Bonus Reviews: In the Mouth of Madness (1994) and She-Gods of Shark Reef (1958)
Horror Bulletin Bonus for Week 175
For this week’s bonus films, we’ll look two more very different films: The excellent "In the Mouth of Madness" from John Carpenter with Sam Neill, and then "The She-Gods of Shark Reef" a silly beefcake film from 1958.
Don’t forget, the first week of each month, we publish ALL our reviews, including the bonus content, in our monthly “Horror Bulletin” print magazine (also available as an ebook). If you don’t have time to read the website or email, here’s one more option for you! The new issue is out now!
In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Michael De Luca
Stars Sam Neill, Jurgen Prochnow, Julie Carmen, David Warner
Run Time: 1 Hour, 35 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
Very weird with an amazing cast who does a great job. It’s an interesting premise, but maybe a little thin on plot. Regardless, it’s a good one and well worth the watch.
Credits roll over papers moving through a printing press. It's the new Sutter Cane book, and on the back it advertises, "Coming soon: In the Mouth of Madness."
Dr. Saperstein admits a new patient into the mental asylum; it's John Trent, who's in a straightjacket and very violent. He screams that he's not insane, and so do all the other lunatics. Saperstein turns on a recording of the Carpenters, so it's not so much an asylum as a torture chamber. John Trent has a weird vision.
Dr. Wrenn arrives and talks to Saperstein. "Things must be getting pretty bad out there for you fellas to be coming in," Saperstein points out. Wrenn goes into John's padded cell to see that he's been writing on the walls and on himself. His one request was a black crayon, and he’s put it to good use. "Things are turning to shit out there, aren't they?' Asks John. Wrenn wants to hear John's story...
John was an insurance investigator, and he was looking into the Sutter Cane disappearance. As John talks to his boss, Robby, a man with an ax attacks them in a restaurant. The man simply asks, "Do you read Sutter Cane?" Before the cops shoot him dead. People all over the world are literally going crazy over Sutter's books.
John goes to see Sutter's publisher, Jackson Harglow. His head editor, Linda Style, says that Sutter is way bigger than Stephen King ever could be. Turns out that was Sutter's agent with the ax. They've spent a fortune for Sutter's latest book, which can't be found.
John buys some of Sutter's paperbacks and says they're better than he expected. This is immediately followed by some very specific nightmares. He cuts out the patterns on the covers of the book and uses them as puzzle pieces to find a specific place in New Hampshire. A place that isn’t on official maps. He wants to go there, and Harglow insists that Linda go along to keep an eye on him.
On the road, they run over a paperboy who looks amazingly old. Linda has several strange visions as she drives the car at night; suddenly, it's bright daylight outside and they're at Hobb's End, which is exactly where they wanted to go. The town seems deserted, so they stop at a hotel. The hotel is exactly as Sutter described in one of his books. The old lady who runs the hotel killed her husband in the book-- what if all that isn't fiction?
As John reads from the book, Linda sees weird children and dogs that John never notices. They go to an evil-looking church where a mob shows up and yells at the man inside; it's Cane in there with a pack of Dobermans. The dogs soon chase the locals away.
John thinks Linda and her company set all this up as a huge publicity stunt, and he's half right. Sutter did disappear on purpose, but all this other stuff wasn't part of that. John and Linda split up and explore the strange town. Linda finds Sutter in the old church. "For years, I thought I was making all this up, but they were telling me what to write."
John opens the hotel room door and finds Linda, who's delirious. "Don't read it!" She warns before passing out. John goes into the basement to find old Mrs. Pickman turned into something from "The Thing". Linda has also turned into something nasty.
John gets in the car and later finds Linda in the center of town, part of some strange ritual with all the deformed local children. He knocks her out, throws her in the back of the car, and then Linda swallows the keys-- What?
John does the fastest Hotwire ever, and they drive away. Of course, driving in a straight line brings him right back to town. He wakes up in a confessional, talking to Sutter, who gloats that his book is to open the way for the new age, when the Old Ones will find their way back. Sutter gives John the manuscript and tells him to take it back to the publisher. "You are what I write," explains Sutter. "Everything is." All this has been part of the new book. "I think, therefore you are," quips Sutter. Sutter then tears himself apart like a piece of paper.
The Lovecraftian Old Ones start to chase John through a tunnel. Suddenly, John is outside laying on a street as the paperboy rides up. John dumps the manuscript and hitches a ride to town. In the morning, a package containing the manuscript arrives for him. He burns the book this time.
John goes back to the city and meets with Herglow, who doesn't believe any of it. Herglow has no idea who Linda is; why wouldn't he remember her? Because she was written out. Herglow has the manuscript, and he says John brought it to him personally last spring; the book's been in the stores for seven weeks and the movie comes out next month.
There have been breakouts in crime all over the country. John kills one of the fans with an ax-- and we're back in the asylum with John and Dr. Wrenn. He says the influence will spread with each reading. John warns him that within ten years, humanity will all be gone.
There's lots of screaming and someone opens John's cell door. The asylum is now wrecked and empty. John walks to town and sees "In the Mouth of Madness," playing in the movie theater and goes inside. He sees himself on the screen and laughs...
It's got one amazing cast for the 90s. It's got some neat imagery in the visions and some good ideas, but the plot is fairly weak. A guy is writing a cursed book, influenced by the Old Ones.
It was interesting a few times. Instead of showing us the horrors that John sees, Linda reads the description from the text. It's actually Lovecraft's words, but it's a very effective cheat to let us use imagination instead of special effects.
The idea of a writer creating worlds is nothing new, but maybe being an author's character being aware of the story as it is being written feels a little alien to us.
Yeah, this is a weird one.
She-Gods of Shark Reef (1958)
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Robert Hill, Victor Stoloff
Stars Bill Cord, Don Durant, Lisa Montell
Run Time: 1 Hour, 3 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s a fairly simple story that moves fast and is entertaining. The hour zipped by fast. It’s available on streaming for free, but it’s hard to get a decent copy. Apparently VHS ripped and reripped is the norm. Still it was watchable, especially if you like male beefcake and/or native women dancing and in stereotypical Pacific Islander garb.
We open on people swimming under a dock, they look up at the soldier walking above them. They sneak up and deal with the guard. They open a hidden stash of guns and fight with another guard. The two men swim back wherever they came from.
One of them narrates that he was headed to a camp where he had a base. On the way, however, a hurricane wrecked their boat. A bunch of women in little boats rescue them the next morning. The leader of the women asks their name; Chris Johnson and his brother Lee. Their story is that they're here to collect marine samples.
The leader explains that the island company pays for everything there. The mysteriously-unnamed company specializes in all the world's pearls. Then she goes outside and puts up some kind of a signal flag. Lee was the man we saw attacking the guards last night, and he figures the authorities are looking for him now. There should be a boat to pick them up in about ten days.
Chris asks what he saw on the bottom of the sea just before he passed out. "Shark god angry long time now," explains the leader. She talk like caveman with Alabama accent: 10% Yoda, 40% Alabama, 50% caveman. The ship that will come for them also takes away the company's pearl shipments. Lee gets an idea.
Chris meets Mahia, and he immediately falls for her. They do a hula dance and sing a Hawaiian song. While dancing, Chris breaks his Lei, and the islanders all run away; this is a bad omen.
The next morning, Lee finds an old boat wrecked on the shore. Then Chris goes swimming with Mahia, and they get closer. Queen Pua won't allow Mahia to go pearl diving because she's angry, which was evident during the dance last night. He asks why there aren't any men on the island other than him and his brother; she doesn't know.
Lee wants to escape on the old boat before the law catches him. The queen yells at Chris for seducing Mahia, so he's ready to leave as well. Queen Pua asks for a sign from the old gods, and she gets one. "Tomorrow morning, we make the purification!"
Mahia explains to Chris that tomorrow, they'll all swim out the shark-infested zone to appease the shark god. Queen Pua calls upon the shark god and pushes Mahia into the water, tied up of course. Chris stabs the shark with a spear and rescues Mahia, which really gets the queen angry; she puts up a different semaphore flag.
Chris wants to take Mahia off the island with him, but she has doubts. The queen follows the two men to where they're repairing that boat they found. She tells Mahia to come with her back to the village, as the police will be there in the morning. The men grab the queen, tie her up, and plan to leave right now. Lee doesn't approve, but Chris gets his way. They also take Queen Pua; it's the only way to be sure.
The island women pursue them off the island and soon come to the reef. They stop on the reef until the tide comes in and they can safely go over. While they wait, Lee swims back to the island for the pearls. Queen Pua unties herself and escapes as well, swimming back to the camp to warn the other girls about the missing pearls.
Chris doesn't approve, and the two men end up fighting in the water. Lee takes the pearls and the boat and heads out over the reef- before it's safe. He soon falls overboard and Chris and Mahia jump in to assist. Mahia stabs the shark, but another one eats Lee before they can rescue him. Oh, the pearls fall overboard and sink.
Chris and Mahia sail away, leaving Queen Pua to look sad.
It's never quite clear why Lee was smuggling guns, and even though the police were mentioned a few times, it never seems that important to anyone.
No one here looks anything like a Pacific Islander, or any other kind of Islander, except maybe a couple of the native dancers. The video quality on this one is truly awful; no one's bothered to restore it, and the only copy we found looked like it came from a bad VHS tape. If you can find a good, clean copy, then it's probably a fine hour of entertainment.
On the bright side, there's lots of Hawaiian outfits and shirtless men, but on the downside, the acting is pretty atrocious. At least it moves fairly fast and doesn't drag.
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