Time: 95 Minutes
Sam Neill as John Trent
Julie Carmen as Linda Styles
Jürgen Prochnow as Sutter Cane
Charlton Heston as Jackson Harglow
Director: John Carpenter
With the disappearance of hack horror writer Sutter Cane, all Hell is breaking loose…literally! Author Cane, it seems, has a knack for description that really brings his evil creepy-crawlies to life. Insurance investigator John Trent is sent to investigate Cane’s mysterious vanishing act and ends up in the sleepy little East Coast town of Hobb’s End.
I had been meaning to watch In the Mouth of Madness for quite a while, all I knew about it going in is that Sam Neill was in it, John Carpenter directs it, and it is the conclusion to Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse trilogy (which also consists of The Thing and Prince of Darkness). I didn’t know what the plot would be about and what kind of horror film it would be, but it did not disappoint.
Compared to some of John Carpenter’s other work, I’d say its one of his most understated entries, and I was entertained throughout. Much of it is a crossover between Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, with King’s psychological horror combined with Lovecraft’s madness. Incidentally, it is about the disappearance of a popular horror writer named Sutter Cane, in the vein of Stephen King, and it gets pretty meta with that aspect. In the Mouth of Madness is a commentary on the impact and influence of fiction, and blurs the lines between fiction and reality. There is an unsettling feeling with a strong atmosphere, a lot of the movie just feels off. It really does well at conveying a descent into madness and losing touch with reality. At times the movie could be slower paced, but I was intrigued throughout. It ends the movie in a great way too, perhaps one of the more memorable horror movie endings.
The acting is really good, but it mostly comes down to the lead performance from Sam Neill, who delivers some of his best work here. Neill is playing John Trent, an insurance investigator who often detects con artists and frauds, and as such is an immediate sceptic when initially encountering the central mystery. This makes his descent into madness and loss of touch with reality stronger as he of all people encounters these unbelievable situations.
As mentioned earlier, John Carpenter directs this and his work is typically fantastic, his signature style is throughout. This might be one of his best crafted films on a technical level. There is an intense atmosphere throughout which really sucks you in. There are some stunning cinematography and shots with an over-the-top visual flair. The visual effects work here, Carpenter as usual makes great use of practical effects, as seen in past movies like The Thing. The editing is great, it helps you feel like you’re going mad, especially in the third act. The score is also very effective at setting the tone and atmosphere for the movie. While it’s not one of the best scores in a Carpenter movie, the title track is great and a standout.
In the Mouth of Madness is a solid and underrated horror film, led by a typically strong performance from Sam Neill, and with stellar direction from John Carpenter. It seemed to be a disappointment upon its release, but in the years after has been developing a cult following, and for good reason. Definitely worth checking out if you like horror, and essential viewing if you like Carpenter’s other work.