"Do you read Sutter Cane?"
What is my favourite John Carpenter film, you don't ask? That's a tough one, as there are so many. I could maybe give my top 5, in no particular order: Halloween, The Fog, Big Trouble in Little China, The Thing, They Live, and In the Mouth of Madness. And that's excluding many worthy also-rans like Escape From New York, Assault on Precinct 13, Christine, Prince of Darkness,
etc... As you can see, picking a favourite is tough. But I will say
this - the film I have watched the most (disqualifying Halloween, which
I watch almost every fall as a tradition) is In the Mouth of Madness,
if that means anything. I think I've seen it about half a dozen times,
and it keeps beckoning me to return as the days grow shorter and the sun
turns tea-weak through slate clouds. Roughly once a year, sometimes
more, something calls me back to Hobb's end. Something old, dark, and
The final film in Carpenter's supposed "Doomsday
Trilogy" (The Thing being number one and Prince of Darkness being number
two), ITMOM revolves around hack horror writer Sutter Cane (Jurgen
Prochnow, who we don't see until about halfway through the film), whose
work bears no small resemblance to Stephen King. Cane's work is
massively popular, more popular than King or even the Bible, we are
told. Thing is, Cane has gone missing, and his latest work is having
very strange effect on readers (almost everyone), driving them to
madness, mayhem, and murder (hey, if you're invoking hack writers,
you've got to use that most hakneyed of hack devices, alliteration).
Enter John Trent (Sam "God Among Men" Neill), an insurance fraud
investigator, who has been contracted by Cane's publishing firm to find
the missing author. Trent is accompanied by Linda Styles, Cane's
editor, and they set out to find the fictional Hobb's End, some quaint
New England town that isn't supposed to exist except for in Cane's
fiction. Problem is, they find it; Hobb's End harbours some dark
secrets and is anything but Main St. USA.
does a masterful job of reigning in the various aspects of the story to
keep it from becoming too confusing - there are quite an array of ideas
on display here, and if you remove the slimy things which crawl out of
the black pit in the church (very nice tip of the Lovecraft's Old Ones),
and the couple of hatchet jobs (literally) that occur in town, you'd
still find yourself dealing with a very darkly comic existentialist
As always with Carpenter, the
practical special effects are top notch, and the director's own
throbbing-synth score is fantastic. Prochnow and Neill are worthy foils
and Charlton Heston does a superb job as Cane's befuddled publisher.
And keep an eye out for many of the locations, as the film was shot in
and around Toronto (most notably, the RC Harris filtration plant,
doubling as an insane asylum here).
played with Lovecraftian ideals before (most notably in The Thing), but
never so obviously as he does in ITMOM. While Cane can be seen as King
(or King-like), he is also operating very much within the Lovecraft
mode. And, though I can't remember the exact quotation, I'm pretty
certain Cane actually says "the Old Ones" at one point, or something
very similar. With that in mind, the structure of the film is
deceptively complex. Sure, the "story-within-a-story" thing has been
done before, but Carpenter masterfully weaves the fiction with the
reality (still fiction, as it is the film itself), and with a bit of
suspension of disbelief, the viewer is led to believe that what is
happening onscreen is happening in the real world, outside the cinema.
Of course, it is less believable now, as the film and its decor have
dated somewhat, but still, there is a complexity in the film that I have
not found in any other of Carpenter's oeuvre (though he mildly flirted
with similar concepts in his too brief, but highly enjoyable, Masters of
Horror entry Cigarette Burns). In this regard, ITMOM is certainly not to the same league as something like Synechdoche, New York, but they're playing the same game.
thought-provoking and immensely re-watchable (not to mention quotable)
film, I think that for me, ITMOM is, if not my favourite Carpenter film,
his most accomplished and prescient work. It marries the visceral
impact of The Thing and the arcane sci-religion of Prince of Darkness
and emerges as a powerful and whole work. I only watched it a week ago,
and something has me wanting to pop it in again right now, if only to
remind myself, as one character in the film wearily and portentously
utters seconds before eating the barrels of a shotgun, "reality is not
what it used to be".