Saturday, October 30, 2010

No Craft Like Lovecraft Pt 5: I Think Therefore You Are

In The Mouth Of Madness(1995)
Directed By John Carpenter
"In The Mouth Of Madness" is a film about a world destroyed by works of fiction, and one lonely skeptic sent out into the chaotic fringes of life and art.
An Insurance Investigator played by Sam Neil sets out to find a reclusive and enourmousely popular horror author whose gone missing.
The author named Sutter Kane is a Stephen King(or to be modern JK Rowling analog) of the pop-author the people are literally devouring each other in order to get their hands on.
Neil discovers through skillful use of psychic collage that the book covers of Kane's paperbacks are a secret map leading to the fictional New England town where so many of Kane's novels take place, and so then it's off to the place to the place that shouldn't exist.
Kane's novels have also been causing hallucinations, hysteria, and the occasional violent axe murdering, which over the course of the film quietly grows into a global pandemic.
From then on in it's deep into the heart of H.P. Lovecraft country, with all the slimy things in the dark, main characters losing their grip with reality or reality squeezing it's grip into a main character, depending on which way you look at it, you could ask for.
An element of Lovecraft's fiction that's often minimized is the text-within-text device where many stories exist in the form of letters, remembrances, hidden documents, manifests, etc.
Lovecraft stories rarely appeared as stories, but as "real found objects", and this formal structural realism worked to augment the bizarre and often abstract descriptions of creatures and events his characters would encounter.
Fun fact: The man in the above picture; Willhelm von Homburg also played a demon god bound within a work of art, as Vigo The Carpathian in Ghostbusters 2.
"In The Mouth Of Madness" remains true to this same spirit, of stories within stories, unstable narrators, and the breakdown of the border between paranoid hints and absolute religious awe, but stops short of creating any real ontological or cinematic terror.
"In The Mouth Of Madness" is not scary, but it does have some lingering scenes of dread and unease that approach a perfection of paranoid fantasy.
The most famous example would be Sutter Kane appearing impossibly before a defeated Neil, and changing the color of the world on a whim.
Nothing more frightening than a shift in color occurs onscreen but the implication of total godlike power and by extension complete mortal helplessness is captured brilliantly.
Just as the most disturbing aspect of the Hellraiser series was never the S&M themed goreno of Pin-Head, but the idea that God exists, and has only the worst intentions.
That being said, the film begins with Sam Neil at his cell window begging to be released "I'm sorry about the balls. It was a lucky shot", and we are reminded quite early on this is still a John Carpenter film.
Still to be scored with synths and crunchy guitars composed by the man himself.
Still able to laugh at itself, and considering some of the costume choices there aren't many other options left.
"In The Mouth Of Madness" is the last of three films director John Carpenter set out to make about the end of the world, the previous two being "The Prince Of Darkness"(which Ive reviewed here as well) and "The Thing", each of which is is exciting and skillful in their own right.
Despite it's limitations (music, occasional bad make-up, etc) Carpenter and company manage some of their most surreal and elusive work to date, focusing less on creatures as objects of focus and more like phantoms at play in the periphery of minds and pulpy scenery in the collective backdrops of our hearts.
As Sam Neil's character watches his own story unfold at the films end, a final exquisite note of existential horror is plucked, not only is it his story which is responsible for the destruction of the world, but it is literally all of the world there is left.
To put in another way, the greatest horror in life, is that you can never escape your own story and the limits of your own perception, which no madness, ecstacy, or general disarray of the facts of the narrative can eliminate.
Our stories and our perceptions themselves, however jumbled, remain one camera crew, one editor, one fade to black, and one hope there is nothing out in the darkness past the credits.


Anonymous said...

A great write-up of an uneven and underrated film! Prince of Darkness is Carpenter's real masterpiece though...if it weren't for the horrible actors.

Joe Sylvers said...

Thanks Robyn(C?).Prince Of Darkness is stronger on the whole, but very different. All three of the trilogy are great, the acting is questionable, but I love the cast of "Prince Of Darkness" all stocked with Carpenter regulars the way it is.