In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

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In the Mouth of Madness: B

I really enjoy this movie. I have probably seen it ten times and every viewing is a lot of fun.

IMOM is a meta-fictive movie about Sam Neill, who is either a character in a horror novel or a crazy person or both. A worshiped horror author named Sutter Cane (based on Stephen King) writes wildly popular horror fiction filled with terrifying world-eating monsters (based on HP Lovecraft). When Cane goes missing, Neill is enlisted to hunt him down. He somehow travels to a town that exists only in Cane’s books which is populated by a bunch of gross creatures from his body of work.

I like the psychological and reality-questioning elements of the film but they are by no means groundbreaking. The “dream within a dream” jump-scare/misdirection is (probably) overused in this movie and the schizophrenic meta-fictive structure of the film is very Naked Lunch; time and space are messed with a lot and the audience isn’t always clearly notified when this is happening. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining. Neil does a great job of slowly losing his mind and all of the rest of the cast (who may or may not be monsters or fictional characters or other crazy people or all of the above) is extremely creepy. Once the film gets going, you sort of get buried in dream sequences up to the point where the wizard behind the curtain “reveal” is kind of anti-climactic because you’ll be all “let me guess, Neil is going to wake up any second now?”

Say what you will about Sam Neill, but the man knows how to convincingly babble/cry like a crazy person.

The make-up is great and there are total homages to other famous works of horror. There is some awful 90s CGI, but there are some Carpenterian practical effects too. All the monsters are like Cthulhu’s relatives and there is a lady who walks upside-down like the girl in The Exorcist. The grandma from Happy Gilmore is in this and she is fucking hilarious.

People like to hate this movie and there are no shortage of anti-IMOM arguments. The movie is like a poster-child for bargain-basement 90s horror, so if you don’t find that genre scary or charming or at least funny, you’ll probably hate the movie. Also, it was directed by John Carpenter, a director who is extremely hit-or-miss for some because of his music and effects. Give it a try and decide for yourself.

REVIEW: Village of the Damned (1995)

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Village of the Damned: C-

This is a variation of The Brood and Children of the Corn that features telepathic blonde kids who have long-term plans for world domination and short-term plans for hurting/terrifying rednecks.

There’s this little town with a population of 2,000. One day, everyone in the city limits passes out for a few hours. There’s a real Under the Dome vibe as law enforcement even paints a border around the coma zone, marking lines that, once crossed, cause people to faint. When everyone wakes up, ten women are pregnant, several of whom have legitimate excuses for how they couldn’t have gotten pregnant.

Some weirdly autonomous, chain-smoking government agent, Kirstie Alley, shows up and takes a creepy interest in the immaculate coma-conceptions. She convinces the women to carry the mystery kids to term and then even personally helps in the delivery room (all the births happen at once), punctuating the ordeal with her nihilistic wise-cracks and power-smirk. You can tell she isn’t to be trusted because she smokes, wears sunglasses indoors, and always wears black.

Nine kids are born and one is still-born. SPOILER: The dead baby looks like an alien fetus and Kirstie Alley keeps it in a pickle jar in her basement so she can look at it and, I think, ponder her own cosmic insignificance.

Then something stranger than any of the coma-pregnancy alien fetus stuff happens: the film flashes forward several years to show the nine kids, all Aryan looking toddlers, existing as acknowledged telepaths with a dominant choke-hold on the town. No one openly fucks with the kids because they will telepathically make you jump off of a cliff or telepathically stick your arm in boiling water. Why wouldn’t they show us the townsfolk realizing that they have creepy telepaths on their hands? Why wouldn’t they show the power-plays the kids must have used to take control? THAT sounds like an interesting story. Instead, the rest of the movie is the kids being mean to / killing people and fucking Kirstie Alley smirking.

Christopher Reeve is the only one who has any success blocking the kids’ mind-reading so the town nominates him as the kids’ special tutor and he decides the best course of action would be to suicide bomb them. Mark Hamill is a priest who is bothered by everything.

The kids reveal they are aliens with similar telepathic colonies set up elsewhere on Earth. Kirstie Alley reveals that the government knows all about it and that she has a little alien fetus in her basement. John Carpenter reveals that he is a badass with belligerent synth music but inept as fuck with an acoustic guitar.

Not horrible, I guess.

REVIEW: The Ward (2010)

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The Ward: D+

Thanks for this, John Carpenter. This movie has the same plot as Identity staring John Cusack. Your movie made me think about John Cusack. How do you like that?

Here’s ANOTHER movie about a mental institution with dark secrets and ghosts. ANOTHER movie about multiple personalities offered up as one of many cop-out “twists.” ANOTHER movie where the “crazy” protagonist has to do detective work to figure out what a fucking ghost is trying to say to her.

Kristen is in a mental institution because she burned down a barn and can’t remember doing it. The only other patients in there with her are other good looking girls in their 20’s. They all become buddies and they dance around and stuff.

A ghost that looks like a female zombie keeps teleporting around everywhere and killing the patients one-by-one. Kristen tries to warn the staff but why should they believe her? Her amnesia that she had one time in her entire life rules her out as a reliable source of information regarding what clearly look like murders, right?  “There’s no killer, Kristen is crazy,” says the British guy from Mad Men who orders her shock therapy.

The murder/warning/disbelief cycle happens over and over and over and over. After the kills, the ghost leaves behind some clues about who she is/was. Kristen has to put the pieces together JUST LIKE CUSACK IN MOTHERFUCKING IDENTITY. When the reveal happens, I dare you to give a shit.

There are some good jump-scares. Maybe a couple of scenes of suspense but they are short lived and overshadowed by a shameless carnival of cliches and your own inner monologue asking how any of this shit is going down the way it is.

REVIEW: Ghosts of Mars (2001)

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Ghosts of Mars (2001): D+

The Transporter and Natasha Henstridge play some cops in the future who have to go to colonized future Mars because future Ice Cube, a real badass future criminal, is awaiting an interplanetary transfer to another futuristic prison. It’s directed by John Carpenter and takes place in the future.

The future cops and Ice Cube have to team up to fight some disembodied spirits of an ancient Martian race that have been possessing some colonial miners, turning them into self-mutilating murderous psychos.

What could go wrong, right? Entertaining cast and an awesome director, right? Well Natasha Henstrisge doesn’t do any sexy-violent stuff, The Transporter doesn’t roundhouse kick anyone, and Ice Cube doesn’t rap or have any cool one-liners. The pace is boring as fuck and the possessed miners look like The Crow with infected botox injections in their foreheads and a bunch of dumb hieroglyphics burned on their cheeks. They look like Marilyn Manson if he conditioned his hair and stuck his head in a waffle iron.

I have heard the film described as a misunderstood homage to Carpenter’s own Assault on Precinct 13, which I think is a pretty superficial stretch. Maybe I am “misunderstanding.” Sure there are cops being attacked by a seemingly endless army of bad guys, but that’s where the similarities end as far as I can tell. I think it shares more with Pitch Black (which was released only months before) where the future cops have to team up with future Vin Diesel to battle the army of scary aliens on the foreign planet.

The Martian spirits are a malevolent cloud of dust that floats out of a subterranean door. Even if you kill one of the possessed motherfuckers, all you really did was release the Martian spirit dust so it can go possess someone else. The not-possessed people learn this rule, yet they continue to bust lethal caps in the Martian assailants. They decide to blow up the dust and the ending is basically one big drawn out “run away from the explosion we started” followed by a Shyamalanian zinger that you probably won’t care about.

REVIEW: The Thing (2011)

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The Thing 2011: D-
I am trying as hard as I can to think of a more predictable movie. Maybe Batman & Robin? Everything you think is going to happen happens, which especially sucks because the movie tries so hard to terrify with surprise Thing attacks.

The subtle creepiness and political commentary from Carpenter’s film is replaced with jump scares and meaninglessness. The scientists at this Arctic ice base figure out the Thing’s tricks fairly quickly and arrive at the same “chess” game from Carpenter’s version – trying to figure out who is a Thing and who is not about to erupt into CGI – but the haste just evaporates all of the actual buildup and suspense. The “scares” consist solely of CGI Thing barrages, not psychological torment or sly infiltration. Every 20 minutes or so (which is sort of a long time to wait between stretches of pretty awful dialogue and exposition), there is an obligatory jump scare followed by some Xboxy graphics on par with the Silent Hill movies.

There were no un-CGI shots of Thing as far as I can tell, but maybe I was just blinded by rage and disappointment. Again, more Carpenter charm lost. We all remember the animatronic decapitated head-spiders and caterpillar twisty-torsos that K. Russ’s sexy ass was blasting with flame throwers, right? Well, prepare for a letdown: special effects on par with the Anaconda movies, and writing that reminded me of a soap opera. I’ve actually been kept in more suspense while watching an episode of General Hospital with my mom. What’s especially fucked is that in the trailer for the movie, you see three characters transform into the Thing. So when you see the scenes in the movie, you know what is going to happen pretty much instantly.

The movie could have been cool if anyone involved had cared about the source material on any meaningful level. I just imagine some Michael Bay disciple as the director walking on set for day 1 of filming and going “so this is what, like some kinda monster or something like the blob?” I was surprised to see the film received an R rating because it is structured like a cookie-cutter PG-13 profit machine and seemed to be churned out with less thought/effort than the Thing video game (yes, there is a Thing video game and it isn’t that bad).

Let me put it this way: imagine someone made a prequel to The Shining and the movie had a laugh track and Kanye West on the soundtrack. That’s how out-of-fucking-bounds nuts this movie was.