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Film By John Carpenter Hammered

Lawrence Toppman Charlotte Observer

I stopped looking forward to John Carpenter’s movies the year Ronald Reagan treated Walter Mondale like Road Runner treats Wile E. Coyote.

From 1976 through 1982, Carpenter directed “Assault on Precinct 13,” “Halloween,” the underrated “Elvis” with Kurt Russell, “Escape From New York” and a sharp remake of “The Thing.” He wrote and produced most of them, even composed his own music.

Then, after the 1984 “Starman,” he petered out. His later films were sloppily shot, hammily acted or murkily plotted. Yet I felt a faint stirring of interest when I heard about “In the Mouth of Madness.”

Wasn’t ever-reliable Sam Neill the star? Wasn’t Jurgen Prochnow, a haunting character actor, playing the power-mad author whose creations come to life? Wasn’t Steven King ripe for a savage satire? He was, he was, and he definitely was.

But the best part comes from Industrial Light and Magic, the California special-effects house. Its artisans turned the chicken droppings of the script into Chicken a la King, providing the picture’s only reason to exist.

The opening is tantalizingly promising. Insurance investigator John Trent (Neill), his face and body covered with inked black crosses, is confined in an asylum run by veteran villain John Glover. Trent tells the psychiatrist assigned to him (David Warner, another horror vet) that the end of the world is at hand, and only the crosses can save him.

Gobbledygook like this has a way of getting so convoluted no writers can make it come out sensibly. Carpenter and DeLuca settle for a limp twist ending that trades horror for comedy. At least, I think it’s meant to be funny - but if so, the film amounts to nothing.

In fact, the picture is full of injokes. The casting of Warner and Glover, both wasted, is one.

xxxx “In the Mouth of Madness” Location: Lincoln Heights, North Division and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Cast: Directed by John Carpenter, starring Sam Neill and John Glover Running time: 95 minutes Rated R

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