Throw-Back Movie Reviews: "In the Mouth of Madness" by Ben Foutch

In the Mouth of Madness
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Sam Neill, Julie Carmen
Release: 1994
Run Time: 95 min

What is reality? If you could define it, would your reality conflict with someone else’s? Those are some questions that In the Mouth of Madness asks its viewers to ponder while watching a man’s descent into the abyss of his own mind. Many critics and viewers didn’t respond well to the execution of this film upon its release in 1994, which is understandable considering the confusing nature of the narrative. However, this film has always struck a chord with me, and still holds up after all these years.

John Trent (Sam Neill) is an insurance fraud investigator hired by a publishing company to find bestselling horror fiction writer, Sutter Cane, after he mysteriously disappears. But there is only one problem. Reading Cane’s work tends to make people become slightly…insane. After reading some of Cane’s books, John starts to have some vivid nightmares. It is not long after this, John and Linda (Julie Carmen), Cane’s editor, begin to lose grasp on reality as they search for the missing author in a supposedly fictional town, Hobb’s End. John holds firm to his beliefs, but Linda is sure that their fate as well as mankind’s, is determined by Cane’s fiction.

This is definitely an inspired effort by Carpenter, which on the surface, clearly plays like an unapologetic love letter to all that is Lovecraft (no complaints from this guy). However, this is not exactly a film that should be taken on a surface level. The philosophical themes mixed with bizarre shifts in character perspective clearly indicate that Carpenter wants us to leave with more than just scary images of monsters floating around in our heads. The creatures are merely a device that builds tension and moves John from point A to point B while giving us some guilty pleasure-like entertainment during the final act.

It is safe to say that Carpenter fell flat on the entertainment value for the portion of the market looking for more suspense and scares on the same level as “Halloween” or “The Thing”. I certainly understand and respect that. After all, we come to anticipate and expect certain things from our favorite directors. I think it took some guts for Carpenter to make this film. It is certainly not straight forward like his previous releases; instead there is a more cerebral approach. If Madness was executed with more of a fine tuned touch as Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”, this could easily have had a similar impact as “Halloween” or “The Thing”. Maybe preconceived judgment of how a Carpenter film should be played a part in the general dismay of the movie going public. Would this have gotten a different reception if it was directed by an unknown?

I’ll end this review with some things for you to think about. Are you sure that your reality is the same as your friends and loved ones; the world in general? Do you believe everything that is written for mass consumption? Does your own preconceived ideas get in the way to seeing a deeper truth?