Director – John Carpenter
Cast – Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jürgen Prochnow, David Warner, john Glover, Charlton Heston, Frances Bay, Bernie Casey, Peter Jason, Wilhelm von Homburg, Hayden Christensen
Release Year – 1994
Reviewed by John of the Dead
While growing up I used to see this film at my local rental store every Friday after school, but I never took the plunge and gave it a watch back then. Personally, I am glad that I never did so back then because I am sure that I would not have enjoyed the film as much as I should have because I simply would not have understood it. Well, I am a big boy now, and I can say that In the Mouth of Madness is not only as good as I always expected it to be, it is even better than I expected it to be, and I fully believe this to be Carpenter’s third best horror film behind Halloween and The Thing.
Sam Neill(Event Horizon, Daybreakers, Possession) stars as John Trent, a very successful private investigator specializing in debunking bogus fraud claims made against insurance companies. When famed horror novelist Sutter Cane(Jürgen Prochnow) goes missing just before his last and most anticipated novel, In the Mouth of Madness, is set for release, John is hired by the owner(Charlton Heston) of the publication company Cane writes for to either find Cane and bring him back, or conclude that Cane is dead and bring back what is rightfully his…Cane’s newest novel. John sees this as a potential hoax to gain more publicity for the novel’s release, but he accepts the job and cleverly locates a small eerie town in New England that Cane often writes about, and soon learns that Cane’s vividly horrific imagination may not be fiction after all.
John Carpenter really did not have to do this. He had already solidified himself forever in horror lore with Halloween, Someone’s Watching Me!, The Fog, The Thing, Christine, Prince of Darkness, and They Live, but nonetheless he proved he still had “it” with this remarkable Lovecraft-inspired film.
Michael De Luca’s story is fantastic, and from the get-go had me engaged in what was going on before me. I loved the idea of an insurance investigator taking on the task of finding a missing person, especially when considering that you rarely see such films involving anyone other than a police officer or an overzealous reporter. Following John Trent as he made his way from big-city New York to the small quiet town of Hobb’s End was great, especially when the horror begins to rise in strength the longer John is in the town. This is definitely what some refer to as a “mind f*ck” film, and despite that I never found it to be overly confusing, although I will admit that certain scenes leave the viewer to determine what is really going on. The Lovecraft-inspired elements in this story are obvious, and I loved them all. First off, we all know that Lovecraft loved writing about writers, and Sutter Cane was very well-written for merely being a supporting character that we deal with mostly through third-person discussion. The film then heads in the direction of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, mentioning the “Old Ones” on several occasions as possibilities behind what Sutter Cane is up to. The majority of the story follows John as he tries to locate Sutter, and then the horrific events that ensue when he finds the infamous author who’s books leave his millions of readers under his control. All of this builds up to the film’s iconic climax, which I am sure is going to leave each viewer with his/her own conclusions as to what was really going on. I can see several possible conclusions behind the film’s climax, and while each makes sense in their own right, they are all incredibly horrific in their own right as well. My only gripe against this story was the fact that it seemed to lose steam during the third act. The first two acts were fantastic, and while the third act was still a positive movement it did not hit as hard as the other two acts aside from the climax. Had this film stayed strong the entire 95 minute runtime this would have attained a perfect 10-rating from me, but a 9 is darn good and deserving.
John Carpenter’s direction is fantastic, and he expertly crafts this film with superb sets, fantastic visuals, and superbly executed horror during the film’s numerous scenes of horrific nature. His cinematography is dark and gloomy, perfect for the subject matter this story brings with it, and his camerawork is superb and played a key role in setting up the well-executed horror I just mentioned. I was pleased to see that this film came in at a cool 95 minutes, and it paces very well thanks to Carpenter’s direction complimented with a lack of useless scenes that merely take up screen time. Sam Neill is his usual awesome self, and he portrays the diverse and slowly-going-insane John Kent very well. Nearly all of the performances we get are solid, including Hayden Christensen’s small role as the paperboy(for the lulz), although I hated the performance of supporting actress Julie Carmen as Linda Styles. From the get-go she came off cold, which was the desired effect and it worked well, but once her character was forced to show emotion her performance went to hell and I found her flat, ugly, and uninteresting. As if the story was not enough, Carpenter ensured this film as his on entry into Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos with his insanely awesome creatures that delivered supreme horror and looked amazing thanks to Robert Kurtzman’s live action FX. We get long tentacles, great gore, and creatures reminiscent of those given to us in the incredible The Ressurected, which were definitely some of the creepiest I had ever seen, and I can say the same for the creatures here in this fantastic horror film.
Overall, In the Mouth of Madness is an incredible horror film from a true master of horror. The story is fantastic and contains numerous Lovecraft-esque ideas that bleed supreme evil and apocalyptic despair, and comes with superb execution from John Carpenter that delivers great horror and engaging filmmaking. I highly recommend this film to all horror fans, especially those looking for an original effort.