American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Stephen King has a lot of fun playing with the line between reality and fiction - his "Misery" was the story of a fan who takes a horror writer's work a little too seriously - and now here is a movie to turn the tables on King.
John Carpenter's "In the Mouth of Madness" begins with the disappearance of a horror writer named Sutter Cane, whose latest book has caused some of its readers to go mad. The book is a best-seller, and when stores sell out, they're besieged by angry mobs. (It is a sign of our times, I suppose, that citizens are fanned into a frenzy by the book even before they read it.) Enter an insurance fraud investigator named John Trent (Sam Neill), who is sitting in the window of a coffee shop one day when a man across the street picks up an ax, walks through traffic and slams the ax through the shop window. (This shot, showing the man approaching in the background while a quiet conversation proceeds unaware in the foreground, is one of the movie's best.) Turns out the would-be ax murderer is Sutter Cane's former agent.
As an epidemic of apparent paranoid schizophrenia spreads, fueled by the latest Cane novel, we meet Cane's publisher (Charlton Heston) and his book editor, named Linda Styles (Julie Carmen). She hires Trent to investigate the apparent disappearance of Cane; she wants a fraud investigator because she suspects everything is not as it seems. No kidding.
Now the movie lifts off into fantasy, as Trent and Styles go in search of Cane.