Film Review: In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

SYNOPSIS:

John Trent (Sam Neil), an insurance investigator, embarks on a case to track down popular missing horror writer Sutter Kane (Jurgen Prochnow). Trent is true sceptic but slowly he has no choice but to believe what is really happening – that himself and all he sees in the world around him are being written by Kane.

REVIEW:

Director / creator John Carpenter is known for many great contributions to the horror genre. While I do love the more iconic films of his, it is his production of the film “In the Mouth of Madness (1994)” that really stands among my favorites. With its Lovecraftian tonality and it’s sharp storyline, “In the Mouth of Madness” is best described as unique and compelling. Research on this title indicates that the film is derived from the influence of 2 HP Lovefcraft titles known as “At the Mountains of Madness” and The “Shadow Over Innsmouth”. It’s theme plays on the subject of insanity and sensationalism.

Speaking of sensationalism….it warrants necessary inquiry with the simple question, “Do you read Sutter Cane?”. This question is where we begin. Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) is a well known author. Maybe too well known, as his books have become that of a cult-interest spawning readers of fanatical proportion across the globe. Sutter Kane has disappeared before the release of his next book which has become an immediate priority #1 for his publishing company “Arcane Publishing”. Kane was working on a manuscript for his final novel in a popular series before his disappearance.

Arcane Director Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston) has hired an insurance agent to locate his whereabouts. This agent is John Trent (Sam Neill). He is to be accompanied by Cane’s editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen) in his journey. Though Styles is immediately taken out of the picture when he is shot dead wielding an axe, half insane.

The story begins as it ends….with Trent now found within the safe comforts of an asylum. “In the Mouth of Madness” tells the story recount explained by Trent. In which we are taken back in time to when it all began.

The film provides a foundation of mystery surrounding this famed author’s disappearance. Kane’s books move beyond simple reading as they are explained to cause physical side effects like disorientation, paranoia, and sometimes memory loss. This might explain their cult like appeal. Though Trent, a skeptic, thinks the whole thing to be a publicity stunt to promote his novels and takes the job. Clues begin to assemble of which a single location reveals itself as “Hobb’s End” (a fictional place within Kane’s books).

Trent proceeds to follow the bread trails in an effort to see if this fictional place exists. He also begins to hallucinate somewhat with the hauntings of monsters and murder, which are reinforced thru his nightmares. As Trent gets closer to discovery, he is also pulled within a twilight-zone-style destination which includes strange roads, people, and events.

Hobbs End begins to take transformation with a building known as the “Black Church” feeding in sort of an overall dark supernatural pollutant through the town. Trent does locate Kane within this church. Kane has been busy writing his latest work titled “In The Mouth Of Madness”. The novel proves to be supernatural in itself often invoking insanity into those who read it. The “novel” may also be the fall of mankind if ever published. Trent realizes that he has become a part of its story and that due to the overwhelming interest in Kane’s books, they have created reality out of fiction spawning forth the threat of a race of supernatural beings based within Kane’s eldritch fiction.

The film takes the idea of fantastical fiction and transforms it into realism originating from mass appeal. Trent finds that he is only a player in a much bigger reveal with a surprise ending waiting for him when he gets there.

“In the Mouth of Madness” really takes to heart its Cthulian influences especially in the 3rd act. In many ways it mirrors a fiction that grows out of the “what a famous horror author might see as a reality gone mad”. Upon completion, it almost feels like you’ve taken a ride thru Stephen King’s nightmares (or other noted horror author) and seen what would happen if worlds became twisted and influenced by the forces of what we read. The films quite brilliant and delivers a brilliant performance by genre favorite Sam Neill. It’s one of those stories that has a journey, a message, and is fantastical to watch. Like the premise of the movie itself, it requires multiple viewings…but in this case…its just simply due to it being SO damn good. Out of the wave of Lovecraftian films created, “In the Mouth of Madness” feels like the closest thing to a literal adaptation of the man’s work. The film’s ending and prologue are nicely wrapped making it a complete full circle experience.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

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