In The Mouth Of Madness * * * 1/2

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Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: Michael De Luca.
Starring: Sam Neill, Jürgen Prochnow, Charlton Heston, David Warner, John Glover, Julie Carmen, Bernie Casey, Peter Jason, Frances Bay, Hayden Christensen.

After “The Thing” in 1982 and “Prince Of Darkness” in 1987, director John Carpenter completed his self-titled ‘Apocalypse trilogy’ in 1994 with “In The Mouth Of Madness“. Unfortunately, by this point, Carpenter couldn’t get any strong studio backing for his projects and as a result his excellent concepts never really took off as well as they could have. This film is another example of the financial problems that he was facing.

When renowned horror writer Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) makes a sudden disappearance, strange things begin to happen. His ability to describe evil, literally, starts to come to life and effect everyone in society. To investigate his mysterious disappearance, Insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) is sent to a little East Coast town called Hobb’s End. However, this little town is actually a figment of Cane’s imagination and Trent soon finds himself questioning his own sanity as he is drawn further and further into the dark recesses of Cane’s twisted mind.

As always with Carpenter, the concept and premise is one of sheer brilliance and it possesses more than few references to real life horror writers Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft but unlike his previous efforts there is something amiss here. Maybe it’s because Carpenter doesn’t actually write the script himself or even compose the soundtrack with the idiosyncratic and atmospheric style that fans of his will be accustomed to. Despite the excellent premise, I found that the films major issue was a lack of drive. It didn’t catch me the way it did when I first seen it. Also, it suffers from a failure to bring a depth to any character other than Sam Neill’s investigator. Sutter Cane is a very intriguing antagonist with a lot of potential but he features very little and when he does appear, the films budget is tested in order to realise it’s horror. All in all, this struck me as an attempt from Carpenter to appeal to a wider audience and as a result sacrificed the very style that made him a unique filmmaker to begin with. That’s not to say that this is a poor film. It’s not. It’s very cleverly constructed and for the most part, very well delivered. Carpenter is a master at his build up and construction of atmosphere, meanwhile, cleverly unravelling the mystery. However, the film takes a little too long to get going and just when it’s hitting it crescendo, it feels rushed and over a bit too soon.

For the most part, Carpenter does well to blur the lines between fantasy and reality but ultimately it doesn’t quite come together as obscurity and pretentiousness creep in. It’s a great attempt, but Carpenter has delivered better.

(This review was part of a collaboration with Eric who runs The IPC. To view the post in full and give Eric some support, go here)

Mark Walker

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41 Responses to “In The Mouth Of Madness * * * 1/2”

  1. I had a chance to read your review yesterday. Great stuff. This is another of his films that I’ve yet to catch up with. It sounds pretty intriguing.

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  2. I thought it was a decent enough horror film. But then again it feels like 20 years since I’ve seen it. Oh wait, it probably was. LOL 😯

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  3. Nice working with you, Mucker!!

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  4. Great job Mark, a good read.

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  5. Good stuff Mark. After revisiting The Thing the other day, which is the only of Carpenter’s stuff I think I’ve seen, I’m intrigued to check out some more of his films.

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    • You should definitely check out more, man. Carpenter has done some fantastic stuff. Some of them are a little dated now but his ideas and delivery have, for the most part, been excellent.

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  6. top film, saw this years ago but TBH I couldn’t remember it now so a revisit is on the cards – stop nicking the good films to review 😉 3.5 seems fair (but I dont do halfs, may have to consider, these stars aren’t working for me :))

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    • When I seen it the first time I loved it but it didn’t hold up the way I thought it would. Still, it’s a decent little flick. Had to go with the half star. I find it gives you more leeway. Not quite a four but a three would have been slightly unfair.

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  7. I like Sam Neill and I remember I almost rented this one, but didn’t get to it for some reason. Not sure if I’m too enthused about it to be honest.

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    • It’s a decent flick Ruth. If you like Neill, you should give it a go. He’s actually quite good in it. I’m not overly enthusiastic on him but I really liked him in this role. The horror element isn’t too heavy, it’s more psychological. And for that, it’s worthy of some attention.

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  8. I need to rewatch this. I remember loving it but your review definitely makes me want to check it out again.

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  9. That Eric gets about 😉

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  10. Hi, Mark:

    Every now and then a director executes freaking weird and creepy very well.

    Cronenberg bottled lighting with ‘The Dead Zone’. And years later, Carpenter did it with ‘… Mouth of Madness’. Low to medium budget, no frills scary goodness with Sam Neill slipping into insanity…
    Or is he?

    Great choice and dissertation!

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    • Hey Jack,

      Good to see you stop by again. Yeah, I’d really like to see The Dead Zone again. It’s been a long time. Normally, I’m not fond of Cronenberg but he has delivered the goods on a few occasions and if I remember correctly, The Dead Zone was one of them.

      As for Carpenter’s execution of creepy, I’d say Prince of Darkness was one of his finest moments. That film really got to me. Didn’t think In The Mouth of Madness came close to that but he still delivered a good little flick.

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  11. It is a shame this film doesn’t get talked about in the same light as Halloween and The Thing. I think it is one of Carpenter’s best films…I love the concept of the story and while it certainly isn’t perfect, it’s a gripping thriller with some awesome visuals (and a strong performance from Neill).

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    • I enjoyed it more when i first seen it Dan. The concept is definitely a strong one but unfortunately doesnt quite rank amongst my Carpenter favourites. Still, I do think it does deserve a bit more respect than it recieves. Thanks for dropping in, man.

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  12. I’d be interested to see how this movie held up if I watched it again. I caught it a few times on video after it came out, and I remember having a lot of fun with its crazy premise. The first hour in particular is really effective as Trent doesn’t realize all the craziness that surrounds the town. The mystery is a lot of fun, though the resolution is a little weak. Of course, this is coming from my memory from a while back. Cool review!

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    • Your memory serves you well Dan. It was good going in the beginning and the premise keeps you hooked but it seems to fall apart eventually. It’s not dreadful or anything – I still had fun – but the unravelling of it all stopped holding my interest.

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  13. Victor De Leon Says:

    Great review! Probably my favorite JC film from the 90’s. Great commentary on the DVD too with JC and his DP Gary Kibbe. You are correct that the film deserves more respect. I’m glad you reviewed it and are spreading the word on this oft overlooked JC horror gem.

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    • Thanks Vic. I remember liking this more when I first seen it and it didn’t quite live up to my memory but it’s still a good Carpenter pic and probably one of his last decent movies. For the concept alone it deserves a bigger audience.

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  14. Great work here Mark, though it is a pity it wasn’t all it could have been for you!

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    • I did actually quite it, Zoe. Fabulous concept but I just think Carpenter was trying a little to hard to appeal to a wider audience rather than rely on his usual traits. Still, it’s by no means a poor film. It’s got lots of good stuff happening.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You certainly liked it more than Eric (so I found out when checking – significantly more).

        But I can see that there are a few things that didn’t come together as well as some of his other stuff, you are right in that. As a reader, though, this was fantastic brain food for me to play with endlessly when it was all over hahaha. 😀

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      • I did? For some reason, I thought Eric liked it more. We’ve done a few double-Takes now, though, so my memory is hazy. Yeah, for the most part, it worked. I just wasn’t keen in Sutter Kane not being explored more as be was a great villain, and the sfx looked cheap as well. Small gripes though. I still gave it a healthy rating. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hahahaha you should go see what he had to say, I had me a good laugh about it. Unimpressed Chop was unimpressed.

        He would really have been very interesting to see more details on – that is one thing that did let me down. He had potential to be so much.

        You certainly did score it nicely. 😀

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      • Haha! I noticed what he was saying. He’s a cheeky boy that Chop! A very cheeky laddie! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  15. For some reason, this movie sounds like it’s right up my street.

    Liked by 1 person

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