Thursday, February 13, 2014

In The Mouth of Madness [dir. John Carpenter]

In The Mouth of Madness is the rare sort of film made by one true horror fan (or should in this age one say tr00?) for others. I would not care to discuss the plot elements in detail because sitting through this film without prior knowledge would be the best way to experience the dream-trip it is. The film has been described as (HP) Lovecraftian, and makes references to Elder Gods, but to my mind it is more of a Stephen King story (who could also be inspiration for the film's fictional mega-selling horror author Sutter Cane, although a character says at one point, "Forget Stephen King. Cane outsells them all.") A lot of the small town evil atmosphere recalls King's prose rather than Lovecraft. Admittedly both of them have mined this theme with grand success, but the difference is that ITMoM leans more towards the robust everyman-ness of King's characters, especially his leads, rather than the fragile, overly credulous protagonists of Lovecraft's stories.

The film mostly sails on Sam Neill's performance as the sleuth who thinks he is going to Sutter Cane's mythical town of Hobb's End to uncover a grand hoax, only to find himself sinking deeper into a nightmare world; in other words he can't find the zipper on the monster suit. Neill solidly holds center-stage making one think about how he would have been a great alternative to Jack Nicholson in The Shining (and perhaps a little more believable in the initial "sane" portions). Everyone else is a prop to further the events around him. Carpenter's direction is focused on generating unease by constantly confounding the hero's attempts to make sense of the world around him. If I make a small complaint, it is that there is a little too much foreshadowing, a few too many "boo" inserts, perhaps a fear that the audiences might be bored before the big scares come in. Apart from the theme itself, the absence of overt sexuality or even foul language makes the film more unique than its contemporaries (and may perhaps be regarded as a Lovecraftian touch?). On the whole definitely recommended as an interesting horror flick. If you watch it, as I did, in a slightly sleep-deprived fashion, you feel more jolted by the constant turn of events.

Interestingly enough, Carpenter returned once more to a similar theme in Masters of Horror's Cigarette Burns episode and that one is pretty fucking cool too.

A few notes on the blu-ray from Warner / New Line:
The blu-ray is an almost barebones affair, but the transfer is solid if not exemplary. The colors in the opening urban setting are muted to the point of being dowdy, but things pick up significantly once the characters enter small town Hobb's End. Detail is not eye-popping but the many darker scenes are quite satisfactorily handled and the film has a sturdy un-manipulated look. Sound is good, although dialog seems a little low in the mix, leading to instances where one has to adjust the volume control between conversation scenes and those with "more excitement" happening.

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