In 1995, John Carpenter released, within three months of each other, the last two interesting movies he has made. One of them, in retrospect, isn’t all that interesting. (That being the remake of Village of the Damned starring Christopher Reeve and Kirstie Alley.) But the other is a film that I pull out every year during Shocktober!, official horror movie season: the fun and ferocious In the Mouth of Madness.
The villain of the film, Sutter Cane, played by Jurgen Prochnow, was often compared to Stephen King by reviewers at the time of the film’s release, but his obvious model is H.P. Lovecraft. The squirming, slobbering beasts populating the underbelly of In the Mouth of Madness are torn directly from the pages of Lovecraft, as is the narrative framing device of the flashback from an insane asylum. (Wikipedia also tells us something I didn’t know: when characters in the film directly quote Cane’s books, they are often reading straight from actual Lovecraft stories.)
Cane doesn’t actually do much onscreen here, but he has a lilting German accent and a creepy grin—and his brain is the source of all of the evils plaguing not only the investigator sent to track him down (Sam Neill) but all the people of the town of Hobbs End. A town that really only exists in his books. And some of the townsfolk springing from Sutter Cane’s mind are pretty insane, my favorite being the old lady who keeps her husband chained, naked, to her ankle. Cane’s books are so gosh-darn powerful they drive people plum crazy--like the guy at the beginning with the axe who asks, "Do you read Sutter Cane?" before killing--and maybe even Sam Neill himself!
Okay, so I’m poking a little fun at In the Mouth of Madness while talking about how much I love it, but that’s the only way I know how to appreciate horror movies. For me, the enjoyment of horror movies is about fun shocks, interesting deaths, small transgressions.
A couple of great moments before I go:
1. A ghoulish little girl comes up to the editor accompanying Sam Neill on his trip into the fictional town to retrieve Cane and says, “You’re my mummy. And today is mummy’s day.”
2. This kid keeps riding by on his bike, a playing card in his spokes. Then he rides by and is now an old man with wispy white hair, like Einstein’s corpse riding a bike.
3. The ending. Sam Neill has been in an asylum, in the dark, for God knows how long. He walks outside. The world is deserted, some apocalypse seeming to have come while he was locked in the rubber room. He walks around for a while, then finds a theater playing In the Mouth of Madness. He goes in and is treated to a highlight reel of the film we have just watched—the life has been living. And he laughs and laughs.
And then the movie ends, and you get up and walk out, and the world is deserted, some apocalypse seeming to have come while you were in the dark of the movie theater.
(Everyday throughout Shocktober! a new Ghoul, Ghost, Killer of Fiend of the Day. Come back tomorrow for the profile on another sicko.)