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Black October 22: In The Mouth of Madness

October 22, 2009

Do you read Sutter Cane?

Something is really wrong with me today. I woke up feeling achy and stiff, more so than usual. By the middle of the morning, I had seen my breakfast again. An attempt to leave the house — I had to collect the van from Mr. Fixit and go to the pharmacy — was difficult. It hurt to move. Unpleasant things were happening inside me.

This left me drifting in and out of naps for the rest of the day. I was pretty much useless for the first couple of hours after the kids got home from school, but by 6 pm I was able to help with homework, explore the new Littlest Pet Shops Online site and read bedtime stories. And then I sat down to watch a little TV and passed out. Now I’m up, but groggy and dazy as what I’m worried is flu circles my aching head like a B-52 with a full payload.

This state, of course, makes it the right time to talk about one of my top horror movies of all time, and perhaps one of my favourite films: John Carpenter’s In The Mouth of Madness. While this 1994 mindbender borrows from Lovecraft, the story is a riff on Stephen King, with an attempt to summon Peter Straub’s writing style driving the plot. The end result thus becomes Lovecraftian. Nothing is what it seems. Reality is broken, and things that can’t happen do happen. By the end, you will not know what has gone on, and you will love it.

Plot: A New York publishing house (headed by Charlton Heston) believes its top-selling author, Sutter Cane, has vanished with a new book due. John Trent, a doubting insurance company investigator (Sam Neill), smells a publicity stunt and is soon navigating dark Straubian corridors as he looks for the elusive writer. Meanwhile, Cane’s latest book seems to be turning readers into bleeding-eyed killers. There’s a village that doesn’t exist, but can be found, and it’s full of angry rednecks, evil children and an old lady with her naked husband chained to her ankle.

The village also boasts a dark Byzantine church, and it was to my immense surprise, a couple of years after this movie came out, to attend a wedding at the same church. It’s located in Toronto, and was used for exteriors. The interior of the church looks different in the movie; when I was there it was pretty Jesusy but in the film it’s the exact opposite.

Anyway, Trent’s adventure breaks down walls of story, of continuity and of the film itself, weaving a metafictional thread throughout in a way that is rare in horror films. It’s effective and dark and as much a logic puzzle as it is a thrill ride.

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