely messing with the character's and the watcher's minds territory and it never looks back.

It's a pretty basic movie full of body horror, and the horror of a single man's demented mind having too much power. It's never boring and Sam Neill certainly makes it fun to watch, especially when he's in the asylum narrating the movie to the audience.

This, in my opinion, was John Carpenter's last great film, and it pales in comparison to some of his earlier horror, especially The Thing, which really is in a league of its own. Carpenter has such a unique style though and before this movie came out it was easily one of my favorite styles of filmmaking, purely and utterly 1980s all around. But after this movie, and there are hints of it during it as well, the horror and action films he made so wonderfully simply go away replaced with needless comedy and drama that are hackishly done at best. It was a terribly sad fall for such a brilliant director.

All-in-all though, I love most of Carpenter's films and this one is incredibly cool even if it isn't the best made or scariest. I think it can be both unsettling and unnerving at times, especially to one who thinks too much about reality and fiction.

One of the things that I take away from this movie is that it seems to be a bit of a cautionary tale. The problem is that nobody listened. The whole point is that a book or movie can drive people insane, making the author God in their eyes. This is seen all too often today, simply look as far as the Twilight books or Harry Potter. How many people rushed into theaters to watch that last film whether or not they enjoyed the books or the other movies? It's terrifying to think how one thing, one fictional story, can have so many real life repercussions. It can take over people's lives; it can even make them think that they are part of the story themselves. I guess that's what I've seen about certain fandoms. They get so heavily into a subject that it becomes In the Mouth of Madness, without the humor or the caution. It's not this movie that's scary, it's the implication that it isn't a movie at all, that this is the real world that we live in, not with the body horror, or the monsters,or the Old Ones coming up from the depths of somewhere unspeakable. It's the implication that something fictional can utterly take over a person's life to the exclusion of all else. I can't think of anything more terrifying than a lost life, unable to be lived to the fullest because the person is busy pretending to be something else. trying to live a life that they could never have. That's why this movie is effective and so well done.And that's why I will praise John Carpenter to the ends of the Earth.

So, I recommend it if you have a chance to check it out. It's fun even if it isn't really terrifying, and some of the make-up effects are really well done as well. It's well paced and somewhat believable despite being incredibly meta. I like it a bunch, but then again I like Event Horizon for many of the same reasons and people seem to hate that movie, so maybe the critics are all right and... 

...nah. They suck. This movie is fun and enjoyable. I advise everybody to check it out if given the chance.

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