I think, therefore you are. Sutter Cane, In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
Look, if you offer me a movie that features the involvement of John Carpenter in some capacity I am already in. I’ve seen virtually all of his movies and of course I’ve seen In the Mouth of Madness and absolutely loved it. It feels strange to review a film I love, but you can love something and view it critically.
So, while I have a soft spot for In the Mouth of Madness it’s also not my favorite of Carpenter’s films. That’s okay. Even not-so-great Carpenter can be pretty great. With the exception of Ghosts of Mars (2001), of course.
You can currently stream In the Mouth of Madness on Shudder.
“Do you read Sutter Cane?”
Part of the appeal of the film is the Lovecraftian nature of it all. The film, written by Michael De Luca (The Lawnmower Man (short), Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare), borrows heavily from Lovecraft’s canon. Interestingly, though, Carpenter did not sign on to direct the film right away, only signing on after Tony Randel (Hellbound: Hellraiser II) dropped out. Carpenter taking on directorial duties makes a lot of sense given the Lovecraftian nature of The Thing (1981).
The film picked up the fantastic Sam Neill as a lead, just shortly after the release of Jurassic Park. Also rounding out the cast are Julie Carmen, Charlton Heston, David Warner, and Jürgen Prochnow as Sutter Cane. The film also has a young Hayden Christensen, before he murdered all those younglings.
The film, like several of Lovecraft’s own stories, is a framed flashback depicting one man’s encounters with unknown powers that drive humanity mad. In the Mouth of Madness follows John Trent, an insurance investigator, his hired to investigate the disappearance of mega-author Sutter Cane and tracking down his next manuscript. As these things go, Trent uncovers twisting and terrifying secrets about Cane and his work.
What Worked About In the Mouth of Madness?
Sam Neill’s John Trent is an unlikable dick of a protagonist and it totally works. He’s not a sympathetic figure despite his traumatic experiences. Much like Lovecraft’s own protagonists, he’s smug, insufferable, and ultimately doomed. Neill ultimately carries the film with sheer unlikability and to see him fall to inevitable madness is a joy.
The film, when Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) finally appears, really clicks. Ultimately this is not until a good portion of the way through the movie, meaning that the first 40 minutes or so feel a bit scattered. Prochnow’s Cane makes for a fun, albeit limited menace in the runtime and inspires some fun reveals. He doesn’t really figure into the film for the duration, however.
The film’s strength ultimately lies in an exploration of perception and the altering of reality. The exploration of this, however, is limited to the second half of the film. Some of the ways this is accomplished are fantastic, others slightly less.
Had the film not dabbled too much into setting up Hobb’s End, then perhaps there would have been more horrifying scenes of reality-warping. It is commendable that the film manages to evoke so much anxiety in the amount of time it explores these themes.
What Did Not Work About In the Mouth of Madness?
In The Mouth of Madness throws together a lot of ideas and repeated images, but ultimately many of these elements fail to add to a cohesive whole. What the film is showing is snippets of different Sutter Cane stories, but few of these images amount to much. The church, the children, the owner of the inn and her chained-up husband, and the paperboy. They’re all elements of Cane’s writing creating a reality but they just create strange, albeit effective images that just create strangeness for ultimately strangeness’ sake.
Granted, it’s a film directed by John Carpenter and all this strangeness is executed well, visually. There are some genuinely creepy sights and scenarios, for sure. But it just ultimately feels like a series of distractions. The film tries to establish the wide body of work of Sutter Cane becoming reality, but it comes up short. The film really doesn’t take off until Sutter Cane actually appears and begins affecting reality around John.
As a fan who enjoys the film, the director, and the Lovecraftian themes I can still recognize there are some fairly substantial flaws with In the Mouth of Madness. Carpenter’s direction and sense of macabre are on-point, but the film feels too scattered and wanders too much.
This is a film where the last half is what you’ll end up enjoying most, especially given the absolutely stellar acting of Sam Neill. (3.5 / 5)
Are you a fan of In the Mouth of Madness? Do you agree with this assessment? Let us know in the comments.
As always, please read our other reviews.
Leave a Reply
Leave a Reply
Movies n TV
The Beach House, a Film Review
The Beach House (2019) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown starring Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, and Jake Weber.
The Beach House (2020) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown. This film stars Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, and Maryann Nagel. As of this review, this film is only available on Shudder.
Desperate to rekindle their strained love, Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) escape to a beach getaway. They soon learn to find that family friends of Randall’s father, Mitch (Jake Weber), and Jane (Maryann Nagel), also had a similar idea. After getting used to each other, a mysterious fog engulfs the town. Unfortunately, they realize too late the danger they find themselves in.
What I Like
Body horror gets under my skin, and The Beach House certainly lives up to the standard. There’s something magical about creatures terraforming your body to their preferred environment, turning humans into nothing more than conscious prisoners in their own flesh. While I wouldn’t consider this film the most traumatic or unsettling example, it utilizes wonderfully grotesque scenes.
Aside from the body horror, the film drops a few Cosmic Horror–or Lovecraftian–vibes that go together perfectly. Another favored genre of mine, this combination ensures the odds are overwhelmingly against our human leads.
Beyond the grotesque, visuals might not overwhelm but certainly succeed in their goal. Several scenes provide an intentionally tranquil experience that contrasts with the grotesques and improves their effectiveness.
In terms of performance, each actor hits their mark. While some roles require less effort, each contributes to the plot as intended. The standout performance goes to Liana Liberato’s Emily, who acts as co-lead. She simply has the most to work with and lives up to the part.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
As “body horror” should indicate, this film will hit hard for the more squeamish viewer. While horror by nature has some amount of grotesque, body horror brings that grotesque to the next level. While I don’t particularly find The Beach House hitting harder than its competition, it certainly respects its chosen genre.
What I Dislike or Considerations
A few scenic montages may hit or miss depending on your interpretation. While I have my own theories, that speculation goes beyond the scope of this review. Many of these scenes overlap more philosophical conversations and musings that may annoy or add layers. This strategy seems a common practice in Cosmic Horror, which forces characters to rationalize the irrational.
It’s hard for me to understand how secretive or known this event is supposed to be in the film’s world. Individuals know something outside of the town, with evidence implying governmental knowledge. This information creates a contrivance–perhaps, even a plot hole–because the characters had to reach this isolated town without any opposition.
One of the visuals didn’t exactly grab me. While I won’t go into too much detail, an effect looked too visually similar to a common animal that barely survives rain. It’s hard to be threatened by that. It also doesn’t exactly match up with some of the other visuals. Even the creatures that look similar to it still look different enough to provide a more alien assumption.
There are moments when the infected chase our main characters by crawling at them. While the context works, with injured characters helping to sell them, I can’t help but find these scenes amusing as opposed to frightening. Yes, it’s certainly visually different from the plethora of zombies out there, but it’s also less frightening than zombies that leisurely walk to their targets.
The Beach House combines cosmic and body horror to create an uncomfortable film that tests its characters. For those who enjoy these genres, it will certainly entertain you, but I doubt it will frighten you. I imagine the mood to watch it again might strike me, but I’m not entirely certain it will stand the test of time. (3 / 5)
If this movie suits your fancy and you want more, Honeymoon seems an appropriate recommendation.
Movies n TV
Every Secret Thing, a Film Review
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener, based on Laura Lippman’s novel.
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener. This R-rated film stars Diane Lane, Danielle Macdonald, Dakota Fanning, and Elizabeth Banks. Based on Laura Lippman’s novel of the same name, the film adaptation is accessible through MAX and DirecTV.
When a little girl goes missing, Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) spirals into an all too familiar tale. As pressure mounts, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) become the leading suspects. The strained frenemies unravel under the attention and reminders of their shared past.
What I Like
The film unravels in a non-chronological structure but makes it easy for the viewer to follow. It helps that the age difference clearly divides the younger actors, who change actors. One casting choice resembles their older counterpart, and the acting reflects a strong direction for their shared role.
Unreliable narration remains expertly communicated with scenes that change perspectives depending on whose perspective we view them from. This choice adds a reason to view the film twice, providing extra ambiguity for some of these events.
The camera gets up close and personal to an uncomfortable degree, which almost certainly presses the actors’ performances. This choice places the viewer in the character’s perspective and limits us from others’ perspectives to add extra credence to these biases.
Every Secret Thing provides a spiraling mystery that unravels with several twists and turns. Assuming the novel provided the outline, this film executes these points and keeps a consistently engaging experience throughout the runtime.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Child abuse and neglect remain the central plot points of Every Secret Thing. Little of this abuse appears in scenes, but there is no escaping the danger children are in throughout the film.
Self-harm and suicide are shown throughout the film (once in the case of suicide) through one specific character. It isn’t glorified or romanticized nor addressed with particular sensitivity. For those sensitive to these subjects, it might be triggering.
Racism, the assumed motive for the bi-racial victims, plays a small role in the film’s narrative. However, character motives remain more complex, but going further spoils some elements. This film decision does create the reality that bi-racial children are the victims of child neglect and abuse in the film with little additional context. It does invite uncomfortable speculation, but speculation it would be.
Sexual assault is another concern for viewers, specifically statutory rape. This issue seems particularly mismanaged, considering the survivor remains an antagonist. One can be both survivor of assault and an antagonist of a film without needing to discredit the assault. While little appears of this issue, and the manipulation angle can indicate a perspective shift, it’s hard to refute how the film wants to represent this attack.
What I Dislike
Loosely tied to the above point, one character seems mentally off and purposely so. This point doesn’t inherently create an issue, but there seems to be a choice to make this character a mastermind. Perhaps this is better addressed in the book, but the execution is far from perfect here.
A newspaper montage reveals essential information which feels oddly misplaced. Practically the entire setup for the film appears through this montage, which creates the necessity to read these headlines in the minimal time given.
As a horror, nothing but the events are haunting. Children being abused or kidnapped always haunts, but the terror of this remains secondary to the mystery. While the mystery is nice, this film won’t particularly scare the seasoned horror fan.
Every Secret Thing unravels a mystery of opportunism, selfishness, and deception. While the movie won’t haunt the viewer, it certainly unravels a mystery that shocks them. The nuanced and deceptive characters add a layer of engagement that creates a unique experience, but I doubt this movie will linger in my mind.
(2.5 / 5)
Movies n TV
Quid Pro Woe
We’ve now reached episode six of Tim Burton’s Wednesday. And after the last episode, this one did not disappoint.
We start with Wednesday attempting to contact Goody Addams. Last episode, if you’ll recall, Morticia explained the difference between a psychic dove and a raven. Since Goody Addams was the last raven psychic in the family line, it’s got to be her that trains Wednesday.
But her seance is a failure, and Wednesday is interrupted by a magazine note shoved under the door. It says to meet someone at a crypt for answers.
When she gets there, it turns out that her friends have put together a surprise birthday party for her. Before she can cut the cake, however, she has a vision.
Goody Addams tells her that she must find a specific gate. After some investigation, Wednesday discovers it’s the gate to the old Gates house.
Wednesday goes to investigate, but she isn’t the only one. She is nearly discovered by Mayor Walker. He is also investigating the Gates family, even though they’re all reported to be dead. He leaves a message for Sheriff Galpin and is almost immediately run over by a car.
This incident is enough to get Wednesday’s town villages revoked. Though this seems like an empty punishment since the whole school is on lockdown. Someone burned Fire Will Rain on their front lawn.
Wednesday isn’t one for believing the rules apply to her. She has it in her head that she’s meant to save Nevermore Academy, probably from whatever descendent of Crackstone who’s still around. So she has no problem lying to Enid and Tyler and convincing them to help her sneak off campus and explore the Gates house further.
This, of course, is an incredibly informative trip. The kids find a hidden altar to Crackstone, as well as the missing body parts from the monster’s victims. They also find evidence that someone’s been staying in the house. Someone who’s staying in what looks like a little girl’s room.
Before they can find anything more, the monster finds them. They barely escape, and go to the sheriff with what they find.
Of course, the house has been cleared out by the time Sheriff Galpin arrives. Furious that his son was almost killed, he tells Wednesday to stay away from him.
Because that always works, right?
Galpin isn’t the only one angry. Enid is fed up with the way Wednesday has been treating her. And so she leaves their room to bunk with someone else, leaving Wednesday alone.
This episode was well done. The discoveries at the house were exciting, and I’m almost sure I know who’s behind the murders at this point. Overall, this was a good ramp-up to the season finale.
Finally, this episode did something I was worried just wasn’t going to happen. And for that alone, it deserves praise.
Wednesday has been incredibly selfish and inconsiderate since the first episode. She’s been rude and demanding towards Thing. She’s ignored her friends’ needs and emotions while insisting they put themselves in danger for her investigation. She has respected no one’s boundaries, even while other people have at least tried to respect hers.
And now, it’s finally come back to bite her. All of the people who have been doing their best to show her kindness and support are finally done with her bullshit.
Yes, this is a good thing! Characters are best when they’re allowed to learn and grow. When they don’t come to us flawless. When they mess up and learn from it. Especially for a show aimed at kids, this is essential.
If you’d asked me at the beginning of the season if this character was going to experience honest character growth, I’d have assured you it would never happen. Much to my surprise, it’s happening. I hope that Wednesday is going to come out of this a better person. With two episodes left in the season, there’s plenty of time for that. (4 / 5)
March 20, 2020 at 2:51 am
All I can say is I love In The Mouth of Madness in the way that I’ll always watch it when it pops up on tv, but a few months later, don’t ask for a plot synapsis.