MoreHorror March Request Month: In the Mouth of Madness

In The Mouth of Madness Review
by Mike Pickle,

For this week's request we're going back to 1995 for John Carpenter's atmospheric mind-bender In the Mouth of Madness starring Sam Neill in one of his most memorable performances. This film was the 3rd entry in what Carpenter calls his Apocalypse Trilogy along with The Thing (1982) and Prince of Darkness (1987). It's definitely reminiscent of The Thing with it's amazing creature effects, but what sets this film apart is the sheer abundance of assorted horrors. Being set in a town that doesn't really exist gives Carpenter plenty of room to work his magic and boy does he take liberties.

The film opens with John Trent (Sam Neill) being committed to an asylum. He fights and pleads with the doctor and staff that he is not insane. A senior doctor arrives to analyze him and the story behind John's current condition begins to unfold in flashbacks. Turns out John is an insurance investigator for a company that insures the publishing house of best-selling horror writer Sutter Cane (played superbly and fiendishly by Jurgen Prochnow). Cane has disappeared before turning in his eagerly anticipated new book. Not only are the publishers chomping at the bit with dollar signs in their eyes, but Cane's fans are growing progressively unruly and riotous in his absence. The only person that has even seen a portion of the new book is Cane's agent who, in turn, goes on a murderous rampage. John cleverly discovers a map hidden in the covers of Cane's books that he believes points to the town of Hobb's End. A town which only exists in Cane's novels. The owner of the publishing firm, played by none other than Charlton Heston, sends his employee Linda Styles with John to find him. John and Styles find the town after a series of increasingly bizarre events and the line between reality and fiction becomes more and more blurred. Hobb's End is a figment of Sutter Cane's imagination and his madness is beginning to spread to the rest of the world.

This film is a criminally overlooked work of horrific art and I'm hard pressed to find anything to complain about. Julie Carmen, who plays Styles, is kind of dry at times and she's not the strongest character, but she redeems herself by becoming an awesome creature that walks backwards on her hands while twisting her head abnormally around to glare at John Trent as she chases him.

There are some horror cliches here and there, but they are done extremely well and are sandwiched in between tons of gory oddities that come fast and furious for such a mind trip of a film. Usually when a film plays around with combining dreams and reality it can get convoluted and confusing. Not true here. Every revelation is well crafted and does not disappoint. There are many elements going on here that weave a tapestry of creative and diverse scares.

John Carpenter, as in many of his other films, co-wrote the music that is extremely effectual for the most part. In fact; the only time that you realize you're watching a movie from the mid-'90's is when hearing the dated hard rock track that opens and closes the film. Everything in between could easily be a fine work of modern Horror. I only wish that half the horror films released today were as satisfying as this one.

In the Mouth of Madness was heavily influenced by legendary horror writer H.P. Lovecraft with many references to his stories and themes as well as very Lovecraftian settings and characters. Fictional writer Sutter Cane's books even feature direct passages of Lovecraft's writing and all of Cane's novels have similar titles to Lovecraft's books. A world like this is a perfect fit for Carpenter's twisted imagination and the Special Effects wizardry of FX legends like Greg Nicotero and Robert Kurtzman who have the talent and expertise to bring Carpenter's nightmarish vision to life. Disfigured children, an old lady (played by character actress Frances Bay) mutating into an outlandishly grotesque creature and chopping up her husband with an ax, an army of demons and other assorted living nightmares make this film a must-see for any Horror fan.

If you're looking for a good scare; this one has them all. Jump scares, creepy-crawly scares, an atmosphere that gets under your skin and mind-blowing twists that are both subtle and in your face and you never know which it's going to be. Hell, some are within the same scene. The film plays out like a cerebral mind manipulator making it that much more effective when the Horror comes to life in gory detail. This mixture of subtle and monstrous scares is what makes this one of my favorite Carpenter films and one of my most beloved horror film experiences period. How often do you see a film build suspense like this and give you so much to enjoy along the way?

This delightful smorgasbord of horrors culminates in one of most satisfying and memorable horror film endings ever. I was pleased to discover that In the Mouth of Madness is now available for Instant View on Netflix. If you haven't seen it; drop what you're doing and watch it now. If you have seen it; watch it again. You're likely to realize (like I did) that truly great horror films like this one are few and far between.

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