Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Sam Neil, Julie Carmen
Review Author: Tony
It wouldn’t truly be Halloween season without us paying respects to our favourite horror director John Carpenter. While we have already covered his most famous films in ‘Halloween’ and The ‘Thing’, Carpenters body of work still contains plenty of horror classics so trying to settle on just one was pretty difficult. While at first I was heavily leaning towards ‘The Fog’, I had a last minute change of heart and settled on ‘In the Mouth of Madness’ due to it being the lesser known entry. I soon remembered why I considered this film an underrated/underseen masterpiece and one of Carpenter’s greatest horror films.
After the disappearance of horror writer Sutter Cane, insurance investigator John Trent is endeavored to find Cane by his publisher as well as recover the missing manuscript from his latest novel, In the Mouth of Madness. Trent is cynical and views Cane’s disappearance as a publicity stunt by the publisher to further raise hype for the novel, but due to freakish events and a rise in hysteria in the public seemingly related to the book, his interest is piqued. Trent sets off on his search with the help of Cane’s editor, Linda Styles, which is the beginning of a spiral into madness and true terror.
I must admit my bewilderment in seeing the relatively mixed reviews for this movie on release, especially considering the abundance of praise I’ve seen for it over horror forums and Youtube reviews. Generally, I don’t delve into what makes other critics think or try to criticize their views but it’s hard not to draw comparisons to the icy reception that ‘The Thing’ received on release which in later years got the recognition it deserved as one of the greatest horror films to grace the silver screen.
Any horror enthusiast worth their salt has heard of the renowned writing of H.P Lovecraft, a man whose fiction dealt with gods and monsters with a heavy focus on the fragility of the mind. Over the last decade, there has been a surge in popularity for his books largely due to various video games and media using characters and imagery from his Cthulu Mythos. But Carpenter was more than aware of Lovecraft’s work and it’s influence on the horror genre in both literature and film way before this spike in public interest.
Lovecraft’s themes of madness and blurred reality with otherworldly monsters are perfectly captured here by Carpenter who integrates his own masterful crafting of suspense and unease. ‘In The Mouth of Madness’ is the best example of insanity integrated into a horror film since ‘Jacob’s Ladder’. The film skips back and forth between two time periods creating a non-linear narrative, just as the character’s perception of reality is challenged so is the audiences. Reality and fiction are at the forefront of the movie and subtle hints and callbacks begin to bring new meaning to the story (this film gets better with each rewatch). The scares are creative and unpredictable and the erratic structure of the film strips away any sense of relief or comfort leaving an unnerving tone throughout.
As with the Majority of his films, Carpenter collaborated on the score with composer Jim Lang. Besides the cringey and dated Metallica ripoff track that plays over the opening and closing credits, the music is great. The practical effects are wonderful with all kinds of twisted and contorted creatures that could only have been drawn from the mind of Lovecraft. While I didn’t notice it on my first viewing, multiple viewings reveal the ingenious way Carpenter uses colour and lighting as it subtly changes throughout the film. For a $10 million film, it’s insanely well put together and really exemplifies Carpenter’s ability to squeeze every dollar.
Despite some truly awful films, Carpenter will always remain one of the legends of horror due to his astute ability to conjure tension and dread and his boldness to think outside the box and swing for the fences. While ‘The Thing’ certainly has Lovecraftian horror elements, ‘In The Mouth of Madness’ is the biggest love letter to the famed writers work and still remains the best Lovecraftian horror movie to date.
Rating: 4.5 / 5 Jack-o’-lanterns