One of John Carpenter’s Most Ambitious Efforts as a Filmmaker
Score 9/10 - Highly Recommended
Posted by Anthony DeRouen | March 4th, 2022
Synopsis - An insurance investigator begins discovering that the impact a horror writer's books have on his fans is more than inspirational.
In the Mouth of Madness (1994) is John Carpenter's take on Lovecraftian style horror, and is also imbued with his patented sardonic sense of humor. It’s a fascinating journey into what makes an individual insane.. If a delusion is shared by enough people does it become the new reality? In the Mouth of Madness translates easily to today’s toxic political climate and the Big Lie.
We follow an insurance investigator named John Trent (played expertly by Sam Neill) who takes on a case with a book publishing house. It seems they have lost their bell cow, a popular horror novelist named Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) who has also taken his latest manuscript with him. Rumors circulate that Cane's books cause strange symptoms in some of his readers: paranoia, memory loss, and disorientation. John teams up Cane's editor, a sultry woman named Linda (Julie Carmen), and together they set out to unravel the mystery of the eccentric writer's disappearance. It was also a pleasure to see the great Charlton Heston lend his talents to the narrative.
If a delusion is shared by enough people does it become the new reality?
This film relies heavily on both dream logic and an unreliable narrator, but in the context of the film it works. We experience John's slow descent into madness firsthand, and it gives the atmosphere a palpable sense of foreboding and dread. You can see and feel the threads of humanity begin to loosen and give way. Once John and Linda arrive at Hobb's End - the fictional town in Cane's novels - the crazy begins to soak in like a bloody bandage and all we can do is brace ourselves. The film is intentionally riddled with plot holes and unexplained events, because we the audience are losing our grip on what’s real or imagined, as John is.
Sam Neill plays John as real and pragmatic as you can be. The world functions in a specific way and to suggest otherwise is downright ludicrous. There are no such things as invisible towns, novels cannot dictate physical occurrences.
Due to the use of practical and animatronic effects In the Mouth of Madness looks incredible in 4k resolution. The bowels of Hell are unleashed in this film, and there are plenty of demons to spare. John is a firm believer in capturing the film’s essence behind the camera, and is one reason (of many) why his films stand the test of time and enjoy remastered versions that do not show the threads between practical and computer generated effects.
In The Mouth of Madness stands as one of the best Lovecraft adaptations committed to film without being a direct adaptation. One of the tropes it borrows generously from is the "lone crazy guy in an asylum recounting the tale in a flashback", but it doesn't feel contrived. It’s a necessary storytelling method executed masterfully.
In the Mouth of Madness today feels like a satire on a vast portion of today’s American populace. When enough people believe in someone’s crazy, fanatical delusions they can effectively create their own warped reality, and effectively damage the real one. Yes, it’s happened before to disastrous results (see World War 2 Germany), but to watch it play out in real time is both terrifying and sobering. But enough political talk for one review! Working off a script from Michael De Luca, John Carpenter crafts a superb supernatural thriller that surprisingly flew under the radar for many years.
Subsequent blu-ray releases have reinvigorated interest in this film, and Shout Factory’s Collector’s Edition stuffed with new features and a 4k scan of the original film should delight horror fans both old and new.