The Toronto Star - February 3, 1995

 

 

Fear is a frigid film set

 

"So, how's your winter been?"

For an actor and director with a new movie to promote, Sam Neill and John Carpenter seem inordinately interested in local weather conditions.

The question of climate is raised by both, in separate phone interviews a week apart, while discussing the production of their Toronto-shot horror film, In The Mouth Of Madness.

So they aren't just making conversation here - these guys know from Toronto winters. They spent four frigid months here last year, filming in and around such landmark locations as the Beaches water filtration plant, which doubles quite convincingly as an asylum for the criminally insane.

Their memories of the shoot are both warm and chilly. "Boy, was it cold," recalls Carpenter with an almost audible shudder.

Neill is a bit more philosophical. "You need that tempering," the actor insists. "You need that six months of hideous, bitter cold. It's good for you."

But then, Neill has had some experience in these matters. "This was actually my third time working in Toronto," he reveals. "I also did some television up there, a couple of mini-series. I've always liked going there."

First-time visitor Carpenter also enjoyed his stay, even if it wasn't quite what he had expected. "It is a very different experience," he says, "if only in the sense that you truly are in another country. You have to get used to certain things that are different than, say, driving down Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. But I really did have a great time."

The chance to work with Neill again also had a lot to do with it - previously, Neill had chased Chevy Chase through the Carpenter comedy, Memoirs Of An Invisible Man.

"I really love working with Sam," Carpenter says. "He's just a great actor. Also, he and I happen to be the two biggest Beach Boys fans in the entire world. We had a blast."

Carpenter could think of no one better for the lead role in In The Mouth Of Madness, a smugly cynical insurance investigator whose sanity starts to unravel as he searches for a mysteriously missing author.

"It was a very fun job to do," says the actor. "John gives you plenty of room to move. More than that, I thought the film was very funny when I read it. And I think it's very funny now."

Funny? A movie about an attack on the minds of men by ancient creatures from beyond . . . through the pages of a best- selling horror novel?

"Yes, absolutely. There's a very strong satirical element, a strange, kind of surreal humor that runs through it. Which is very much the way John sees the world.

"There is also a sense that he is re-examining the genre, and subverting it in a way too. There's a crazy, kind of elliptical thing happening . . . the horror of being trapped in your own horror film. There's a very bizarre edge to that."

Carpenter has always had a unique and distinctive approach to fantasy filmmaking, from his seminal stalker film, Halloween, to the precedent-setting effects of his remake of The Thing, to such innovative and off-beat science-fiction efforts as Escape From New York, Starman and the paranoia thriller, They Live.

"I always try to push it," Carpenter acknowledges. "I always try to do something slightly different with it, so you're not seeing the same thing over and over again.

"What I really look at is the story: Does it take me someplace? What can I do with it? The rest of it falls into place. You have to use your instincts as much as possible. We're all story tellers, first and foremost."

This particular story, he says, was largely inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft.

"The script was written by Mike De Luca, who's an executive at New Line Cinema. He and I both share a love of Lovecraft."

As does actor Neill. "Lovecraft is sort of the primary text for this, particularly a book called The Mountains Of Madness. This story really is quintessential Lovecraft, with these creatures from another time who want to come back."

Which places Neill in somewhat familiar territory - being chased around by large, menacing fictitious creatures is not exactly a new experience for the star of the thundering dino-hit, Jurassic Park.

Neill chuckles at the suggestion. "Well, it's not so much a recurring theme in my life . . . but it has happened before."

Neither is this his first foray into horror - Neill, you may remember, was the adult incarnation of the demon child Damian in the third Omen movie, The Final Conflict.

"Of course," Neill hastens to qualify, "that's 15 years between horror gigs, so you can't really establish a pattern there, either."

 

BYLINE: BY ROB SALEM TORONTO STAR

 

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