Memoirs of an Invisble Man should disappear completely

Chevy Chase, what did you have against John Carpenter, anyway?

I mean, he had to have done SOMETHING to tick you off. Why else would you, through your production company, hired him to direct the movie Memoirs of an Invisible Man? Hiring horror master John Carpenter to direct a light action comedy starring a former SNL cast member is like hiring David Lynch to direct a teen comedy headlined by Justin Bieber… it’s just wrongheaded, a horrible marriage of director and movie.

Carpenter tries, but the movie just doesn’t work at all. A great supporting cast (Daryl Hannah, Sam Neill, Michael McKean) is wasted in a pedestrian plot, and the tone is uneven to the point of distraction. Is it an action movie? A comedy? A farce? The screenplay never “lands” in any particular approach, and you watch it without even the optimistic sense of “if only they had done X, it could have worked” that comes when you see a flawed movie with potential. You just don’t care, because it isn’t a movie… it’s a packaged deal put together by a studio executive and a creative agency , a contractual obligation.

This is the first movie I revisited for this series that I actively disliked afterward. I liked it – somewhat – when I first saw it back in 1992 (mostly because I was and am a rabid Carpenter fanboy), but seeing it again all the flaws come shining through. Memoirs is a typical early 90s “star” vehicle, a high-concept premise matched with a name actor. Studios greenlit movies like this all the time back then, and actors jumped at the opportunity to make two or three movies a year… cashing in as much as they could before the bottom fell out. Everyone did it, especially the comedy actors who started their careers on Saturday Night Live. It happened with Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Chris Farley… and Chevy Chase. They made a lot of crap, diminishing their reputations while cashing big checks.

To be fair, if I were in their shoes I’d probably do the same thing… but that doesn’t mean I will cut the results of such an action any slack when it sucks. And suck Memoirs of an Invisible Man does… mightily.

Carpenter’s career was deeply damaged after directing this film, and while his reputation recovered slightly with In the Mouth of Madness, he never again reached the creative and successful heights he had previously hit. All after working on Chevy Chase’s vanity Invisible Man movie.

Seriously, Chevy… you really are an asshole.

In the Mouth of Madness is Lovecraft, John Carpenter style

John Carpenter has read the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

That point is abundantly clear when you watch his loving homage to the works of Lovecraft, In the Mouth of Madness. Starring Sam Neill as a private investigator, the movie opens with Neill’s character being dragged into an insane asylum. What happened before that point is shown to the audience in flashback, as he investigates the mysterious disappearance of horror writer Sutter Cane. Since we know where he ended up, it’s obvious that things didn’t go well.

Neill does great work here – he is one of those actors who is constantly working, and the reason why is he always “brings it” no matter what the role. Neill is supported by a tremendous cast, with Jurgen Prochnow playing Cane along with John Glover, David Warner and Charlton Heston doing good work in small supporting roles.

The premise of the movie – that Cane’s books are driving people insane – is suitably creepy, and Carpenter plays it to great effect. He also relies on some horror movie cliche’s along the way, unfortunately… which is understandable, since he helped create many of them himself.

While not as involving as the best of Carpenters’ work (I never really felt any empathy for the lead character, and that prevents the movie from being as effective as it could have been) it’s still a good watch, and a great introduction to Lovecraft. Yes, it’s not a direct adaptation, but it’s more “Lovecraftian” than many movies that are supposed to be. It gets the tone right, and that’s important.

This is the second Carpenter film that I are revisiting in this series, and, unfortunately, it’s the end of an era. After this, Carpenter made one misstep after another, and Hollywood execs lost their confidence in his “bankability.” Though maybe that’s for the best. I’d rather have quality instead of quantity, and In The Mouth of Madness is definitely in the former group.

If you’re looking for a good creepy film to get you in the Halloween mood, you could do a lot worse.