Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cthulhu Theater: In the Mouth of Madness (1995)

While many enjoy their horror in one of the more mainstream sub-genres (zombies, vampires, and torture), I continue to be a sucker for tentacled-loving-cult-elder-gods movies in the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft's popular fiction. Though Lovecraft's unique vision has yet to have been fully realized in any big budget straight adaptations of his own work, the Lovecraft influence is all over a number of "horror movies," some with an explicit connection to his source material, and others with simply a visual nod to his creature designs and Cthulhu mythos. The intent of this (and future) "Cthulu Theater" posts is to briefly visit and review some of these films.

This first movie is one I had long sought out at my local video stores and libraries with no success. Thanks to the magic of Netflix, I finally came across it this past weekend, though whether I'm glad to have done so or not is yet to be determined..

Directed by "legendary" horror film maker John Carpeter, from a script by Michael De Luca, the R-Rated In the Mouth of Madness (1995) is a love letter of sorts to all things Lovecraft. Starring (though I had never really thought of it until I lined-up these titles side-by-side) genre regular Sam Neill (Omen III: The Final Conflict, Jurassic Parks 1 and 3, Daybreakers, Event Horizon) stars as John Trent who, employing just the first of many common Lovecraft tropes, tells his story almost entirely in flashback from a sanitarium. Trent is a detective who is hired to locate, in what was I'm sure intended to be clever satire, famed horror writer Stephen King Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow), who has mysteriously dissappeared with his most recent novel--one (as the tag line assures us repeatedly) that is guaranteed to "drive the readers mad." It is the return of this novel, written start to finish in a single draft by typewriter, and the uncovering of Cane's "disappearance," that provides the narrative thurst of the film.

This impetus is primarily set-up for what follows, a series of set pieces that lead us, and Trent, to a small New England town (very much like Innsmouth in Lovecraft's "world") where he comes face-to-face with most of the problems you'd expect him to in a film intent on aping Lovecraft: mutated townspeople, time-space contiuum snafus, cult churches and low-budget elder-gods. In fact, if you've read any of the source material, you'll likely see far in advance the conclusion this film is lumbering toward. If you are unfamiliar with H.P. Lovecraft's writing, you can look forward to a film that is as much a tribute to the late 1980s (I know it was released in 1995, but as directed by Carpenter there is a definite old-old school vibe here) as it is Lovecraft. Most of the horror elements thar make it into the film are simple "jump scares", and the practical Cthulhu character-effects, when they do eventually make an appearance--sort of--are poorly executed. There are some vaguley uncomfortable very early-genre body horror moments (extremely tame by today's standards), but too few instances  of real dread, anticipation or terror. The attempt at a psychological element, and thus making it a "smart" horror film--which it really ain't--seems forced and overly clever.

Online, this movie is beloved as "the best horrot movie ever" and "a return to form by the director," but this viewer doesn't quite understand the praise, except to suspect that there is such an absence of this type of fil out there that even this is acceptable as "good."  Mildly entertaining? Yes. A neat glimpse at late 80's horror? Yes. Scary enough to drive you mad? Nope. As mentioned earlier, though I had looked for this film to watch for a number of years, I ultimately found myself disappointed. Much like Trent's character arc in the film, my journey to eventually finding the movie proved to be more entertaining than reaching the destination.



Where am i

Jean-Paul said...

That's a heavy question... I can tell you that briefly you were on my blog :)


Yes. I entered a bunch of text on a post for your blog then inadvertantly jumped to an old blog I created, was confused and lost the info.
What I did post was that I liked your post on lovecraft and that I too am a sucker for lovecraft and had before our twins were born attended an annual lovecraft fim fest here in portland. Also thought you might enjoy a short story called - A Colder war, a lovecraftian sci-fi alternative history. The story is easily googleable. posting now from my commuter van so this post is a bit choppy. Take care and keep posting!