In the Mouth of Madness
1995, R, 95 min. Directed by John Carpenter. Starring Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jurgen Prochnow, David Warner, Charlton Heston.
REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., Feb. 3, 1995
"Reality isn't what it used to be," warns a creepy-looking old man just seconds before he blows his head off with a double-barreled shotgun, an image which perfectly sums up the bizarre theme and tone of director John Carpenter's latest film, In the Mouth of Madness. The underrated Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) stars as the hard-boiled and cynical John Trent, a claims collector with a special talent for sniffing out a con. Called in by a book publishing firm to track down their deliriously popular, flagship author Sutter Cane, who vanished while completing his most eagerly awaited novel In the Mouth of Madness, Trent teams up with his curiously other-worldly editor (Julie Carmen in a strange, occasionally annoying, trance-like performance) to track him down. Their search eventually sends them into an alternate reality comprised totally of characters and events from Cane's books, where they find the author himself, hastily completing what he refers to as ?the new Bible? -- a book that will turn the world into an army of vicious killers, wiping themselves out to make room for a new order of slimy, toothy monsters (?Every species can smell its own extinction,? Cane remarks thoughtfully.) As much a sly satire on the "movie violence causes real violence" argument as it is a solid piece of horror filmmaking, In the Mouth of Madness is something of a return to form for Carpenter, following his uncharacteristic failure with his last feature Memoirs of an Invisible Man. Clearly having a ball, Carpenter fills the screen with equal amounts of unsettling atmosphere and shameless jolts, while at the same time successfully walking the tightrope that separates the horrific from the hilarious. In this department, Carpenter is aided greatly by Neill, whose witty performance adds resonance to questionable lines of dialogue and believability to every outlandish plot twist. Prochnow, as devilish author Sutter Cane, is wonderfully creepy, saying lines like, "This one will drive you absolutely mad!" with hellish glee. Of course, it's not perfect, with most of the problems lying with Michael DeLuca's script, which has a tendency to dissolve into a series of gory, scattershot "skits" during the second act (Credit goes to Carpenter for working wonders with this section, treating it with a light touch not unlike a fun-filled trip through a haunted-house carnival ride.) However, the film's faults are easily overlooked in view of its strengths: i.e., Neill's performance, Carpenter's sense of mood, his smart use of the widescreen format -- not to mention all the mutations, special effects, and the hilariously self-reflexive finale that diverts your attention. All in all, In the Mouth of Madness is a fun, clever horror picture, full of creepy crawlies, things that go bump in the night, and references to everyone from H.P. Lovecraft to Dario Argento. Welcome back, John Carpenter, and keep up the good work.