Monday, September 20, 2010

Maggie 2010: Horror Season, Part Deux

#104. In The Mouth of Madness

I didn't even have cable as a kid, and I still remember the corn-ball quality of Nickelodeon horror films, so when I say, "Remember those corn-ball Nickelodeon horror films?" as a lead-in to this friendly chat about John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness, you have no excuse for not getting my drift. None.

And speaking of excuses, I have none myself for watching this film alone -- a big, rookie mistake you just can't get away with after viewing other Carpenter classics, like Escape from New York (which some whippersnapper* at Gen X told me was too "old" a movie to satisfy his desire for wanton violence--hah!) and They Live. Ah, They Live. Most amazing fight to plant a pair of sunglasses on someone else's eyes ever. What was my point again? Company, yes! Get some. Seriously: you just can't watch Carpenter on your own. Believe me, I tried. The result? You'll find yourself shouting such delightfully incredulous lines as, "Are they serious?", "Is this a joke?" and "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?" with nobody around to prove that Carpenter isn't in fact driving you insane.

True fact: Carpenter's films will probably drive you insane.

What makes his films so ridiculous? In a phrase, short-term memory loss. Remember where you were when the story begins? Well, that makes one of you. Just like those Nickelodeon flicks of old, Carpenter horror films seem to be written at a break-neck pace with no looking back, ever, to see if everything jives with what came before. And who really cares, anyway, when the movie just spirals further and further into outlandish twists and turns riffing on the most hackneyed plot devices ever invented? Forward, not backward! Upwards, not forward! And always turning, turning, turning towards -- ah, you get the idea.

So In the Mouth of Madness stars Sam Neill as John Trent, an insurance claims investigator commissioned to find a missing author who's "bigger than Stephen King," and whose works have a (pun alert!) "monstrous" effect on their readers. Man, I bet King wishes he'd written this script, too--but alack, no, it's Michael De Luca. And you know what? I also get Neill being down with this script. I can see him saying, "You know what, Carpenter? I fought motherf$#*ing dinosaurs two years ago. Can ya beat that? Well, can ya (punk)?"

And Carpenter can. We're talking worlds pulled out of a fictional writer's behind, garish invasive species taking over human forms by infecting their minds through stories, killer old ladies, mutating hotel paintings, small town sacrificial cults--man, you name it, Carpenter vomited it out for this film.

(On a quick aside, if you're familiar with Southern Ontario, you'll also be pleasantly surprised to see notable Canadian locations like Waterloo County's own kissing bridge in West Montrose, the last covered bridge in all Ontario!, feature prominently in this film. Who knew horror could be so cozy and familiar!)

If you are now of the opinion that I'm against this film, TIME FOR THE TWIST! I'm not. Really! Honest and for realz! Because, let's face it: every now and then we all need films so absurd we can put them on as guaranteed conversation starters--especially at parties, but especially on first dates. Can you just picture it? "Gee, honey, this movie seems pretty crazy, but it's too late to go back to Gen X for another one. Anything else we could do to pass the time?" You just can't go wrong. Really, you can't: not when Carpenter already corners the market on "disaster on celluloid." Unexpectedly addictive disaster on celluloid.

*Yes, I'm aware I wasn't even *born* when Escape from New York came out, but when customers *think* I was around when it hit theatres, I get to be just as cantankerously indignant about "youth these days!"

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