Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My years on horror: 1994

1994 really tried to make up for the lackluster year prior. It's a stacked year, for sure. You may not consider The Crow a horror film, but it definitely has a life among genre fans. Interview with the Vampire met with casting controversy but made a bunch of money and is one of the decade's better vampire movies. But let's avoid talking about Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, okay? It'll just make me upset.

Now, there are going to be some of you who will want to place Michele Soavi's Dellamorte Dellamore (aka The Cemetery Man) here and you wouldn't be wrong and I wouldn't argue with you if you did. The problem is that I've only seen that movie once and it was a very long time ago. Yes, I remember it being atmospheric and bizarre but that's really all I can remember. I couldn't do the film justice trying to talk about it here. I'm sorry.

So that leaves me with two sort of meta-films from two directors who have given us amazing work and duds.

You could say that Wes Craven's New Nightmare started the whole self-referential horror film craze that eventually evolved into his Scream franchise. Horror films have been self-referential for decades, so that's not entirely accurate. What New Nightmare did was show that modern audiences could keep up with an overabundance of obvious references and not be off-put. Of course, I blame Scream -- and hence, New Nightmare-- for the onslaught of parody films which followed in its wake. And because of that, I'm naming In the Mouth of Madness 1994's best horror movie.

John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness is a movie about horror novels. This may surprise some of you outside the genre, but horror fans are voracious readers. The Sci-fi/fantasy folks might have us beat but not by much. So when a horror movie really feels like the work of our favorite authors, we love it. Except for this movie. It made less than $1 million more than its $8 million budget at the box office and then disappeared. But like so many of our favorites, In the Mouth of Madness gained new life on home video and DVD.

In other words, the movie is a lot like its primary inspiration. No, not Stephen King, but rather H.P. Lovecraft. Like a good Lovecraft story, Carpenter never really shows us the monsters but lets us imagine the worst. He does give us the human monsters who help facilitate the destruction of us all. Jurgen Prochnow is a total creepster as author Sutter Kane and manages to outwit insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill not far removed from Jurassic Park). Late in the film, Kane screws with Trent's mind in a way that truly makes the apocalypse personal. It's one of the best sequences of psychological horror from the 1990s.

There isn't as much violence as one might think, which really was a staple of Lovecraft's work: most everything is implied. Carpenter makes it work in this film and I really wish he'd been able to keep it up. The '90s were so unkind to Carpenter that he didn't direct a theatrical release between 2001 and 2010. In the Mouth of Madness remains one of his best works.

(Editor's note: the official release of In the Mouth of Madness was February 1995 which means I should probably change the list of movies I've been consulting. If you are upset about this, then consider Wes Craven's New Nightmare, which was released in October 1994, here instead.)

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