Last year I did a post about the scary film I was watching for Halloween. As it happened it was the TV version of Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape, which is probably one of my favourite spooky stories ever.
I’ve been holding on and holding on to watch this year’s film, which was a Christmas present last year. It’s time for…
John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness
This one will drive you absolutely mad – Sutter Cane
I used to own this on VHS but never had a DVD copy until last year. As a result, I haven’t seen this film for over 15 years. I remember being really fond of it. I mean; John Carpenter, Jurgen Prochnow and Sam Neill in a Lovecraftian slimy-thing fest? What’s not to like?
I’ve avoided refreshing my memory about the details of it in order to keep this viewing fresh as possible. So, here we go.
A great opening theme by Carpenter and Jim Lang overlays the work of a printing press and then we cut to an asylum and the arrival of a deranged Sam Neill playing insurance investigator John Trent. Sam Neill plays insanity so well!
Prochnow plays the missing novelist Sutter Cane at the heart of the story and there’s an impressive supporting cast, featuring David Warner, Charlton Heston and Bernie Casey to name but a few. Julie Carmen, who also appears in another of my favourite horror films, Fright Night, is also there in a major role. It’s got Hayden Christensen in his first ever film (as a paper boy), Frances Bay adds an extra bit of creepiness as the lady in the hotel… My God, there’s even room for Wilhelm Von Homburg (Vigo from Ghostbusters 2)
Great early scenes include a lovely set up with an axe-wielding maniac who we watch approach the oblivious protagonists.
The HP Lovecraft and Stephen King references come thick and fast throughout. There are some other, smaller nods such as the town of Hobb’s End, which is a callback to Quatermass and the Pit.
Michael De Luca’s script, which passed through John Carpenter’s hands in the 1980s before he finally took it on, is a good one which never over-complicates matters. There’s a sense of the apocalyptic that oozes through every frame of the film, from the way things are lit to the use of angles, some of which were suggested by Sam Neill. The film is the last part of Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse trilogy which started with The Thing and also includes Prince of Darkness.
Filming took place in Ontario and features some great locations that evoke the New England setting. The practical effects are suitably icky, including a 30ft wall of monsters and lots of other slimy things besides. There are also some creepy children (no scary film is complete without them).
The film is a study in madness and Trent’s descent is handled very, very well by the script and by Sam Neill’s performance. The lines between reality and fiction are blurred more and more as the film unravels itself.
It’s been great to revisit this one. I don’t think it is on the same level as The Thing (which is in my Top 20 of all time), but it is a very engaging, unnerving story that gets under your skin just a little bit. There are well conceived scares and a few jumps, but it also operates on a slightly more subtle level and plays with the ideas very well.
Thanks for reading.