In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) USA / R / 95 min / 7.1 IMDB rating / IMDB 4,417

By Roger Malcolm / Oct. 2012


Horror fiction comes to life on screen with John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. Written by Michael De Luca known mostly as a producer of hits such as Boogie Nights, American History X, Blow and The Social Network, plus the upcoming 50 Shades of Grey. De Luca pens a true homage to the writings of horror authors H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King. In the Mouth of Madness is the third film of John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, otherwise consisting of The Thing and Prince of Darkness.

Opening with a distorted rock guitar score by John Carpenter and Jim Lang accompanying a montage somewhat similar to Sam Peckinpah’s prison opening sequence from The Getaway, we are shown footage of a publishing house making a new book: Sutter Canes: The Hobb’s End Horror and on the back coming soon In the Mouth of Madness. The story revolves around the disappearance of “this century’s most widely-read author” horror novelist Sutter Cane, played by Jürgen Prochnow, famous for his role in the classic German war epic Das Boot.

Cane’s publishing company, headed by Jackson Harglow played by Academy Award winning veteran Charlton Heston, hires insurance fraud investigator John Trent. Sam Neill who was born to play the role of Trent, is given the task of hunting down and delivering the manuscript of Cane’s In the Mouth of Madness, the last novel to his hugely popular series. Teamed with Cane’s editor Linda Styles, played by Julie Carmen, they head out to locate the fictional town of Hobb’s End from Cane’s work. The name Hobb’s End is used as a tribute to British horror film Quatermass and the Pit (1967) aka Five Million Years to Earth (US), a film which John Carpenter has admittedly been influenced by. The town is also a nod to Stephen King’s fictional town of Derry or one of H. P. Lovecraft’s creations such as Dunwich.

Trent starts his investigation by familiarizing himself with the works of Cane thinking it is all just a well done publicity stunt. He gathers several of the books from Cane’s recent series. Only reality isn’t what it seems for John Trent as he slips from his world into the world of Cane. After suffering from nightmares after his reading Cane’s work, Trent argues with Linda it’s nothing to let scare you since it’s only fiction and not reality. In response Linda replies “A reality is just what we tell each other it is.”

Contrasting between the small peaceful picture perfect town of Hobb’s End with autumn leaves on the streets and the horrors that hide within the secrets of it’s resident’s strange behaviour, the story unfolds leaving us haunted as the terror comes to life before our eyes. Carpenter takes us on a visual experience making us just as unsure about reality as our characters. With monsters that slither and scream very reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing, Hobb’s End turns into a nightmare as the light turns to darkness into a pseudo-reality of madness. Or is it a reality of madness? “Reality is not what it use to be!” says a character that blows his brains out with a shotgun after saying “I have to. He wrote me this way.” BOOM!

John Carpenter’s sometimes misunderstood masterpiece In the Mouth of Madness leaves us questioning not only the reality of our characters but our own reality itself. Does the simple belief in a subject make it real by just having enough people believe in it? It does according to Sutter Cane as he tells Trent “More people believe in my work than believe in the Bible.” In the Mouth of Madness is the epitome of horror in my book. A horror you can not face and back down. A horror you can not outrun or hide from. A horror that becomes an unstoppable plague that spreads through the minds of it’s audience until we end locked up in a padded cell screaming “I’m not insane!”

Best Death – During a peaceful chat over coffee two characters are unaware of a man crossing the street with an axe in hand. As we watch pedestrians and outdoor restaurant customers flee from fear as he approaches the window our characters are sitting next to, he raises the axe into the air bringing it down smashing the glass and stepping through the window frame on top of the table. Disheveled and crazed with his dual blue pupil eyes looks at one of the characters and asks “Do you read Sutter Cane?” before raising the axe again only to be shot to death by two police officers that have now entered the restaurant.

Best Scene – With our characters in a car traveling at night on a lonely highway, a boy on a bicycle rides past with a playing card ticking in the spokes. Eventually the boy becomes a running horror throughout the film turning into an old man on a bicycle stuck in a world of horror himself. This scene has never left me since the first time seeing it. I see it at night when traveling alone on dark roads in the middle of nowhere always expecting myself to come across an old covered bridge rolling into Hobb’s End becoming lost in the town of horror forever.

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Roger Malcolm

An absent-minded plothole, as far as narratives go, so it seems...

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