Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Sam Neill, Jurgen Prochnow, Julie Carmen, Charlton Heston
Screenplay: Michael DeLuca
95 mins. Rated R for images of horror, and for language.
Most people who know me know of my love for Halloween. It’s my all-time favorite horror film, but in general, my all-time favorite horror director is John Carpenter. Barring The Ward, there isn’t a single film of his that I wouldn’t watch, and when he hits it, he knocks it out of the park. In the Mouth of Madness is a great example of John Carpenter knocking it out of the park.
Acclaimed horror novelist Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow, Das Boot, Hitman: Agent 47) is missing. Arcane Publishing is after Cane’s latest manuscript, and they hire insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) to go after Cane. When Trent is almost killed by a crazed maniac wielding an axe, he begins to discover that there is a lot more hiding in Cane’s books than just words. His search brings him to Hobb’s End, the fictional setting for several of Cane’s novels, a place thought not to exist, and Trent sees that Hobb’s End is very real, and it houses an evil that is more powerful than anyone could have known.
Halloween is a perfect slasher, but In the Mouth of Madness is a perfect study of the human psyche and the power of a story. It is a rich, complex tale about Sutter Cane (who bears more than one similarity with horror novelists Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft). It is an examination of popular culture and its crazed obsession with horror. It’s a look at John Trent and the fragility of the mind (another popular element in Lovecraft’s).
The performances from Neill and Prochnow are great. The two actors have terrific chemistry even though they share very few scenes in the film. Charlton Heston (Ben-Hur, Planet of the Apes) even appears as Arcane Publishing director Jackson Harglow to add gravitas to the picture.
There are multiple allusions to Lovecraft and King, starting with the opening framing device, often used by Lovecraft in his storytelling. There is talk of the Old Ones, and in fact passages of Cane’s stories actually come from Lovecraft’s own work. From King, there is the style of his novels, the New England setting, and the undying fandom around his next novel.
In the Mouth of Madness isn’t an easy film to find, but if you can, do so. You will find yourself on a most interesting journey through the mind. It is topped off with great performances and gorgeously disturbing visuals from master of horror John Carpenter, with a shockingly unusual ending to tie it all together. This movie is a one-of-a-kind experience for horror fans all alike.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.
For my review of John Carpenter’s The Thing, click here.