Thursday, October 31, 2013

#1,172. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

Directed By: John Carpenter

Starring: Sam Neill, Jürgen Prochnow, Julie Carmen

Tag line: "Lived Any Good Books Lately?"

Trivia: The building used as the mental institution at the beginning of the film is actually a Toronto-based water filtration plant

From the release of Assault on Precinct 13 in 1976 through to the late ‘80s, John Carpenter turned out some of the finest genre films of the last 50 years, including Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China and Prince of Darkness. Since the start of the ‘90s, however, the quality of his work has been more hit-and-miss (I’m a fan of 1998’s oft-criticized Vampires, though his most recent outing, 2010’s The Ward, didn’t impress me at all). In the Mouth of Madness, Carpenter’s visually stunning 1994 film, offers a unique spin on the Apocalypse, and is one of the best movies to emerge from the second half of the director’s career.

The novels penned by world renowned horror author Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) have an unusual effect on their readers, causing everything from paranoia to all-out madness. Yet despite these severe side effects, Cane’s books always make money, and the author’s sudden, unexplained disappearance has left his publisher, Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston), with no new book to print. Having already spent millions promoting Cane’s as-yet-unfinished novel, In the Mouth of Madness, Harglow and his company try to recoup some of their losses by filing an insurance claim, at which point John Trent (Sam Neill), an investigator for the insurance company, enters the picture. Believing Cane’s “disappearance” is nothing more than a publicity stunt, Trent, joined by Cane’s editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), hits the open road, determined to track down the elusive author.. Their journey leads them to Hobbs End, a small town that’s not on any map, but which has served as the central location for all of Cane’s previous novels. Trent and Styles do, indeed, find Cane in Hobbs End, but quickly realize there’s more to this quaint New England town than meets the eye.

With the exception of one surprising twist at the end, In the Mouth of Madness is fairly straightforward story-wise (I’d figured out what was going on well before John Trent did). What makes the movie so unique are its outstanding visuals, from the opening sequence set inside a mental institution to the haunting visions Trent experiences when he attempts to read Cane’s books (including a recurring nightmare in which a cop slowly mutates into a monster). The bizarre, almost Lovecraftian look that Carpenter and his team created for In the Mouth of Madness only intensifies when Trent and Styles arrive in Hobbs End, where absolutely nothing is as it seems.

In the Mouth of Madness was the third and final installment in what Carpenter deemed his “Apocalyptic Trilogy”, which also included 1982’s The Thing and ‘87's Prince of Darkness. Like those movies, In the Mouth of Madness gets inside your head, and will likely have you nervously peeking over your shoulder as its horrific tale unfolds.

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