In The Mouth Of Madness

Top 3 John Carpenter Films

3. In The Mouth Of Madness
2. The Thing
1. Halloween

It has been nearly a decade since Carpenter has given us a new feature film, though the glimmer of hope came with his entry in the Masters Of Horror series: Cigarette Burns then flickered the next season with Pro-Life.  Either way these two hour long films make up for his last foray in filmmaking: Ghosts Of Mars, a film so bad no one wants to include it in their Carpenter collection.

There's a lot of talk of his comeback, with three films slated to be delivered over the next year we thought it would be good to start going through his filmography again.  The one film all of us agree on here at CineNiche is Halloween - the ultimate landmark in horror cinema.  Michael Meyers will always strike fear into our hearts and for good reason - his image is iconic and terrifying.  It is in the films simplicity that fear grows.  Over the course of Carpenter's career he has swayed between action and horror with an ease seldom seen in genre filmmaking.  From the start with his sci-fi film Dark Star (written by Dan O'Bannon of Alien and Return of the Living Dead fame) to his ultra gritty action film Assault On Precinct 13 to his romantic drama alien film Starman, there was a day that Carpenter could do no wrong.  Even progressing further into the eighties we saw Escape From New York, The Fog,  Christine, Prince of Darkness, Big Trouble In Little China, and They Live - showing that even when some of his films were flawed there was also something beautiful to them.

Out of the three flawless films of his career, In The Mouth Of Madness stands out as a masterpiece in chaos. Sam Neill delivers a perfect performance as John Trent, a claims investigator.  Trent has made a living for himself by doubting everything and believing there's always an angle.  He is usually hired by insurance companies to find out fraudulent claims and thus has forged a life of truth against deception.  His newest client is a publishing company who represents pop sensation Sutter Cane, whose writing is the perfect amalgamation of Stephen King, Clive Barker, and H.P. Lovecraft.  The publishing house wants Cane's newest book but after Cane went missing they want to be paid regardless either the pages or the insurance if Cane is dead.  In the background, overheard on television, or radio broadcasts there are reports of rampant violence and insanity that has begun to take hold on the world.  John Trent sets out to prove Cane's disappearance as just a publicity stunt.  Along with Linda Styles, Cane's editor, they leave the city to find the fictional town of Hobbs End.

John Trent descends into madness throughout the film as does the entire society around him.  He struggles with the difference between reality and fiction feeling that his grip, once very strong, is slipping.  This makes John the perfect catalyst for the apocalypse.  A man of stubborn truth falls into Cane's trap.  Most people who read his work are weak willed, which destroys their link with reality quickly and allows Cane to control them.  To destroy Trent's vision of reality takes a lot more and therefore makes him the perfect character for Cane's latest work: In The Mouth Of Madness.  In the last quarter of the film we realize the book Cane is writing to end the world is actually the story of John Trent's descent into madness.  The film is brilliant and takes a few stabs against the Bible as well, saying people used to believe in the Bible but now they believe in Sutter Cane.

We would like to honor your comeback Mr. Carpenter by saying: Welcome Home, we've missed you!

Rating: V/V - A Tasty Treat We've Found

It may have nothing to do with film reviews or movies in general but katofalltrades makes us here at CineNiche salivate.  The pictures of the wonderfully homemade foods are insane.  Looking for the organic life filled with tasty treats, go have a peek for yourself.

<-------  Isn't it lovely!!!!

Mr. Nobody Is Certainly Somebody To Us

After a 13 year hiatus from filmmaking Jaco Van Dormael has created in Mr. Nobody the most perfect vision of string theory.  Creating a film about every possible outcome of every possible choice and each of their timelines takes either a brilliant mind or one completely mad, and the jury's still out on Dormael.  Either way this film is breathtaking.  The soundtrack, editing, and cinematography are all mixed so well that the film itself seems to spring from the fourth dimension itself.

We are given fragments of the past, present, and future of Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto).  In the beginning these fates clash together in something astonishing yet unrecognizable, but by the middle of the film the viewer begins to understand how all of these pieces fit together.  Our future Nemo, an old man on the verge of his 118th birthday in a society where everyone is immortal recounts his full life but the memories are not of one distinct timeline but multiple ones, as though he is able to see all the possible lives he led with each choice he was forced to make and now on his deathbed is recreating his memory with the best lived life.  

Nemo's first and most significant choice at the age of 9 is to decide whether to live with his mother (Natasha Little) or his father (Rhys Ifans), from here his life splinters off in two main paths.  Living with his father he is immersed in science fiction writing while taking care of his invalid father.  Here he meets Anna and Jean - two future wives and very different lives.  With Anna he is miserable due to her mental illness - this Anna is played to perfection by Sarah Polly.  With Jean he has soulless wealth and gets shot by an assassin.  On the other parallel living with his mother, Nemo meets Elise who quickly becomes his great love and step-sister but their love can never sustain due to the world around them.  It is the choice of the aged Nemo to find his better life through all of the possible choices he could make.  A line from the 9 year old Nemo is repeated through the film: "You have to make the right choice.  As long as you don't choose, everything remains possible."

Albert Einstein first came up with the theory of alternate dimensions with the cause and effect clause which stated: Every thought is played out in another universe, thus the universe is expanding, without thought, the universe condenses and closes in on itself.  So, an inactive choice - the 9 year old Nemo not choosing - causes the universe to condense.  We see the end of the world through the inability to choose for oneself and coupled with the inevitability of death: choice is the only reality we have.  Life is walking toward the precipice of a great abattoir and every time we thoughtfully decide to act we dance with the hole - these actions sustain us as we sway forward and away from death.  It is in this dance that we feel alive and without decision there is only the forward momentum to our demise.  These alternate realities created by our possibilities are comforting, though we do not have the ability to see their outcomes as the 9 year old Nemo does it just reaffirms the power of choice that we have within our own lives.

If you get a chance to see Mr. Nobody go for it.  It is definitely a more intellectual film and for some it may cause nightmares.  It sinks into your unconscious and forces you to question the choices and actions you've taken in your own life.


Surviving Survival Of The Dead

Dear George A. Romero,

We here at CineNiche have been long time fans of your work, we eat up any information on your new projects and each of us buy any Fangoria that has an interview with you in it.  We love your films, from the genre changing Night Of The Living Dead onward, your films have always been an inspiration to our own indie spirit.  Your ability to provide a social commentary more blatant than other horror directors and your simple yet highly effective camera work has shown us a good story means everything.  And what better story than your forty plus year ongoing tale of humanity's inability to help each other.  Even in Dawn Of The Dead your characters help themselves and guard the fort against the living and the undead.  Your films are important to us and even when they are not at their best, they still offer something toward the genre.  Martin was a revolution to the vampire film.  Monkey Shines was a pitch perfect adaptation.  Creepshow 1 & 2 are both extremely enjoyable.  Even Two Evil Eyes, while your segment came first and felt a little slower paced than Argento's still fit together very well.  Then, there is Knightriders, your opus and even though it passes into the realm of drama you gave it so much love and it shows as a beautiful character study and holds our interest all the way through.  We could list each one of your films and provide an example of its greatness, but what we would really like to know is why have your last two entries in your zombie series failed to spark us the way they used to.

Diary Of The Dead hit the great reset button, working as a modern take on the events leading up to Night Of The Living Dead.  We were interested in your new style, but it seemed like too much change from your older mode of filmmaking.  You shot on digital for the mockumentary approach, which is much cheaper and understandably quicker, yet went against the grain for you.  It didn't help the story, it hindered it and made it feel as though the originator whose been copied countless times is now copying from others.  It didn't feel sincere and that was our biggest problem.  Even with all these elements against it, we still found it enjoyable - there were a few key moments that made our hair stand straight.  This is evidence of our love for you.  Which brings us to your latest work.

Survival of the Dead is so hard to enjoy.  We realize you bring back elements from Dawn of the Dead, which provides a comedy/cartoon aesthetic in the killing of zombies, yet did not expect that.  We also understood that due to time constraints you were forced to use digital effects - haphazard digital effects.  You even gave your fans what they wanted - humanity and its inability to work toward a common goal.  By giving us a western/horror film you found an interesting new niche, and as a Western the film is great but as a zombie film it fails to deliver.  In various interviews you've said that it may have been too soon to work on another zombie film, especially since you've always waited for something interesting in the world to happen that sparks your imagination/commentary.  If you know it's not great, why did you spend your time creating something you only felt half a passion for?  It gives us a heavy heart to have to rate your film, and we hope your remake of Deep Red will get the blood pumping again - maybe this is only a minor setback in your career.  You've had funks before and you've managed to get past them, so we wish you all the luck in finding your passion for subject matter again.

Your fans at CineNiche

Rating: III/V Just for you George.

Is The Human Centipede The Most Disgusting Film?

Tom Six's film The Human Centipede: The First Sequence is a well done first feature from a filmmaker, but is it the most disgusting film ever made?  Simply put, no.  The biggest problem with this film is the hype machine behind it.  "A friend of a friend saw it and nearly threw up,"  or "people walked out of the theater because it was too disturbing."  We've seen this happen before, more recently with Eli Roth's oeuvre from Cabin Fever to Hostel 2 or with the Saw series.  Torture porn is made to feed the darkness within, the unconscious or conscious part of ourselves that wants to see the body opened up and put through ghastly horrors.  The thirst for this type of horror is not new only the special effects that make them possible are.  Torture porn is a direct reflection of our social climate since the Iraq war began and we started seeing leaked decapitation videos streaming online.  It is humanities ability to fictionalize what they don't understand so as to make sense of it.  This is the reason for horror, it is the great filter.

Does Human Centipede take this a step further, does it dig into our worst fears?  Unfortunately it does not, especially when we've already seen a film like Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom.  Salo was released in 1975 and was created as a satire of fascism.  It featured people as sex slaves, forced to empty their bowels in a cauldron and eventually eat the feces stew.  It also showed what happened to these young men and women when they slept with each other and not the owners of the establishment - - close up castration.  There's also the E. Elias Merhige film Begotten from 1990 where we see God being born into a bloody mess and eventually disemboweling himself with a razor.  I Spit On Your Grave shows us twenty-one minutes of rape followed by twenty-three minutes of revenge including another castration.  Irreversible shows a man's head bashed in with a fire extinguisher.  William Lustig's Maniac gives us the showmanship of Savini with a shotgun blast to the head.  All of these films and many more provide us with a glimpse at absolute horrors and rightfully establish themselves as landmarks of the cinema macabre.  The Human Centipede never gives us what our demented eyes want to see - - an anus and mouth stitched together.

The concept is great, a demented German surgeon who once specialized in separating Siamese twins now has made it his life goal to create a perfect triplet.  Doctor Heiter is filled with a hatred for humanity and his philosophical waxings are simple but effective, his treatment of his patients once they're transformed is that of a dog trainer.  Once Heiter is in this stage of behavioral training the film actually picks up and we're given some of the best lines of the film.  There's the "lick my boots," which just seams very German, but when the lead section of the Centipede has to defecate which means it will pass into the second section we get the best line in the film: "Feed her!"  Other than this scene, the film retains a slow pace that doesn't help the story.  We get the slowest chase sequence ever, a botched police investigation, an incredible suicide, and an ending that at once feels hopeless and wonderful but given time the viewer realizes it isn't as nihilistic as one would wish for this caliber of film.

In the end we enjoyed this film, but not for reasons we previously believed we would.  Under the pretense of 'most disturbing film,' it fails, but as an interesting new take on the mad scientist genre that was abandoned after the fifties it delivers.

CineNiche is rooting for Six's follow up: The Human Centipede II: The Full Sequence.

Rating: III/V

Best-Horror-Movies posts a section from CineNiche

Our editor just got a little more love over at Best-Horror-Movies but the article is just a reposting of the beginning of:

A Study On Fear And Pleasure In The Horror Film 

which can be read here, but go on over to Best-Horror-Movies and check them out - the site is awesome.

Suspiria - The Greatest Horror Film

This is an excerpt from CineNiche editor Shaun Huhn's unpublished book on the horror genre The Wonderfully Terrifying: An Insight Into Our Love Of Being Afraid. This is from the "Monster" section of the book where he writes about witches but we chose this to showcase our favorite film Suspiria.  Enjoy.

The following has been taken from the limited edition DVD of Suspiria, writer Scott Michael Bosco has captured everything that identifies a Dario Argento film.  It is entitled “Introduction for Dario Argento Films.”  He describes Argento more poignantly than I ever could, so here is that page:

 “When we enter the realm of a Dario Argento film, the laws of the possible and probable are challenged.  Like a master architect, a new framework of realities has been constructed concealing the audience in a house with many doors, even more rooms, and numerous windows.

There is only one entrance, which we enter with free will and exist only when allowed.  We are guided through darkness, from hall to hall, always whispering questions, and there is light only when we’ve entered a room.  It startles us in a blinding flash, only for an instant, imbedding in our minds unspeakable and startling sights.

During the tour, our senses will be assaulted both by what we see and hear.  Music that is at times repetitious in melody or loud in volume and will serve a double purpose - the first to almost hypnotize, a lulling of our will, the latter to confound and confuse - together creating an atmosphere of uneasiness and apprehension.

We will see much water, and falling rain - lacrimatio, tears of the world.  Much glass will shatter - displaying how delicate our preconceived notion of reality is.  There are times we will travel ‘out of body’ as helpless voyeurs perceiving hostile intentions and acting out the cruelness of others.  Even when witnessing the most abhorrent atrocities on the human body there is no release.  Instead, each act prolongs in it a hellish punishment of eternal torment of unending suffering, supporting the supposition of dying but no death

These images are painted with blood, yet unsettlingly portrayed with the lyricism of a ballet.  This realm is not of Hades, but of the earth.  Not of corporeality but imagery.  It is a world born within closed eyelids and rapid eye movements.  It’s all in the world of the sub-conscience where fears are the political structure of the land called nightmares.  Our form of transportation to this place is celluloid in its various states; our guide is Dario Argento.”

Suspiria, released in 1977, set records in Italy as one of the widest released Italian film of all time.  Daria Nicholi, Argento’s ex-wife, told Dario her story and concept which was taken from old folklore passed down to her, and her own ideas of fear.  She created a story about ‘the three mothers’ a group of three witches that were spread across the world - one in New York, one in Rome, and one in Freeburg, Germany - that stand for three different ideals.  One witch Suspire, is the mother in Suspiria, one witch is Infernum from Inferno and the third mother is The Mother Of Tears.  Argento says in his documentary that was done for Suspiria that he was influenced by Disney’s Snow White and the films color schemes.  He wanted to create a dream within the film’s look.  Suspiria works on a conscious and unconscious level, due to his highly stylized aesthetic.  He not only wanted to create a fable about a witch and a secret covenant; he wanted to create art.

Suspiria is subliminal as much as it is cognitive, Argento is obsessive-compulsive when it comes to detail and it shows in every frame.  In the documentary about Suspiria, Dario tells us he made his director of photography, Luciano Tovoli, watch Snow White, to get a feeling of the color schemes and the brightness of each frame.  To get the look Argento wanted, he spent a lot of his budget just to research and perfect new techniques to balance the colors of the film.  He decided to, “take out a filter that is used to soften the borders so every color could remain absolutely pure, they didn’t worry about having perfect boarders as it made it even more unrealistic (Suspiria documentary).”  Argento was also interested in using a German expressionist style, since he was trying to achieve a nightmare effect.  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a German expressionistic film that uses different camera angles to produce an intense effect, it also uses very non-realistic sets in which there are no curves only angles.  Everything appears to be sharp and jagged, causing the image to leap from the screen.  It also adds a subconscious effect of confusion that jars our senses.  In Suspiria Argento’s use of straight lines in the sets and architecture are overbearing, and seem to have an effect all on their own, the same way German expressionism does.  Argento and Tovoli decided the film stock they chose was the most important factor, they wanted to use Technicolor, but at the time in Italy, Technicolor film had already become scarce.  They found Technicolor to be fascinating because when you develop it, the matrix system separates the colors into three bands, where you could paint each prime color matrix equally using different intensities in color or leave one out all together.  This ability to manipulate the film itself gave Suspiria a completely different look.  After they finally found the right film stock, Argento then had to plan out his wonderful and often highly complicated camera movements. 

Suspiria is the story of Suzy Banyon arriving in Freeburg, Germany to attend school at Tamm Academy of Dance.  The first shot is a list of arrival and departure times, the camera booms to show Jessica Harper (also see Phantom Of The Paradise) walking toward us amid a group of travelers.  We hear an intercom system in the background.  The shot cuts to Suzy’s P.O.V. of the exit door, there is a faint taste of the Goblin score.  We cut back to Suzy walking toward the camera, music stops, and intercom voice again.  She lacks expression, but we as an audience feel uneasy.  It cuts back to her P.O.V. another shot of the exit doors, closer now.  This juxxtpositioning of shots is jarring, and emphasized by not only by cutting directly to a subjective shot from an objective one, but it also breaks the 180 degree rule, by showing what is in front of Suzy and what is behind her.  It also works on an unconscious level, because you when it cuts back and forth it feels as though the film is watching us.  It seems as though Argento knew that there was no basis in reality within the film, so therefore every moment the audience would be taken out of the film’s universe.  When this happens we, the viewers, know that we should be watching this as art, and automatically inspires our imagination - this may be a broad generalization but take for instance when we look at a painting and it captivates us, our imagination allows us to look past the art and into the artist’s creativity.  Suzy walks through the exit door, insert an extreme close-up of the gears inside the automatic door, when she is outside all hell has broken loose.  There is a furious storm outside with lightning, thunder, and then finally the Goblins score comes on full blast.  Suzy’s hair is blowing in every direction, she stalls for a moment, then runs toward the street to yield a taxi.  It is a wide-angle shot that shows the exit doors, a small road, an awning, and finally the street.  We see from high above every painful moment it takes for Suzy to get a cab and all the streetlights shine down with a blue and red alternating streak of color.  Then we cut to a medium shot of Suzy still waving, trying to get a driver’s attention.  She is soaking wet and with every strike of lightning a voice whispers the word ‘witch.’
The Goblins are a former musical group that worked in close collaboration with Dario for many years.  For Suspiria, Argento’s task for them was to reinvent music.  Argento wanted sound effects used in the music itself such as: hisses, mumbling, crying, laughing, screaming, and whispering.  He needed music that was as subconscious as his film.  At this point in the film, when we hear a whisper, we find ourselves possibly scared and we don’t know why, up to this point absolutely nothing has happened; yet there is something to be fearful of.  Suzy gets picked up by a cab, the cab driver refuses to pick up her bags, so she puts them in the trunk and gets in.  Inside the cab the red and blue colors are more intense, and there seems to be a yellow filter shining on Suzy’s face.  This creates a dynamic effect by evoking our relation to 3-D optics and adds layers to the scene through the use of colors.  Lightning strikes outside of the vehicle and everything outside is lit up in green and we can see the rain falling out the back window.  The cab takes Suzy to a large Victorian-esque red building.  The shot tilts from the car up to the building, when lightning strikes the building is illuminated and the red glistens.  Since the shot is during a stormy night, with no other people filling the frame, it slowly reveals the entirety of the estate, and its low angle view of the building tells us that this place isn’t somewhere we want to be.  The first five and a half minutes of the film are Suzy making her way to the ballet academy and already viewers can feel uneasy.  The next ten minutes involves a woman who runs away from the academy and gets murdered in one of the most horrific death sequences I’ve ever seen.

“I think a film-maker is more or less interesting depending on whether his dreams, his nightmares, and even his illusions are interesting or not.” - Dario Argento (World of Horror documentary)

When Suzy Banyon finally figures out that the ballet school is just a front for a covenant of witches, it is too late.  Argento’s murder sequences are beautiful and breathtaking.  That is a bold statement that makes me sound like a masochist, but it is true for a lot of people.  We know that what is on screen is not real, even the blood he uses he intentionally wants to look fake.  We glide along with the steady cam through long hallways, never knowing what is around the next corner.  The only objection that could be made to Suspiria is that it seems boring during the middle, but this has been a trick used in many horror films to build suspense and anxiety within audiences.  Tobe Hooper used it in his slasher film, Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  We grow impatient and drool for the kill, or the excitement.  There is a sequence where a blind man is killed in the middle of what looks like a town square, Argento builds suspense for ten minutes before a quick kill.  This is the second death in the film and it follows a woman in suspense for a short duration and the kill lasts what seems to be forever.  This building of suspense heightens the illusion and encourages imagination.  The first time I watched the film, I could have sworn I saw someone lurking in the shadows, but upon further viewings there was nothing moving.  It is the power of suggestion, just like the witch.  Argento used extreme long shots, which made the actor seem like an ant.  The shots were static, from multiple angles all around him.  The score is building as the blind man screams and his seeing-eye dog barks.  Finally a moving shot, starting in the air and swooping down towards the actor then back into the air again.  We hear a flapping noise and laughing as the camera seems to attack the blind man.  Then the soundtrack goes silent, we hear the man breathing, we cut from different angles to show his terror, then finally and quickly his dog attacks him and tears out his throat.  Proving within this film that witches can possess and control animals.  This silence before the attack is how Argento paces his films, he shows everything from before the attacker sees his victim, to the stalking, the attacking, and the moment after the victim stops breathing.  So when it comes to criticism about boredom and sluggishness I always think about fast paced action packed films that insult my intelligence. 

The witch in this film doesn’t truly show herself till the very end, even then it is brief.  It is the covenant's belief in her that keeps her alive and powerful.  But when Suzy stabs her in the throat with a pin, the academy collapses and the witch dies, symbolizing the death in the belief as well.  Another clever play on shattering our reality, which is one of Argento’s normal goals shown usually by breaking glass.  Suspiria was the first film to show how beautiful being terrified can be, also how artistic.  As a personal belief I hold, Suspiria and The Shining to be the most highly intelligent and artistic horror films of all time.  Even though Suspiria goes against all my feelings of witches, it still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Rating: V/V