Tag Archives: john carpenter

3. In the Mouth of Madness: A Study of Reality

The realm of literature is deep. It can transport us to new worlds, it can change our perception of reality, change our view of the world, and create wonders.

This is the background in John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness.

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This 1994  project is Carpenter’s tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, starring Sam Niell, Jürgen Prochnow and Julie Carmen, is my favorite among Carpenter’s filmography, as well as one of my personal favorites in my horror movie collection in general. Not without its flaws, it’s nevertheless an entertaining story, with interesting concepts.

The story is about John Trent, an insurance investigator signed investigate what happened to the popular horror writer Sutter Cane, the most popular writer in the world whose macabre novels negatively affects sensitive readers. They arrive in the town of Hobb’s End, a place taken straight from one of Cane’s books. Soon the distinction between reality and fiction is about to blur…

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One scene which sums up the tone of the movie and shows the pretext in the story, is where Trent sits in a confessional at a church, where Sutter Cane speaks to him:

”Do you know what the problem is with places like this? With religion in general? It’s never known how to convey the anatomy of horror. Religion seeks discipline through fear, yet it doesn’t understand the true nature of creation. No-one has ever believed it enough to make it real.”

Reality is what we believe it to be. What we are convincing ourselves. Reality is our perception of the consequences of our actions – the result of everyone’s actions. The quote above relates to the fact that we are able to shape the view of the world and make it a reality to many people.

The movie explores this in the world of literature. The author Sutter Cane affects readers around the world, transforming them into homicidal maniacs, as a result of the readers losing their concept of reality after reading through his books. If our perception of reality is shattered, the whole world is shattered with it. That’s the horror of In the Mouth of Madness. If you are the only sane man in a world full of insane people, you become the anomaly.

And the bottom line: reality can not be trusted. You don’t necessarily have control of your own actions.

I absolutely adore these kinds of mind-fucks. When you’re in the right mood, you’re beginning to distrust everything. Which, in many cases, is what a good horror movie should be about. Looking over your shoulder, being uncertain, imagining things you have know idea if they are true.

And pray to God you actually will have a good night’s rest.

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2. Prince of Darkness: A Study of Science

Combining stories of supernatural horror with science is not uncommon. Authors like Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy and Dan Brown has come to define the term “techno thriller”, suspense stories with focus on the element of scientific discourse, in order to increase the suspension of disbelief. Which is always appreciated. I mean, if we are invested in a good book or a great film, any detail supporting the suspension of disbelief is welcomed with open arms!

Prince of Darkness from 1987 is trying to incorporate scientific themes and thoughts into a supernatural movie about religious myths mostly connected to the Anti-Christ. The embodiment of evil (the “Anti-God”, the actual father of Satan) in this case, is represented by a canister containing a living green substance. It’s found in an ancient church, locked away by a secret society. A group of scientists are sent there to study this finding before it can be revealed to the world.

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Here, we are introduced to characters talking about how our logic and view on reality “collapses on the subatomic level”, even going so far as bringing up the thought experiment of Schrödinger’s cat, introducing a theme about non-sense and impossibility. All this foreshadowing the rest of the movie, with its religious overtones.

At the same time, the movie builds up a mythology of its own, related to Christian myths. The names Jesus, Satan are referenced in fictional religious text passages. One particular example stands out: a strange passage from a translation of an ancient book, portraying Jesus as a extraterrestrial being, sent to Earth to warn the people of the danger about Anti-God. After that, it’s never mentioned again for the rest of the movie. This reference to so-called “Space Jesus” leaves behind a sense of mystery, albeit a pretty surprising one.

These mythical stories are mixed with “explanations” of the existence of God and Satan, that they are invisible elements of subatomic particles, in which the anti-particle is Anti-God/Anti-Christ. It’s further strengthened by this excerpt from a monologue by the priest of the movie:

“It’s your disbelief that powers him. Your stubborn fate in common sense that allows this deception. He lives in the smallest parts of it. In the atoms, smaller, invisible. He lives in all of it. In the sum of its parts.”

All the movies talk about anti-matter, quantum physics and even tachyons (in a very interesting interpretation) may seem to some people as a laughable try to give quasi-scientific theological “explanations” of God and Satan. I see Prince of Darkness for what it is: a supernatural horror movie, apocalyptic, rich in its own mythology, and entertaining as hell.

1. The Thing: A Study of Paranoia

The premise in The Thing (from 1982, not to be confused with the prequel from 2011) seems simple enough: An alien spacecraft crashed in Antarctica millions of years ago. Present time, an Arctic expedition. The alien creature thaws from the ice after his long hibernation, and starts attacking. The humans need to defend themselves, led by the alpha male himself: Kurt Rusell.

What makes the premise more interesting is one crucial aspect:

Paranoia

The Thing starts off with a dog in the snow fields, being chased by two Arctic scientists, one of them shooting with a rifle. Already in the first five minutes, the sense of panic and urgency is apparent. The “dog” arrives in a neighboring science station, where the scientists shelter it, before things starts to go haywire. Soon, it is discovered that the dog actually is the alien creature, who is is able to copy any life form, to perfection, in a matter of hours. Except for a blood sample, there is no possible way whatsoever to recognize the “copy.”

Therein lies the horror. The copies are exact copies. Every single expression, every single sentence, every single behavior – everything corresponds exactly to the “original.” It’s not just that the creature lies and tries to act like someone else. It literally becomes the original. The only method in the movie

In many works of fiction, there are certain phrases that always carries a certain sense of security. Phrases that a viewer is supposed to rely upon:

  • “Look into my eyes. Have I ever lied to you?”
  • “We’ve known each other for years. Would I ever put you in danger?”
  •  “I promise. I give you my word.”

The Thing just spits on such phrases. The copy is just as convincing and reliable as the original. Just as eager to help to solve the situation. Paranoia poisons and creates uncertainties. In a hostile, isolated, dark environment, those feeling becomes intolerable. And blessings such as reliability, trust and friendship becomes something meaningless.

And let’s not forget the creature, “The Thing”, itself. Does it deserve paranoia? Well, there are scenes where we see part of the transformation process, and where it tries to defend itself, so the actual monster is not “out of view.” However, when it does show up, the effect of the parasitic creature of staggering. There are more than enough reasons to be afraid that your best friend standing right beside you actually looks like this on the inside…

So what happens when the paranoia poisons people in The Thing?

Well, I’m not particular fond of spoilers. So unfortunately I will not present you with anymore revealing details.

Let’s just say that even though the ending is a pretty final one, the paranoia lingers still…

John Carpenter: A Study of Ideas

Have you ever heard a story that sounded like it had potential, but it turned out to be kind of empty? Or seen a movie that had a great idea, but not well-executed? Or read a book that lacked some kind of “substance” that could have made the plot richer? You get the feeling that something is missing?

That is the sense I get from John Carpenter.

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He is considered one of the classic masters of horror, a movie director who’s been active since the 1970s. His most famous achievement in the horror field has to be Halloween from 1978, which was one of the contributing factors to the creation of the “slasher horror movie”, before the genre went haywire decades later, with one pathetic cliché “teenage slasher movie” after another.

Carpenter has done a number of movies during the years, the ones in the 70s and 80s being the most commercial successes. However, time has been able to “reinstitute” some of his newer works in the film canon of impressive works of film horror. Personally, if I were a movie director, I would see that as kind of annoying. That my movies needs years of pondering and valuation before they are considered passable!

There’s nothing lacking in Carpenter’s stories, concepts and ideas. However, I find that the final pictures always contains a number of flaws. The idea starts out good, but doesn’t get a jump-start, or isn’t evolved to fit the story. Instead of a painting, you get a frame. Also, the characters tend to be too one-dimensional in order to drive the plot to its full potential. To me it’s just frustrating. All this potential, just within reach! A movie that could’ve been perfect is just “good”!

john carpenter dvdNonetheless, I enjoy every one of his movies. His directing is well-paced, there’s never any lack of atmosphere, when he’s contributing music to his own music the result is awesome, and the “worlds” he’s building up are always interesting to visit. And most of all for the entertainment value, and of the aforementioned ideas and concepts, which can inspire your own imagination, as well as giving the audience something to talk about when the movie is over.

Details, and some aspects of the basic premises in the stories, are often left in the dark. This can be a bad thing as well as a good one. In Carpenter’s case, I think it’s mostly a good one. One thing people often forgets is that horror is about atmosphere, and in order to achieve that you have to leave behind question marks. Carpenter always provide with answers, but still leaves behind a few question marks here and there.

In this series of posts, I will focus on some themes and ideas I find interesting. Plus, I do not intend to do a repertoire of his entire filmography. Instead, I will focus on his so-called “Apocalypse Trilogy”, which includes the movies:

The Thing (1982),

Prince of Darkness (1987),

and In the Mouth of Madness (1994).

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So, without further ado, I guess it’s about time I actually started DOING what I promised a long time ago. “For the next few days” my ass…

Anyway, like I’ve said before…

I’m not going anywhere!

The Start of the Beginning

For the next few days, I will produce articles about the legendary horror movie director John Carpenter and some of his productions. This will be my first serious step in my goal to narrow down my ambition with the blog. Instead of just writing random reviews about random horror movies or books, I will take a different approach.

I will seek for the interesting themes and thoughts and ideas behind the horror genre. It will be more of a “philosophical” blog, if you will. Or just reviews that dwells more on the ideas behind the movie or book or whatever, as opposed by critique of a movie’s production or a book’s writing style. My post about the meaning behind “Jesus Wept” from Hellraiser was just a taste of things to come.

Stay tuned. Tonight or tomorrow I will talk to you about Mr. Carpenter… and from that moment on, The Horror Seeker continues his quest.

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