By 1994 John Carpenter’s status as a blockbuster powerhouse director was waning. It had been over 10 years since Carpenter had a bonafide hit with Christine. While time has been kind to some of his other releases like Big Trouble in Little China and They Live – the critics were not. They had eviscerated his last several films. As a result Carpenter was becoming more and more disillusioned with Hollywood. Amidst that tough, in the early 90’s, he still managed to produce one of his best horror films – In the Mouth of Madness.
Do you read Sutter Cane?
In the Mouth of Madness star Sam Neil as the surly and cynical John Trent. Trent is a freelance insurance investigator modeled after noir detectives like Sam Spade. Neil seems to relish playing the no-nonsense Trent, who calls out BS wherever he sees it. While I have never seen a bad performance from Neil, this is one of my favorites. Trent is a man who is always certain he is one step ahead of the game. Neil plays Trent with an earned sense of arrogance. There is a swagger to everything the man does. But when a large publishing house hires Trent to track down missing horror author Sutter Cane Trent finds that self confidence slipping away.
Trent partners up with Cane’s editor Linda Styles (Played by Julie Carmen) at the behest of the Arcane Publishing director, Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston.) Sutter Cane is a modern-day H.P Lovecraft mixed with the success of Stephen King. In fact, In the Mouth of Madness is a none to subtle love letter to Lovecraft’s work. The titles of Cane’s novels are all rip offs of Lovecraft stories – with Sutter Cane writing a book like The Whisperer of the Dark to Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness. His works are all about ancient gods, people going mad, and unnameable creatures in the dark. Just like ol’ H.P.
Trent’s investigation brings him to Hobb’s End – a small picturesque New Hampshire town that is only supposed to exist in Cane’s novels. There, both Styles and Trent are confronted with an increasingly twisted and macabre world possibly of Cane’s own creation. We won’t spoil things here but the movie is rife with Lovecraftian images and plot devices.
The Apocalypse Trilogy
In the Mouth of Madness is the final movie in Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy. Starting with The Thing and then Prince of Darkness, In the Mouth of Madness is a satisfying conclusion. While the movies are only linked thematically (as opposed to direct characters or events), the movies do work well together. While Madness is not as good as The Thing, it is still one of Carpenters best works.
But it is far from perfect. The plot device that the movie hinges on is a little weak leading to a somewhat disappointing climax. And there are some cringe-worthy line deliveries, particularly by the miscast Julie Carmen. All of its faults are easily outweighed by what it does well. Carpenter populated the secondary and tertiary characters with actor like David Warner, John Glover, Frances Bay , and the aforementioned Charlton Heston. Also of note is the first on-screen appearance of future youngling killer, Anakin Skywalker himself Hayden Christensen as a paperboy. These skilled actors in small roles allows Carpenter to really make the most out of every scene. What could have been clunky exposition (which there is a fair amount of) is delivered in a far more natural way by these veteran character actors.
The special effects range from “good enough” to “quite nice indeed.” More importantly, though, the concepts and images they are used for are delightfully disturbing. Which, let’s face it, is what counts. At the end of the day, most of us are not putting on a horror movie expecting to marvel at the subtle nuances of high end, art-house cinema. It’s nice when it happens but – we want spooky entertainment, which In the Mouth of Madness delivers in spades.
The film has more skill, intellect, and wit behind it than your typical horror movie. However, it applies it with a delicate touch. This is not a slow burn masterpiece like The VVitch (which I loved, and Louis Thelier reviewed early in the month.) Madness is a well-paced detective story with monsters, mutants, and buckets of blood.
Personally, I feel In the Mouth of Madness is a modern horror classic. I’ve watched it dozens of times and never tire of it. Some great acting combined with wonderful images and horror concepts makes this an easy recommendation for anyone looking to indulge in some horror this October. And it is an outright requirement for fans of the genre.
Recommended if you are a fan of:
H.P. Lovecraft, John Carpenter, Stephen King, apocalyptic horror, supernatural creatures, Event Horizon, The Void, Silent Hill, or House on Haunted Hill.
Remember to follow the hashtag #31DOH on Twitter and Facebook every day in October to see what other terrifying treats we’ve been watching!