I should preface this by disclosing that I’m a huge fan of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. It may not receive the acclaim of Halloween or The Thing, but it remains one of my favorites. Nearly 20 years later, I still look for scary old people on bicycles when I’m driving in the darkness in the middle of nowhere, and will forever quote various lines from this film as delivered by Sam Neill (my favorite being the one about not throwing chips at drivers)
I don’t think Carpenter set out to win an Oscar with this movie, but goddamn it’s entertaining, and Sam Neill is a big part of that.
The late Siskel and Ebert weren’t impressed though. I was digging around YouTube and found their dismissal of the film buried in the depths with less than 40 views.
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“‘In the Mouth of Madness has an intriguing premise, but the movie blows a lot of possibilities, and just goes straight for the gruesome special effects,” complains Ebert. “I like the idea that a book could drive you mad, and I like the way the publisher didn’t want to admit that because he was selling so many copies. This idea could have been turned into a wicked social satire, but instead, the movie goes for ghouls and hallucinations, and lots and lots and lots of shots of things that jump out at you from the edge of the screen, which is another tired cliche. It’s too bad.”
Right. Who wants to watch horror movies with ghouls and things that jump out at you?
Siskel didn’t even like it as much as Ebert.
“I’m glad you weren’t sucked in by this one either, because I don’t even know if the premise can work, Roger,” he says. “I’ve seen so many pictures…not so many, but a few pictures where you’re inside the movie…and books that turn the readers crazy, and I haven’t seen any of them work frankly because you’re always aware that the gimmick is sitting there. It’s constantly reading ‘gimmick gimmick gimmick.’”
Ebert thinks it would have been better if Stephen King wrote it, which admittedly could have been interesting.
“Maybe the problem is that Stephen King didn’t write this book, because if you look at Misery, for example, which is about a horror author who gets involved with one of his fans. That really did work on the page and on the screen, and here, the possibilities…it’s kind of like a second-rate Stephen King story that King might have been able to do something more with.”
Interesting maybe, but I wouldn’t change a thing (unless there’s a way to cram in more Sam Neill one liners).