In the Mouth of Madness
Dir. John Carpenter (1994)
When horror author Sutter Cane disappears, an insurance investigator must look for him as his fiction comes to life.
For being as big a fan of John Carpenter as I am, I've seen embarrassingly few of his movies. I thought that, for the rest of the Halloween season, I'd try to rectify that a little bit. First up is In the Mouth of Madness, starring Sam Neil as an insurance investigator who is trying to find a missing author named Sutter Cane that he believes is being hidden by his publishing company to drum up interest in his new book. Unfortunately, Cane's books have a profound effect on his readers, creating a new reality that echoes the horrific creatures found in his fiction and causing them to do increasingly disturbing things.
It's always obvious when you're watching a John Carpenter film, but not because of some visual trademark or even an overly obvious score, despite the fact that Carpenter himself is usually composing the music for the film. No, Carpenter has made a wide variety of films, most of which shouldn't be anywhere near as good as they are, but they're so infused with style, so perfectly crafted and visually literate that they are incomparable to the vast majority of horror films out there. In the Mouth of Madness is no different, a film with absolutely outstanding cinematography and just an "off" feeling that you can't completely place. Once the film turns into a Lovecraftian monster film, you can see even more of Carpenter's trademark style, making potentially ridiculous creatures utterly terrifying in execution.
ItMoM is, of course, Lovecraftian, with some of the dialogue actually lifted from the elder horror statesman's work. Lovecraft was notoriously bad at descriptions, often describing things as, simply, "indescribable." Seems like lazy writing to me, but Lovecraft's writings have lasted in the public sphere for nearly a century, so what the hell do I know. Nevertheless, despite his lack of reference material in much of Lovecraft's prose, Carpenter puts these creatures and effects on-screen in believable and ghastly ways. With the help of The Walking Dead's Greg Nicotero on effects, the Horror Master crafts a story that is scary and insane while threatening to drag his audience along with it. Add in the commentary on the realities that fiction create, presented in an otherworldly cosmic horror film, and you're in for an all-timer.
There's an undercurrent of danger running throughout In the Mouth of Madness, and Carpenter sucks you into the world of Hobb's End so completely that it feels inescapable. From Cronenberg-esque body horror to TCM-level sound design, Carpenter and writer Michael De Luca create a film that encompasses everything that scares you and is still incredibly realistic and chilling even 30 years later. Much like The Thing had effects that hold up today, In the Mouth of Madness is ghastly and grim, an ethereal, dreamlike descent into madness that feels like you could actually look up and see these things coming at you out of the darkness. As someone watching the film in a dark hospital in the middle of the night, I... actually really don't appreciate that.
I've made it no secret that I consider John Carpenter the greatest horror director of all time. I acknowledge that a lot of this is because of my ridiculous love affair with Halloween, but in reality, I have yet to see him make a bad movie. Christine, a movie based on a Stephen King novel about a killer car, is a near-perfect monster movie, despite it having no right to be so. Big Trouble in Little China is a phenomenal action comedy, They Live is a pitch-perfect, over-the-top critique of Reaganomics and consumerism, and the list goes on and on. Carpenter has taken on nearly every genre of film and has directed almost exclusively absolute bangers, something that most other amazing horror directors never come close to achieving. In the Mouth of Madness is yet another example of Carpenter's brilliance, which is all the more impressive given the unfilmable nature of most Lovecraftian horror.
Who this movie is for: Lovecraftian horror fans, Supernatural horror lovers, Writers
Bottom line: John Carpenter is a genius and In the Mouth of Madness is actually really scary, always surprising for a film that is nearly 30 years old. The creature effects are phenomenal and terrifying, the direction and cinematography is flawless, and Sam Neil's performance leaves nothing to be desired. The closure of Carpenter's "Apocalypse Trilogy," which also includes The Thing and Prince of Darkness, In the Mouth of Madness is scary, jarring, and an incredible piece of filmmaking that should be seen by any member of the horror faithful. I'm just sorry it took me so long to get around to it.