In the Mouth of Madness (1994)


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)

village of the damned

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)


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)


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)

The Thing 2011 3

The Thing 2011: D-

Dear Reader, I feel blinded by my own rage. I find myself, straining as if against the full force of the arch-fiend and a legion of his most terrible ghouls, straining to an extraordinary degree to fathom a motion picture more entrenched in the realm of predictability, more predestined to be perceived as a pathetic cash-grab prequel. Dare I invoke the lamentable specter of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”? Or, heaven forbid, “The Scorpion King”? Alas, “The Thing” (2011), in its pitiable attempt to instill dread through unexpected assaults from the entirely computer-generated Thing, wallows in a mire of abject failure. It was only through the most passionate restraint that your humble Keeper did not pierce both of his eyes with red hot pokers!

Gone, oh how painfully gone! is the disquietude and the provocative political allegory that adorned Carpenter’s original masterpiece. Absolutely gone without a blasted trace! In their stead, we are subjected to a barrage of hollow jump-scares and an unyielding void of substance. The so-called scientists inhabiting their Arctic fortress are swiftly confronted by the Thing’s shapeshifting ploys, plunging headlong into the same maddening and deadly chess game that their predecessors from the far superior 1982 film once played. One must tell friend from alien foe to survive: Futile attempt follows futile attempt with the doomed scientists each succumbing to various deluges of CGI-induced torment. 

And what of pacing for our chilly arctic thriller?! Here, in the festering anus of 2011 cinema, the frenzied pace obliterates any semblance of genuine suspense or building tension. The supposed “scares” amount to naught but a relentless onslaught of computer-generated nonsense absolutely bereft of the insidious art of psychological and cellular infiltration. And lo, at intervals of approximately twenty minutes – a cruel stretch of time between each sequence of excruciatingly insipid dialogue and mind-numbing exposition! – we are graced with a mandatory jump-scare! A jump-scare drenched in Nintendo-like visual effects, Dear Reader!

I spoke before of my own contemplation of blinding by iron, but during this wretched viewing, I was blinded by celluloid rage! My eyes, blurred by a potent mixture of fury and disillusionment, strained to find solace in the CGI-infested monstrosities. There is a complete absence of Carpenter’s enchanting touch! Do we not reminisce, with a heavy heart, the animatronic marvels that once graced our screens? The decapitated spider-heads and the contorted caterpillar-torsos, dancing on screen like enchanting sugar-plum fairies before being engulfed in the flames of Kurt Russell’s captivating prowess and sizable flamethrower? There is nothing to see, Dear Reader. Only darkness to strain into until death. All who dare to explore the abyss of “The Thing” 2011: Brace yourself for an inexorable descent into this visual desolation. 

Yes Dear Reader, the special effects on display invoke the woeful standards set by the “Anaconda” franchise, but what of this story? Alas, the screenplay, laden with the banality of a pedestrian soap opera, fails to evoke even a modicum of artistic merit. Indeed, I dare say, I have endured greater suspense while partaking in the mundane affairs of “General Hospital,” a favorite of my dear mother’s, which I often watched intently by her side. How maddening it is to behold even the trailer for this film, wherein three characters succumb to the insidious clutches of the Thing, thus rendering any semblance of surprise within the film itself utterly nonexistent. In all fairness, I must concede that the scribe of this dreadful mistake of a film did also pen the screenplay for the fantastic film “Arrival,” and because of this, I extend to him my respect and admiration despite this unfortunate 2011 lapse. 

As one who deeply loves Carpenter’s film, I cannot help but ponder the hypothetical scenario wherein those involved in the production of this film exhibited even a microscopic regard for the source material from which it was derived. Alas, I can only envision a director, perhaps a disciple of Michael Bay, striding onto the set on the fateful days of filming, with a dismissive remark of the likes of, “So, this creature, is it akin to a monstrous blob of sorts? Well, this will be cake, old chaps! Let’s be quick, now!” before rolling the cameras and commencing desecration. Such a despicable image haunts my tortured mind. It is a ghastly reminder that the film, despite its R rating, adheres to the soulless structure of a cookie-cutter PG-13 profit-generating apparatus, surpassing even the Playstation 2 “The Thing” video game – a favorite of my dear mother’s, which I often played intensely by her side – in its absence of cogitation and labor.

I cannot say I recommend this film to any sane man who hopes to retain the will to draw breath.