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Old 16th November 2020, 04:10 AM
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MacBlayne MacBlayne is offline
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In the Mouth of Madness

Some may balk at seeing John Carpenter's horror film here, but I think it does enough to count as a film noir. At the very least, it's a fascinating combination of genre overlap.

Sam Neill is John Trent, an insurance investigator hired by a publishing company to track down the missing writer, Sutter Cane. Cane had been writing what meant to be the finale of his horror series before vanishing. With the help of Cane's editor, Linda Styles (Julia Carmen), Trent tracks Kane to a small town. So small, that it doesn't appear on any map. It also doesn't help that Cane's novels are set there.

Pulp horror and mystery have their origins in the same type of magazines. Both H.P. Lovecraft (writer of At the Mountains of Madness and James M. Cain (although Cane can be seen as a substitute for Lovecraft and Stephen King, perhaps his name is meant to ivlke the famous noir writer) wrote serialised stories for these magazines, and they often employed the same techniques, such as first person narration, and a protagonist wandering into a plot far beyond their control. Carpenter and Michael DeLuca (screenwriter) blend the two together.

The film opens with a deranged Trent being dragged into a mental asylum, screaming that it might be too late. Dr. Wrenn (David Warner) visits him, and asks him to explain how he got here. Trent obliges, but it's a tale difficult to believe.

Trent is a chain-smoking, whiskey drinking, cynical wisearse who would be insufferable if he wasn't played by Neill. Like most noir heroes, he exposes slimebags committing fraud, and does so with a satisfied grin. However, halfway through, the film shift gears and Trent is unable to bear it. Indeed, Trent is the audience surrogate, and Carpenter enjoys toying with us as much as Cane loves twisting Trent.

In the Mouth of Madness sees Carpenter at his most audacious. It may represent the peak of his directing and editing skills. The second half of the film is deranged. Carpenter constantly shifts, leaving Trent and the audience and confused. Thankfully, Carpenter keeps the pace relentless, feeding us enough to keep us watching, but changing everything else to keep us on our toes.

In the Mouth of Madness is a magnificent blurring of the lines between fiction and reality, and the fourth wall between the audience and the image.
SPOILER:
At the end, when Trent sees himself on the cinema screen, he lets out a deranged laugh and an anguished scream. And we're right beside him.
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