John Carpenter has come under much fire for the films he did in the 90s. Many felt that he lost his edge with Escape From L.A. and the Village of the Damned remake. In 1995, Carpenter took his first endeavor into the H.P. Lovecraft world and incorporated some of his themes into a film that was also a joking jab at long time friend Stephen King. Deciding to make a film that questions our sense of reality, Carpenter created In The Mouth of Madness. Would this be another film that fans would trash or would Carpenter loyalists be able to give a good old fashioned up yours to the nay sayers? Let’s take a look…
Horror books are big business if you are one of the top writers in the world like King or Barker. But when you go beyond that kind of fame you find Sutter Cane. Cane is the top writer in the world, hands down. More people read his books than the Bible he boasts, and he is right. Everyone seems to love his books of tales of small coastal towns that house evil from beyond this world. But there is a slight problem. You see Sutter Cane is missing. Before he could hand in his most recent book, he has disappeared without a trace. Enter John Trent (Sam Neill), insurance fraud guru. At the opening we get to see Trent work his magic turning a man into a sweaty mush as his scam goes down the toilet. Impressed by his work, a publishing company hires to him to find Cane or at least his new book. Accompanied by Linda Styles (Julie Carmen) from the publisher, Trent heads out to find Cane and his book and solve the mystery. Is it all a hoax and publicity stunt or is Cane truly missing? Do his books really cause unstable people to go quite mad? Trent may have to go In The Mouth of Madness to find out.
I have always been a huge Carpenter fan. Even his lower films like Body Bags or Village of the Damned are entertaining to me. But that bias aside, this is without a doubt one of the best horror films of the 90s. In The Mouth of Madness draws you in from the very beginning with intriguing characters and a story with twists and turns that work. With all the films these days with false scares and major twist endings, this film’s subtlety is very welcome. I don’t remember this film being all that well received when it came out but it definitely deserves the cult following that it has. The story by Michael De Luca is tight and has some very intense scary moments. I really don’t want to go into the plot points at all because they are such a joy to watch unfold. Any doubts that Carpenter couldn’t still deliver the goods have to be tossed out the window even just moments into this film. His use of lighting and color are top notch here. You really get the feeling that this was a labor of love for him. Every aspect of the film seems to be there for a reason. The film is paced perfectly and truly creates a sense of unease and raises questions about reality.
Most will probably always think of Sam Neill as the Jurassic Park guy. But this film definitely shows that Neill can carry a film without the help of CGI creations. He is so believable as the reality bound, logical Trent that you would think Neill was a claims agent in some point of his life. He handles Trent’s paranoia of slipping into madness perfectly. However it really is Jurgen Prochnow who steals the movie as Sutter Cane. He chews scenery as good as anyone in this one. He is a very under utilized talent in Hollywood. He makes Cane seem like a lovable guy yet we all know he is a mad lunatic. Maybe my only complaint with the casting is Julie Carmen as Styles. She isn’t bad but she just seems out of place next to these two. She doesn’t seem quite comfortable in front of the camera. But that awkwardness does add some to her character. Even still all the performances here are rock solid and as good as the genre has seen.
The back cover for this film has a quote on it saying “This is the best film in John Carpenter’s career!” While I can’t say this is better than Halloween, it would be hard to say it is far behind. This film really is as good as anything the genre offers. Carpenter shows that when he is on his game he is a master of horror. The story, characters, performances, and direction are all top notch. I have seen this film numerous times and find new little nuances every time. This is a complex, multi-layered gem that every horror fan should not be without. 9 out of 10.