Odds and DEAD Ends: Fiction in John Carpenter’s ‘In The Mouth Of Madness’

John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness was released in 1994, and completes his ‘Apocalypse Trilogy’, along with The Thing and Prince of Darkness. Drawing heavily on H. P. Lovecraft, Mouth of Madness is a unique, self-reflexive film in a similar vein to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (also 1994). The film follows insurance investigator John Trent, as he tracks down missing horror novelist, Sutter Cane. This article will focus on film’s use of fiction and stories to blur previously thought-of binary oppositions, such as fantasy/reality, human/inhuman, and even day/night, to try and disturb and unsettle the viewer.

The idea behind fiction in Mouth of Madness is, if enough people believe in stories, the stories gain power, and through that power the Old Ones can return. Cane explains this to Trent like this:

“It takes its power from new readers and new believers. That’s the point. Belief! When people begin to lose their ability to know the difference between fantasy and reality the old ones can begin their journey back. The more people who believe the faster the journey. And with the way the other books have sold, this one is bound to be very popular.”

In Paul Cobley’s book Narrative, he states that “The most familiar, most primitive, most ancient and seemingly straightforward of stories reveal depths that we might have hitherto failed to anticipate.” (Cobley, 2001, p. 2). Cane, controlled by the Old Ones, uses horror fiction as a universal storytelling medium to connect with readers on a primal level, using common tropes and ideas to make it easier for readers to believe. Cobley’s discussion of signs in literature, or “what humans interpret as signs, therefore stand in for something else in the real world” (p. 9), illuminates why a horror writer is the best medium for the Old Ones to use to prepare humanity for their arrival. Coding themselves with signs they people understand makes them more believable, understandable, acceptable, even.

Fiction, therefore, is an illumination of truth, a coded way to our understanding of knowledge. With this in mind, the filmmakers use the audience’s understanding of this concept (though perhaps the audience isn’t consciously aware of it) to turn truth on its head and destabilise them. Slowly, picking up pace at the finale, the boundary between fantasy and reality erodes away.

This happens in many ways, from Cane’s whispering “Did I ever tell you my favourite colour was blue?” followed by Trent waking up with the world blue, to the constant cyclist returning over and over again. There are also more subtle details which hint the fictional nature of Trent’s story. The room Trent stays in at Pickman’s Hotel is 9, the same cell number that Trent is in at the asylum. Similarly, the number of the motel room Trent stays in after his world has been turned ‘upside down’, is 6. 6 is also the number of novels that Sutter Cane has written before In The Mouth Of Madness.

Note that the world Cane inhabits is malleable, and reflects, is, his fiction. “You are what I write. Like this town. It wasn’t here before I wrote it. And neither were you.” He later writes Trent’s actions perfectly, the passage that Linda reads from the novel. Cane alters what is real and not real because he lives inside his own fiction, an avatar, for his real self. This is made evident when Trent explains to Harglow that the reason he doesn’t remember Linda is “Well, that’s easy, she was written out.” He is a proxy god for the Old Ones.

The breakdown of reality and fantasy is not the only division that collapses. French structuralist Claude Levi-Strauss theorised that stories were, at their core, thematically comprised sets of binary oppositions, such as good and evil, rural and urban, men and women. Carpenter’s film systematically deconstructs this simple division and thereby prove the illusory nature of Trent’s reality and, to an extent, our own, assisting our discomfort.

Reality and fantasy is a clear example; the whole narrative is a deconstruction of its fictional self, but another is the opposition of human and inhuman. Several times we see characters (such as Mrs. Pickman) change to monsters throughout the film, and others such as Linda have the ability to move from human to inhuman. The anthropomorphic qualities attached to monstrous forms unsettles us, we should be allowed to remain clean and whole, but also the monstrous elements given to humans is just as disturbing. Even the painting at the hotel morphs throughout the film. Paintings themselves lie between truth and fiction, a definite image but a representation only, a topic Andre Bazin discusses in The Ontology of the Photographic Image (pdf link below). This distortion brings several oppositions into question in one broad stroke. Carpenter knew what he was doing.

Additionally, that even Cane has a monstrous form on the back of his head, is a startling revelation. When Cane was completely human (though one controlled by other beings), it was still essentially human, and so defeatable. If Carpenter were to show that Cane was an Old One, we would be more comfortable with even this; he would fall on one side of the human vs inhuman opposition. However it is in the middle, a blurred, distorted place we can’t understand, which is more frightening than his being either side.

A smaller example is day and night. Several times throughout the film, such as the arrival at Hobbs’ End, the film jumps straight from night to day. The editing that would usually show a passage of time is inverted, breaking even filmmaking conventions. Here, no time has passed at all. Time is breaking down, the regular cycle of solar bodies that extends beyond this world, is collapsing.

Literary theory states that our understanding of reality is dictated by language, that we experience the world through words and the connections between them. We know a door is a door, in any shape or size, because we associate it with the word ‘door’; the word is what tells us two doors are similar. As Bennett and Royle discuss, “We cannot in any meaningful way, escape the fact that we are subject to language.” (Bennett & Royle, 2009, p. 131). Carpenter’s film is a perfect exploration of the ways in which we are subject to words, to fiction and stories, and the confusion and discomfort if this were to be consciously manipulated by a malevolent force, dissolving oppositions and boundaries we expect and have built into our world, into language itself. The film is not about the destruction of the world, but a destruction of a human perception of the world.

Bibliography

Bazin, A., 2007. The Ontology of the Photographic Image. [Online]
Available at: http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Bazin-Ontology-Photographic-Image.pdf
[Accessed 08 08 2018].

Bennett, A. & Royle, N., 2009. An Introduction to Literature. Criticism and Theory. 4th ed. Harlow: Pearson.

Cobley, P., 2001. Narrative. UK: Routledge.

In the Mouth of Madness. 1994. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. USA: New Line Cinema.

John Carpenter’s The Thing. 1982. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Universal Studios.

Prince of Darkness. 1987. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. USA: Alive Films.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. 1994. [Film] Directed by Wes Craven. USA: New Line Cinema.

 

 

Article by Kieran Judge

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Alfred Hitchcock Basics – A Video Primer

Happy Birthday Alfred Hitchcock!

Good Evening, Horror Addicts!

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz here again with a video review breakdown on some of our Alfred Hitchcock Favorites! From The Lady Vanishes, Lifeboat, Notorious, and Spellbound to Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo, and The Birds – if you haven’t seen one or two, here’s why you should!

 

 

Don’t forget YOU can be part of the conversation on our Facebook Group or revisit some of my Horror Addicts.net Hitchcock reviews here.

 

By Horror Addicts, For Horror Addicts!

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Skeleton Key

Swift Ending Almost Saves The Skeleton Key

By Kristin Battestella

If it’s supposed to be scary, I’ll watch just about anything –even though I heard bad things about The Skeleton Key. The 2005 thriller stars Almost Famous alum Kate Hudson, but the initial $30 price tag was a bit much for a film widely regarded as a disappointment.

I did however like The Skeleton Key when I saw it on TV recently-it was a relatively low investment, of course. Not stellar, a few too many clichés, but I liked it. As if she could play nothing else and milking all her Oscar nominated glory, The Skeleton Key casts Hudson as Caroline, a former roadie trying to become a nurse. Since her father’s death, Caroline has moved from one elderly center to the next, trying to find closure. She takes a position caring for Ben (John Hurt), who has recently had a stroke. At first she butts heads with Ben’s wife Violet (Gena Rowlands), but Caroline fines shades of romance in New Orleans lawyer (Tom Uskali).

Naturally it was fascinating to see a film set in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, but the voodoo element has been done to death. I was unsure how a haunted New Orleans house movie would play out-a la The Others-but we never get to see, since Director Iain Softley resorts to digging up weird voodoo stereotypes. I know nothing about voodoo but what I’ve seen on Dark Shadows, and some of the clichés were obvious to me. Despite its PG-13 rating, I can see how The Skeleton Key must have offended the real Louisiana population.

The acting is just fine, but again we resort to Kate Hudson in skimpy clothes and talking about music. The Skeleton Key does a lot of resorting where it should be going forth. Gena Rowlands is perfect as the aging Southern belle Violet. You easily suspected she is up to no good from the beginning, but I never expected Violet’s end to come as it did. John Hurt-infamous for the scene in Alien– is also delightful as Ben. The stroke victim expertly says what he needs to through his eyes, actions, and struggles. One of the better sequences has the partially paralyzed Ben out on the roof top. Oiy!

Despite its clichés and redundancy, I was surprised by The Skeleton Key’s ending. Maybe because I was sick and out of it or not on my sharpest note, but writer Ehren Kruger’s twist ending may be just that. I suspect Kate Hudson accepted the role based on the end of the script alone. Good, but unhappy-the ending is slightly sinister. At the conclusion, Hudson sounds a lot like her mom Goldie Hawn. Her closing husky delivery completes the creepy.

I don’t recommend The Skeleton Key for prudes or people who otherwise might be offended religiously-although I’ve certain seen more offensive material. Nor would I say The Skeleton Key is a thinking man’s movie. I was interested enough to keep watching and guessing how things would play out, but rewatchability dips significantly once you know how the film ends.

The Skeleton Key– despite a swift resolution- is a relatively safe and formulaic piece for fans of safe movies. I even dare say it’s safe for mature tweens, maybe even 10 and up. Kate Hudson collectors will enjoy no doubt, but if you are seeking serious spooks, southern haunts, or voodoo mayhem, I can definitely recommend better. Fans are better off investing in a simple classic like Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. Only die hard Kate Hudson lovers should pay full price for The Skeleton Key. Briefly intrigued audiences can still tape it off TV.

Horror Movie Cliches I’m Tired of Seeing – A Frightening Flix Editorial

Horror Movies Cliches I’m Tired of Seeing

by Kristin Battestella

Year round I watch a lot of horror – and I mean a lot. Unfortunately, there are numerous cliché and trite elements I’m tired of seeing in scary movies, and I suspect you are, too. Here’s a list of ten such lame things horror needs to ixnay toot sweet.

1. A Prologue – Pre-credits scenes that ultimately don’t have anything to do with what happens later in the movie set the audience off on the wrong foot. Here at the beginning, viewers don’t know this unrelated ghost encounter, past horror, or cool death may only earn a meager mention henceforth if anything. We get to know somebody only for them to die ten minutes later, forcing the picture to start twice while disrupting audience immersion. How did this become such an oft copied, opening shock obligation?

2. Time Wasting Opening Credits – Most recent pictures begin with little more than a title card and save the cool credits for the exit music, but horror for some reason, makes sure to have cool title sequences that do nothing. Maybe they are trying to be stylish within the movie’s theme. However the audience can’t appreciate the ephemera because we don’t yet know what the horror entails. What we do notice is that the picture is going to be five minutes shorter in actual screen time thanks to this slow filler.

3. Driving to the Horrors Scary movies apparently have a mandatory “Are we there yet?” ride to the horrors complete with loud, hip of the minute music, and childhood friends who share irrelevant backstory each already knows just for the audience’s benefit. It’s a cheap way to create faux character development and an in-camera journey when we already know the destination is a scary experience. The aerial shots, zooms around the bend, and scenic views are just that – the delaying route again wasting precious time an eighty minute movie doesn’t have.

4. Stereotypical White People – I hope this is changing in recent independent horror, for much too often it’s the rich and usually blonde driving from the big city to the country scares and claiming they can’t leave their haunted house because their money is tied. Of course, they nonetheless maintain unrealistic means – especially if the movie goes out of its way to mention a fancy profession yet never shows one at work. What prevents the family facing the horrors from being not well to do, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, interracial, LGBTQ, or anything else? N-O-T-H-I-N-G!

5. Bathroom Mirror Shocks You know what I mean. Our blonde in the towel wipes the steamy mirror, opens the medicine cabinet, and then closes it for a jump scare behind her that wasn’t there ten seconds ago. There’s also the dozed off in the bathtub dream fake out, irrelevant sexy glass showers, or hearing something that’s nothing and leaving the water to overflow. Sometimes that’s used for another drip aesthetic and other times it’s forgotten. Either way, you’ve totally pictured what I just described because we’ve all seen it so many times.

6. Generic Jump Scares – Rather than spending time building a taut, simmering atmosphere that keeps viewers on edge, so many just for cool graphics and creative horror scenes are wasted on hollow fakes and false moments. That creepy noise in the basement is just the cat! Once or twice, such silly safeties can alleviate audience tension or save a bigger surprise for later. Unfortunately, more often than not these jump scares are only for show with one right after another never giving us a chance to breath. It’s a tired excuse deflecting on a loosely strung together plot, and it’s insulting that we aren’t supposed to notice.

7. Modern Teens and Cool Technology – The latest barely there fashions, hip lingo, and rad gadgets of right now are obvious grabs appealing to today’s young instant audience. Unfortunately, such fluff is as immediately dated as the with the quickness it represents. Instead of being down with the latest swag, why not spend time developing an atmospheric location and characters not identified by their high school clique? The instantly forgettable dumb cheerleader, black best friend, and Asian nerd are not relatable just because you have the same smartphone – especially when none of it leads to long lasting, memorable chills.

8. Contrived Research Montages – Once, there was something investigative in scary movies– the library, traveling to a spooky location, speaking to the first hand horror folk. Though clichés in themselves, progressive action and character effort provide audience investment. Unlike the up close shot of the Google search bar, unrealistic newspaper clipping pop ups, a crappy Geocities website, or a Youtube video. Today’s ease of access wastes no run time as characters literally and conveniently pull a resolution out of thin air. Blink and you miss critical details that deserve more attention on and off screen. What’s next, asking Alexa?

9. Formulaic Slashers as the Face of Horror– Audiences are accustomed to an October released slasher – we all love them and studios bank on the box office of predictably bad scares trying to wink at the genre by playing into the very things that make them cliché. However, this dulls us into thinking it’s how horror should be, confusing spoon fed viewers into disowning a scary movie when it breaks the mold. Such acclaimed pieces are not marketed as horror, but thriller, suspense, or now elevated horror a.k.a. drama with fear. Which, anyone who has been watching horror for the last eighty years, can tell you is nothing new at all.

10. Pulling Out the Rug – Audiences have certain expectations once we’re halfway into a movie. So it’s not cool when filmmakers think they are shrewd with a so-called twist that plays the viewer. If it’s completely illogical to what we have seen already and has nothing to do with all that’s happened, it’s not a great twist. Such shocks make us aware of the movie making try hard rather than actually scaring us – cheating the viewer out of the suspension of disbelief critical to our flight or fight immersion. It isn’t clever when we’re looking for nonsensical answers, just a bait and switch that leaves the audience aghast for all the wrong reasons.

What clichés in horror movies are YOU tired of seeing?

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Full Eclipse versus The Howling II

Bad, Bad Dog: Full Eclipse and Howling II: Your Sister is A Werewolf

By Kristin Battestella

Somehow, I managed to stumble upon not one, but two questionable tales of wolfdom- the 1985 sequel Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf and the 1993 HBO original movie Full Eclipse. Ruh-roh!

LA detective Max Dire (Mario Van Peebles) loses his wife and his partner and can’t quite deal. Fortunately, new special officer Adam Garou (Bruce Payne) invites Max to join his exclusive criminal task force- composed of other quality, but struggling cops like Casey Spencer (Patsy Kensit) who take the law into their own hands. The team injects themselves with a special serum designed by Garou, giving them superior prowess against the crime on the street…and a few werewolf tendencies.

Director Anthony Hickox (Waxwork) and writers Michael Reaves (Gargoyles, Smurfs) and Richard Christian Matheson’s (The A-Team, and yes, son of Richard Matheson) standard, undeveloped cop story has its share of script issues as it weakly deals with all the typical detective traumas like alcohol, empty marriages, and corruption. More repeating clichés and meandering plots waste far too much time for a 90-minute movie. Worse still, Full Eclipse never decides whether it’s a cop movie or a horror film- this wolf unit is supposed to be so total justice and badass, but the entire idea is just too preposterous even for fantasy. The dark realism attempt comes across as totally hokey, and a lot of the poor design work is too dark and tough to see anyway. Though dated by the nineties fashions, the lingering low budget feelings and mismashed plots are worse than any of the old motifs. ‘Looks old’ you can forgive if the tale holds up, but this nineties badass isn’t really that badass at all thanks to too much useless, bad action and slow motion police work. And all this is before all the cheesy werewolf mess! There’s simply not enough mystery or scares to accept the crappy effects, wolverine like wolf claws, and cops suited up like cannibal superheroes.

Fans of Mario Van Peebles, thankfully, can find a few things to enjoy in Full Eclipse. Granted, Peebles (Damages, All My Children, New Jack City, Heartbreak Ridge, Posse, Solo, I’ll stop) is kind of just being himself as always, but it’s juicy, cocky, and fun to watch as expected. Likewise, Bruce Payne (Highlander: Endgame) is freaky fun. The script and goofy wolf serum plot don’t serve him well, but some might enjoy his violent creepy, disturbing as that it is. Unfortunately, it’s Patsy Kensit (Emmerdale, Lethal Weapon 2, music chick and rocker wife) who drops the ball most in Full Eclipse. Yes, there’s plenty of nineties rowdy English rose pretty, but she’s also pretty obvious and absolutely unbelievable as a cop- much less an action hero with hairy secrets or a meaty attitude. Actually, there’s no chemistry among the cast, and Full Eclipse isn’t nearly as sexy as it could have been. And that ‘love scene’ between Kensit and MVP is just pathetic. I’ve never seen people bump and grind whilst being so far away from each other!

Likewise, fans of that horror titan himself, Christopher Lee, can attempt the badly bizarre novelty of Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf. But of course, Sir Christopher’s voice is great as always- and I do so love the way he insistently repeats that subtitle! He certainly looks the classy werewolf hunter, or excuse me, the ‘occult investigator’. Big C always comes to play even in a bad, bad movie such as this, but the classy older Lee going for those funky white sunglasses and red leather jacket for some undercover eighties clubbing is just….no. In some scenes, it’s like there’s Christopher Lee, and then there’s everyone else- and to top it off, he has the Holy Grail in his wolf arsenal. I kid you not. Lee’s Occult expert Stefan must convince reporter Jenny (Annie McEnroe) and Ben White (Reb Brown, Captain America) that his sister- the reporter Karen White from the 1981 film The Howling– is now a werewolf needing to be staked in her crypt. To stop all the virile werewolves from rising with the full moon, the trio must travel to Transylvania and destroy the ancient wolf queen Stirba (Sybil Danning) before she makes hairy werewolf love in a spectacular eighties light show. I repeat, I kid you not.

Truly, this cast is so, so bad (I made a mistake when I typed my notes and wrote ‘sos’ bad, as in ‘S.O.S’, wow!) Annie McEnroe (Beetlejuice) is a totally unrealistic and mousy reporter with pathetic delivery. In her scenes with Lee, it feels like he would have been better off talking to a wall because it is that one-sided of a conversation. None of it sounds right, especially the bad howling during the weird wolf sex. While I love the idea of a sexy and badass black wolf chick stealing the show, Marsha Hunt (Dracula A.D. 1972) isn’t given the proper treatment. Her makeup and over the top wolf plots are too eighties to be sexy, and the full doggy getup ends up looking more like a drag queen. It’s an utter injustice for what could have been hot hot hot. Thankfully, Sybil Danning (Amazon Women on the Moon) is totally fetching despite that scary and violent leather bodysuit. The incredibly weak script gives her nothing to say but growls and gibberish- was that aged 10 millennia did you say, really? Danning looks perfectly perky and kinky in her prime, but if only we could have seen more of her and Lee together in something more Hammer juicy. Alas, instead we get the very disturbing Little Person Werewolf Hunter Jiri Krytinar (Amadeus), who unfortunately gets his brain imploded by Stirba before turning Don’t Look Now. Ouch.

 

This utterly preposterous story from director Phillippe Mora (A Breed Apart) twists source novelist Gary Brandner’s mythos and also goes by Howling II: Stirba- Werewolf Bitch. Well, I may as well stop reviewing right there, for there isn’t anything major wolfy or bitchy here. This 1985 sequel is a far cry from its cult treat predecessor, with nasty werewolf implications that don’t go far enough and awkward, reaching ties to the original film. Too many changes to the werewolf essentials almost turn Howling II into a vampire move. These Transylvania wolves are immune to silver and can only be stopped by titanium stakes through the heart. Every eighties horror shtick possible is used – fire magic wolves get their powers binded by Big Christopher in what is a completely random and unfulfilling attempt at sexy horror and wolf comedy. Everything about Howling II is mistaken, from the bad, unnecessary eighties music over taking everything to the low of the lowest budget 1985 design. The punk teen Euro wolfy fashions, horrible lycan effects, awful zooms, and disastrous attempts at what you don’t see horror- really; these werewolves toss crates to ensnare their victims! Likewise, they themselves are caught in some bad action scenes and get captured with fishing nets!

I’m harsh, yes, but Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf and Full Eclipse can be entertaining believe it or not- if you really, really like bad wolfy movies or are seriously jonesing over the leading men. It’s ironic because Mario Van Peebles and Christopher Lee are probably as far from each other in the leading man spectrum as you could get, but both deserve to be in a quality wolf horror movie. Nonetheless, their fans can still have fun here. However, if you are a highbrow fright connoisseur and expect some sense of credibility or logic in your lycan films, then move along doggie.

GOTH: The Game of Horror Trivia Video Review

Hello, Addicts! Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz here with a special Video Review of my awesome Thrift Find Goth: The Game of Horror Trivia!

 

In Addition to Goth: The Game of Horror Trivia, briefly I also mention some Lovecraftian and atmospheric games including Arkham Horror, Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, Betrayal at the House on the Hill, and The Grimm Forest.

Be sure to check out more of our Game Reviews at Horror Addicts.net, and don’t forget you can get interactive, answer trivia questions, and tell us what kinds of Horror Media you would like to see – by Horror Addicts for Horror Addicts! – on our Facebook Group.

 

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Phantom of the Opera (1943)

The Phantom of the Opera Can’t Go Wrong

By Kristin Battestella

This 1943 universal color spectacle adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s tale is probably the one I remember most from being a kid- and it was the first with which I introduced my niece. Though a little of its time, this rousing adaptation is still delightful.

After being dismissed from the Paris Opera and unable to sell his musical works, Erique Claudin (Claude Rains) murders the music publisher and takes to the bowels of the Paris Opera House. From there he terrorizes opera patrons, earns his ghostly nickname from the staff, and threatens the lives of the cast unless the beautiful understudy Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster) is allowed to sing. Christine, however, is unaware of The Phantom’s obsession with her, as she is already torn between the dashing opera lead Anatole Garron (Nelson Eddy) and Inspector Raoul D’Aubert (Edgar Barrier).

The action, tragedy, and suspense from director Arthur Lubin (The Incredible Mr. Limpet) and Oscar nominated screenwriter Samuel Hoffenstein (Laura) are well paced and no less thrilling, but the format here does stray from the standard Universal Horror monster greatness we expect. Is it horror per se? No. And yet despite the heavy musical content with full opera numbers, you can’t really classify our tale as a musical either. This may sound negative, but I like this in between balance, I really do. This is a serious music film with creepy undertones and even kinky subtext. Extra understudy rivalries and witty competing men add to the great suspenseful crescendos in both the onscreen operas and the climatic action. This isn’t simply a remake of the silent version- some of the sets may be the same but this take is a twist all its own. Yes, perhaps the mask reveal is not as famous as the 1925 Phantom of the Opera’s silent cinematic moment- but it is still a whopper nonetheless. Even knowing what is to happen, I’m still entertained every time. I mean, that chandelier!

Susanna Foster (Star Spangled Rhythm) as would be diva Christine DuBois is perhaps not the gorgeous as we traditionally think of beauty today, but she’s still lovely nonetheless. Not one, but three men are enamored with her- and we believe it through Foster’s old-fashioned on screen presence, operatic weight, classy delivery, and great strength against all these men telling her the music is everything and there’s no need for a normal life. Not all viewers today might like or even be able to tolerate her high notes, but Christine’s innocence and charming nightingale win out. She is naive and on the cusp of something great and we understand why The Phantom wishes to protect and pedestal her thanks largely in part to Christine’s sympathy and pity for him. Four time Oscar nominee Claude Rains (Notorious, Casablanca, Mr. Skeffington, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) is of course, so sad to start- dismissed from the company, unable to publish his compositions, and penniless thanks to his sponsorship of Christine. Claudin’s down on his luck and we can certainly relate to him now more than ever, but even so, he’s no less pathetic in his multi-layered, latent, and implied obsessions with Christine. Even as things turn murderous, we empathize with the disfigurement that pushed Claudin over the edge. He’s just misunderstood, really! Those angry mobs pursuing The Phantom made him snap! It’s twisted, and stalkerishly endearing; there’s no vision but Christine’s success nor any length to get it.

Stage and voice phenom of the day Nelson Eddy is without his usual Sweethearts and Rose Marie co-star Jeanette MacDonald for The Phantom of the Opera, but he and fellow suitor Edgar Barrier (The Pride of the Yankees) create a fine romantic layer and love triangle to keep things interesting for Christine DuBois. Both suave and debonair in their professions, the guys also add some needed humor and subtext to balance the darker sequences of the film. However, some of the fun is also a little annoying- again especially in comparing what we normally expect from a Universal Horror film. Honestly, I find The Phantom much more interesting, for we do get to see a little more of him without Christine. Unfortunately, Anatole and Raoul are a little one dimensional and underdeveloped since we only see them in friendly battle for their lady. Eddy and Barrier are by no means bad, but they deserved more with which to work.

Thankfully, the art decoration, set décor, fashions, costumes, and Technicolor spectacle of The Phantom of the Opera are just wonderful. The Oscar winning art design is indeed colorful and bright- today we seem to always do period films in drab, muted big satins and layers. The men all look great- not a lot of pups today can pull of a cape, Victorian epaulettes, or Opera extras. Yes, the style is a little too Victorian or more English in tone- everyone has French names but nobody speaks with French accents- and some may find those similar names or the sporadic French flair confusing without subtitles. Parisian style, however, also comes through in the period décor and quintessentially French tale: candlelight, gas lamps, cigars, the operatic compositions themselves. The scoring onscreen and off is wonderful of course, from the biggest notes to the softest, bittersweet strings. I’m not really sure if the supporting cast did their own vocals or instruments playing, but so what? Again, that up there singing might be too dated for some contemporary audiences, but it is an opera after all.

In addition to those subtitles, the DVD has a sweet hour-long retrospective about The Phantom of the Opera in all its film incarnations and a companion audio commentary. Fans of the tale in any variety have already tuned in to this 1943 version of course, but any and all classics fans, music on film connoisseurs, or the opera obsessed can certainly give this 90 minute spin a viewing. It’s entertaining and simple enough for younger audiences without loosing the zest and thrills of other adaptations and is perfect for a classroom comparison, too. Spend some time with The Phantom of this 1943 Opera tonight.