In the Mouth of Madness (1995)

Worth a Watch

Directed by John Carpenter

Written Michael De Luca

Starring Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jürgen Prochnow, David Warner, & Charlton Heston

Release Date: February 3, 1995

Running Time: 1hr 35min

Rating: R

[Possible spoilers, but this movie is 25 years old as I’m writing this.]

Freelance insurance investigator, John Trent (Neill), is tasked by Arcane Publishing director, Jackson Harglow (Heston), to look into the disappearance of their most profitable client, horror author Sutter Cane (Prochnow). Cane’s disappearance occurred around the release of his latest book, seemingly causing people go insane and even turn homicidal. Trent himself was almost attacked by an ax wielding maniac (later revealed to be Cane’s agent), who asks Trent “Do you read Sutter Cane?” before the police shoot him dead.

Trent is joined by Cane’s editor, Linda Styles (Carmen), to search for the supposedly fictional town of Hobb’s End, New Hampshire (featured in many of Cane’s works), where Trent believes he’s hiding as some sort of publicity stunt. Things immediately take a strange(r) turn, as things described in Cane’s books begin coming true, and the line between reality and fiction become more and more blurred.

At the time of release, the film was commercial failure, bringing in only $8.9 million against an $8 million budget. Reviews were mixed to negative, with many praising the acting, directing, and special effects, but finding the script lacking. Still, like many of Carpenter’s films, it would go on to gain a sizable cult following, with many praising it for its ambition and ambiguity.

This was a movie I knew about for years. I remember seeing the poster at video rental stores back in the day (I’m that old!), and loving the look of it (a couple faces being sucked into a book). I would continue hearing about it over the years, and finally got around to seeing it, once I started getting more into John Carpenter films and horror in general. I totally get why this has a following. This is a fun, solidly made film, with some top notch performances, great special effects, unsettling atmosphere, and a wicked sense of humor.

I really like horror that doesn’t overly rely on cheap jump scares. This has a couple, but they’re used after we’ve been brought into the story and have already seen bizarre things. Subtle things, like someone walking past another person and that person not seeing it, or a painting having subtle changes each time it’s shown, is far more unsettling when not being accompanied by a loud noise or music sting.

This movie is also probably one of the best H.P. Lovecraft movies we’re likely to get. If you’re familiar with his work, then you will definitely see his motifs on display: fear of the unknown, paranoia, small towns with sinister things going on under the surface, horrific creatures, etc (there’s lots of really cool creature designs throughout). In addition, several lines from Cane’s books are taken from Lovecraft’s short stories (with some slight alterations to fit the narrative), and various names of people and places are a nod to his works.

Sam Neill has always been a solid actor, one who may not be a household name (even with his appearance in films like Jurassic Park), but who will definitely be bringing his A game. He plays Trent with a nice combination of confident skepticism and slight sleaze, who tries to maintain his sanity, even when everyone and everything around him shows otherwise.

Jürgen Prochnow is another actor guaranteed to be memorable in just about anything he’s in, and this is no exception. As the enigmatic Cane he’s menacing, but at the same time a man who’s become complacent in his role of bringing forth terrors into our world. Rounding out the cast are a who’s who of reliable actors you’ve seen in many things, including the always memorable Charlton Heston, David Warner, and John Glover.

Should you see it? If you’re already a fan of John Carpenter then definitely! Doubly so if you’re a fan of H.P. Lovecraft!

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