Tag Archives: In the Mouth of Madness

Fright Club: Towns that Won’t Let Go

Being trapped in a town–whether by supernatural forces or physical ones–is a nightmare scenario that horror movies use to their advantage. Maybe it’s bloodthirsty kids in a cornfield who keep you. Maybe it’s some kind of unnatural barrier, and every time you leave, you wind up where you started. Either way, spooky times! Here are our five favorite towns that won’t let you leave!

5. Hilsboro: The Brotherhood of Satan (1971)

One of those mid-afternoon TV watches one day home sick from school, this movie scared the shit out of me. Was it the kidnapping and possession of children? The Satanic cult? No–it was the idea that K.T. and Nicky could never leave the town. No matter what direction they drove or how they attempted it, they would never get out of the town.

That idea stuck with me for ages, but in restrospect, the movie has a lot of weird goodness going for it. It seems to have inspired Being John Malcovich to a degree, as well as Cemetery Man. It’s a B-movie, no question, but it is a lot of fun.

4. Camp Arcadia: The Endless (2017)

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead continue themes developed in the remarkable Resolution (which could also be on the list). And though it’s really a camp they need to leave, the dread the filmmakers develop is identical to that of the town that won’t let go.

As brothers return to the cult they’d escaped years earlier for a friendly visit, you spend every minute hoping, goading, yelling, begging them to fucking just leave! Get out! What are you still doing there?!

The tension is palpable and the fraternal familiarity between Justin and Moorhead is painfully, tenderly authentic. This works to ground the science fiction elements as they develop, creating an unnerving and memorable feature.

3. Hobbs End: In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

John Carpenter combines King with Lovecraft to create an unforgettable journey into madness. Sam Neill is an insurance investigator out to prove that vanished author Sutter Cane is a phony. He just needs to get to Hobb’s End and prove it.

There’s a scene with a bicyclist on a country road that boasts of Carpenter’s genre magic, as madness and mayhem collude to keep Neill where he is, at least until he can serve a greater purpose.

2. Buffalora: Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore – [of death, of love], 1994)

Inarguably director Michele Soavi’s best work is confined mainly to the cemetery in Buffalora. Released the same year as In the Mouth of Madness, Cemetery Man explores a handful of the same themes. It just does it with more sex.

The film balances humor with horror, sneakily leading to meaner and more chaotic plot turns until there’s no going back.

Rupert Everett is perfection as Dellamorte, the cemetery keeper who has noticed that the dead come back about seven days after they’re interred. Things go from bad to worse to worse still, and finally he loads up his best friend Gnaghi and plans to put Buffalora behind him. Good luck.

1. The Yabba: Wake in Fright (1971)

First time in the Yabba?

Sweaty, drunken, debauched–Ted Kotcheff’s Aussie thriller wrings tension from every scene as John Grant, put-upon school teacher, explores his manliness with the very manliest in town.

A pressure cooker, the film is an absolute education in escalating tension, but it also boasts what may be the greatest performance of Donald Pleasance’s career.

The film is not for the faint of heart, and potential viewers beware: the kangaroo hunt is real.

Fright Club: Best John Carpenter Horror Movies

Our Christmas gift to ourselves this year is a walk through the career of horror master John Carpenter. Yes, we did want to include Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York. But we stayed strong, because we still had to sift through so many genre classics to determine which five would rise to the top.

5. The Fog (1980)

Stevie Wayne (director John Carpenter favorite, at least while they were married, Adrienne Barbeau) does an air shift from a studio in that old lighthouse out on Antonio Bay. But the fog rolling in off the bay is just too thick tonight. It’s as if she’s entirely alone in the world. Can anyone hear her? Will someone go check on her young son?

While a lot does not work in Carpenter’s pirate leper ghost story (leper pirates?!), his first theatrical release after Halloween does hit some of the right marks. The vulnerability of a radio DJ – totally isolated while simultaneously exposed – has never been more palpable than in this film.

Jamie Lee Curtis (another Carpenter favorite) joins her mom Janet Leigh and B-horror legend Tom Atkins to fill out the pool of leper pirate bait. While the film is hardly one of Carpenter’s best, his knack for framing, his voyeuristic camera, and his ability to generate scares with a meager budget are on full display.

4. They Live (1988)

More SciFi and action than horror, still John Carpenter’s vision of an elite class using tech to mollify and control the population of the US was eerily prescient. And horrifying.

At the time, though, it was just plain entertaining in a way that married Carpenter’s own iconic Escape from New York vibe with the SciFi horror miniseries of the day, V.

But mainly, it’s Rowdy Roddy Piper chewing bubble gum, and the 6 1/2 minute fight scene between Piper and undeniable badass Keith David that make this film as fun to watch today as it was when it was released.

3. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

Sutter Cane may be awfully close to Stephen King, but John Carpenter’s cosmic horror is even more preoccupied by Lovecraft. The great Sam Neill leads a fun cast in a tale of madness as created by the written world.

What if those horror novels you read became reality? What if that sketchy writer with the maybe-too-vivid imagination was not just got to his own page, but god for real? This movie tackles that ripe premise while ladling love for both of the horror novelists who made New England the creepiest section of America.

2. Halloween (1978)

No film is more responsible for the explosion of teen slashers than John Carpenter’s babysitter butchering classic.

From the creepy opening piano notes to the disappearing body ending, this low budget surprise changed everything. Carpenter develops anxiety like nobody else, and plants it right in a wholesome Midwestern neighborhood. You don’t have to go camping or take a road trip or do anything at all – the boogeyman is right there at home.

Michael Myers – that hulking, unstoppable, blank menace – is scary. Pair that with the down-to-earth charm of lead Jamie Lee Curtis, who brought a little class and talent to the genre, and add the bellowing melodrama of horror veteran Donald Pleasance, and you’ve hit all the important notes. Just add John Carpenter’s spare score to ratchet up the anxiety. Perfect.

1.  The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter’s remake of the 1951 SciFi flick The Thing from Another World concocts a thoroughly spectacular tale of icy isolation, contamination, and mutation.

A beard-tastic cast portrays a team of scientists on expedition in the Arctic who take in a dog. The dog is not a dog, though. Not really. And soon, in an isolated wasteland with barely enough interior room to hold all the facial hair, folks are getting jumpy because there’s no knowing who’s not really himself anymore.

This is an amped up body snatcher movie benefitting from some of Carpenter’s most cinema-fluent and crafty direction: wide shots when we need to see the vastness of the unruly wilds; tight shots to remind us of the close quarters with parasitic death inside.

The story remains taut, beginning to end, and there’s rarely any telling just who is and who is not infected by the last reel. You’re as baffled and confined as the scientists.

Fright Club: Best Cosmic Horror

Author Hailey Piper joins the club this week to tear through about 25 different cosmic horror movies, eventually landing on some fuzzy math favorites. Join us, won’t you?

6. Hellraiser

“The box…you opened it. We came.”

Man, those cenobites were scary cool, weren’t they?

Hellraiser, Clive Barker’s feature directing debut, worked not only as a grisly splatterfest suited to the Eighties horror landscape. It’s easy to see the film as an occult or supernatural horror, but it’s just as likely a cosmic tale of a dimension you could open without even trying, another reality on the other side of an afternoon’s puzzle past time.

5. Spiral (Uzumaki) (2000)

Higuchinsky’s mind bending 2000 Japanese horror went underappreciated upon release – likely because of the interest in ghosts and digital horror during that period. That’s too bad, because his adaptation of the not-yet-released Manga Uzumaki is a delight.

It starts with a snail shell. It ends with a town in chaos. If you missed it, you should remedy that now.

4. In the Mouth of Madness

Sutter Cane may be awfully close to Stephen King, but John Carpenter’s cosmic horror is even more preoccupied by Lovecraft. The great Sam Neill leads a fun cast in a tale of madness as created by the written world.

What if those horror novels you read became reality? What if that sketchy writer with the maybe-too-vivid imagination was not just got to his own page, but god for real? This movie tackles that ripe premise while ladling love for both of the horror novelists who made New England the creepiest section of America.

3. The Endless

There is something very clever about the way Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead’s movies sneak up on you. Always creepy, still they defy genre expectations even as they play with them.

Camp Arcadia offers the rustic backdrop for their latest, The Endless. A clever bit of SciFi misdirection, the film follows two brothers as they return to the cult they’d escaped a decade earlier.

It is this story and the pair’s storytelling skill that continues to impress. Their looping timelines provide fertile ground for clever turns that fans of the filmmakers will find delightful, but the uninitiated will appreciate as well.

2. Annihilation

Alex Garland’s work as both a writer (28 Days Later…, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go) and a writer/director (Ex Machina) has shown a visionary talent for molding the other-worldly and the familiar. Annihilation unveils Garland at his most existential, becoming an utterly absorbing sci-fi thriller where each answer begs more questions.

Taking root as a strange mystery, it offers satisfying surprises amid an ambitious narrative flow full of intermittent tension, scares, and blood—and a constant sense of wonder.

Just his second feature as a director, Annihilation proves Ex Machina was no fluke. Garland is pondering similar themes—creation, self-destruction, extinction—on an even deeper level, streamlining the source material into an Earthbound cousin to 2001.

1. The Mist

David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son head to town for some groceries. Meanwhile, a tear in the space/time continuum opens a doorway to alien monsters. So he, his boy, and a dozen or so other shoppers are all trapped inside this glass-fronted store just waiting for rescue or death.

Marcia Gay Harden is characteristically brilliant as the religious zealot who turns survival inside the store into something less likely than survival out with the monsters, but the whole cast offers surprisingly restrained but emotional turns.

The FX look amazing, too, but it’s the provocative ending that guarantees this one will sear itself into your memory.