This is not reality.

in-the-mouth-of-madness-churchNot reality.

But what is reality? It’s what we say it is. If suddenly the insane outnumbered the sane, they would be the ones to define reality…

What I’d like to know is whether that would make this film better than the sad miss that it was. Lovecraft is an author that has had terrible problems translating to the screen. From Beyond makes a go of it but gets lost in the swirl of Lovecraft’s monstrous imaginations. In text, the words ‘indescribable horror’ can be used and the mind fills in the gaps – or possibly does not – and the story goes on. Some decades ago there might have been directors who could handle such an order. Hitchcock comes to mind, but so does a younger Spielberg dealing with a misbehaving Shark animatronic or even a younger Tarantino panning away from the action in Reservoir Dogs.

Choosing not to show an indescribable horror is the only way to maintain the suspense through a scene like this.

new_hope_27But who wants to do that? George Lucas can’t stop himself from filling every nook and cranny of open space in his established masterpiece with the CGI equivalent of background noise like a demented DaVinci penciling in Tauntauns cavorting behind Mona Lisa.

Michael de Luca and John Carpenter do a good job with the script and story of ‘In the Mouth of Madness,’ but reach too far with the boy who can’t escape Hob’s End, the beast chasing Sam Neil back to reality, and the transformed creature who was Mrs. Pickman. However, overall, the idea that a writer brings evil to life through his writing is a good one. Guiding this writer, one supposes, are the Elder Gods – or Old Ones – or whatever it is that Lovecraft returns to so often. I could accept all this and just watch where it goes, transforming Sutter Caine into a god himself, if only I didn’t have to see so much of it.

BN-FU451_mouth3_G_20141201090733 ‘Madness’ also scores by casting Jurgen Prochnow as Sutter Caine. Prochnow exudes the eerie charisma of a cult leader calling his flock to Jonestown for a meeting with their maker. Even his typewriter radiates power from behind the closed doors of the church like the Eye of Sauron doing little, but standing in as a symbol or power. ‘Madness’ also succeeds in the choice and production of sets. The Pickman Inn and the kind face of Frances Bay hiding her wimpering, beaten husband. The empty Main Street sometimes haunted by children chasing a dog. And, most impressively, the tall, lonely church sprouting up in a flat field. All these things create an atmosphere suggesting thinly-veiled and sinister portents.

However, there is something missing – some part that fails to fall into place to generate buy-in from the audience. It might be that madness, itself is too ill defined to be a goal unto itself. Why would Caine or the Old Ones want the world to go mad? It might be like asking why Lex Luthor keeps trying to defeat Superman and take control of the world – or at least Metropolis. Yet, even that makes sense if you consider that Luthor is hungry for power and just upset that he was unlucky enough to come into his own just as Superman has grown up and is ready to protect the world from Super Villans. I understand that the Old Gods have their own desires and look at chaos with delight, but maybe we need something to remind us of this, specifically. Or, perhaps the madness is irrelevant to them, but merely a side effect of opening a way into our world for them and they want nothing more than to feed on humanity. Again, some indication of this would go a long way.

In the end, I’d give ‘In the mouth of Madness’ 6 out of 10. A little less than the 7.2 given by imdb or Rotten Tomatoes‘ 73% positive rating.

 

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