The Psychotronic Tourist: IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS
As we edge up to H.P. Lovecraft’s 123rd birthday this Tuesday August 20th, FANGO’s Trevor Parker visits five key Toronto-area locations from John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, and gives us both new photos by David Goodfellow, and a google map so that you can visit the locations yourself!
Even casual readers of the dense, eldritch mythology crafted by H. P. Lovecraft would be quick to admit that the dark spirit of Lovecraft’s work has yet to be truly transmitted onto film. Several directors have come within a tentacle’s width of doing so: Guillermo Del Toro stuffing giant-scale monstrosities and cosmological cephalopods into his HELLBOY movies, and Stuart Gordon’s genius for drawing any kind of comedic potential out of Lovecraft’s dour tales. For many, it’s John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (a film not directly based on Lovecraft ‘s stories but certainly inspired by them) that wore best that inferiority complex central to the Cthulu mythos—the hopelessness and futility of human existence, the celestial insignificance of mankind as set against forces whose immensity we could never dream of grasping. MADNESS also stands as the third installment in what Carpenter has dubbed his Apocalypse Trilogy (the other two members being PRINCE OF DARKNESS and THE THING—and Carpenter describing THE THING an apocalypse film should halt any debate as to whether Childs was still human or not at the end of that film). With MADNESS currently being gussied up for a blu-ray release this autumn, fans may be interested to know that Carpenter’s film is also one of the very few shot in Toronto, Canada to soft-pedal the soundstage approach and draft the city’s actual architectural points of interest into service. While a couple of the film’s minor locations breathe no longer, most of the main spots are still extant, thriving, and welcoming to the curious. Here is a quick guide to the more notable mouths in which to uncover the madness of MADNESS…
1)THE R.C. HARRIS WATER FILTRATION PLANT—Intersection of Queen Street East and Victoria Park Avenue, Toronto.
Serving double duty in MADNESS as both the exterior and main interior corridor of the insane asylum that houses insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill), the Harris filtration plant is a sprawling, photogenic stone structure set high on the shore of Lake Ontario. This 1930’s Art Deco citadel is still in full working service, is easily accessible through downtown municipal transit, and makes a perfect stand-in for a fortress or prison. As such, the plant may also be recognizable from a slew of other, mostly terrible, films and shows, leaving its only other enduring appearance as the Elsinore brewery in 1983’s cult comedy STRANGE BREW. After 9/11, entering the building became prohibited unless by special appointment, but visitors are free to roam the grounds and enjoy the lovely lake vistas. One word of advice, tread with great care around the lawns as the surrounding grass also functions as a popular neighborhood dog park. Located on the southeast corner of the intersection at Queen Street East and Victoria Park Avenue, the huge plant has no official numerical designation but is very difficult to miss. Visit the city’s website at www.toronto.ca for contact information.
2)UNIONVILLE’S MAIN STREET—Highway 7 and Kennedy/Warden avenues, Markham.
This quaint, rustic heritage holdover draws tourists past the northeast border of Toronto city proper, and the local merchants there fastidiously protect the street’s length from the invasive species of corporate business. A nostalgic destination more renowned for antiquing than Abdul Alhazred, more Rockwell than REANIMATOR, making this the least essential stop on the MADNESS tour. On the day Fangoria visited, a cheerful, noisy street festival was underway; the proliferation of strollers, ice cream cones, and old folks dancing off-beat in front of strumming buskers couldn’t have been further from the portentous skies and roving, bloodthirsty tykes of Hobb’s End—the fictional New England village that Unionville stood in for during MADNESS. While it will definitely take some serious squinting to reconcile the genial Main Street with its more sinister screen incarnation, Unionville has, like the Harris plant, taken regular bows in other, largely forgettable fare for both large and small screens (unless any devotees of Jeremy Piven’s 1994 campus caper PCU care to make themselves known?). Located north of Highway 7 in between Kennedy and Warden Avenues, the street has its own website which can be found here: www.unionvilleinfo.com.
3)VALLEY HALLA ESTATE—Meadovale Road, Toronto Zoo grounds, Scarborough.
Around the turn of the century, physician Robert Jackson earned a fortune through his invention of the health cereal and wheat bread brand known as Roman Meal. In 1936, Jackson used a chunk of that fortune to build himself an expansive country house amid the verdant, pastoral splendor of the Rouge Valley on Toronto’s eastern edge. Today, Jackson’s estate sits free of any occupants and is now owned and maintained by the Toronto Zoo—on whose property Valley Halla now sits. Valley Halla is hardly a forgotten relic, favored as it is by Toronto’s many location managers, and it pops up frequently in television productions—not to mention in MADNESS as the deceptively pleasant Pickman Hotel. As a testament to Valley Halla’s screen popularity, crews were on site and gearing up to shoot an episode of Syfy’s pulpy succubus series LOST GIRL during Fango’s visit. (Please note that both the main structure and the adjoining greenhouse are in a state of excellent repair and that the boards over the windows or any other signs of dilapidation shown in the accompanying photography are the temporary result of LOST GIRL’s set dressing). Veering off from Meadowvale road in Toronto’s extreme east, Valley Halla requires a little more patience and effort to uncover than the other stops on this tour as it is unmarked and somewhat hidden by the surrounding woods. Prospective visitors may want to check in with the Toronto Zoo (www.torontozoo.com) or the very awesome folks at the Friends of the Rouge conservation organization (www.therouge.org) for more information.
4) CATHEDRAL OF THE TRANSFIGURATION—10350 Woodbine Avenue, Markham
Better known around Hobb’s End as the Black Church and sanctuary of author/puppetmaster Sutter Cane (Juergen Prochnow), the cathedral is unquestionably the centerpiece location of the film and also of Fango’s tour. Constructed in the eighties by a wealthy Slovak businessman in the style of his native country, this byzantine (literally!) structure cuts an imposing figure above the residential streets of Markham, a town found just a smidge north of Toronto. Showing little change or wear in the intervening years since its movie-star turn, the cathedral has since been decommissioned as a functioning church and its interior closed to the public. No worries, as the outside is the real attraction; dark marble walls stretching up to the heavens, massive spires tipped with exotically bulbous turrets, and those martial mosaics upon which Carpenter’s camera lingered before Trent and Linda (Julie Carmen) entered the church in pursuit of Cane. Visit this one soon, as ugly suburban track housing is encroaching closer and closer on the cathedral with each passing year, dispelling a bit of its majesty and mystique. There is no official web presence for the cathedral, but visitors are welcome to tour the outside property.
5) EGLINTON GRAND THEATRE—400 Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto.
The second stop on the tour to exemplify gorgeous Art Deco design and architecture, the Eglinton Grand is a former movie palace set high in North Toronto. One of the last single-screen soldiers left standing in the war against multiplexes, the Eglinton was retired in 2002 and has since embarked on a second career as a special events venue. The building remains a landmark; although the insides have been renovated and repurposed, the distinctive neon marquee has not been tampered with and the distinctive overhang above the box office remains a galaxy of twinkling lights. For more on the history of the theatre, check out www.eglintongrand.com. The Eglinton is indeed the very spot where John Trent’s journey culminated with a meta-viewing of his own descent into delirium and the cold realization that he and Sutter Cane share both the same mouth and the same madness. Here’s hoping that any visitors inspired by this article to visit the locales of Carpenter’s film have a much less distressing journey than Trent did.
GOOGLE MAP LINK:
View in the mouth of madness film locations in a larger map