In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

Film review: In the Mouth of Madness (1994), directed by John Carpenter

In this horror flick by legendary director John Carpenter, we see Sam Neill as John Trent, a freelance insurance fraud investigator. When we first meet him, he’s dragged off into an asylum, headed by John Glover. A doctor called Wrenn (David Warner) comes to visit Trent, who has been confined to a padded cell, which he has adorned with thousands of crosses drawn in black crayon. But he’s not insane, oh no, and to explain why he isn’t, he starts telling his story …

John Trent was hired by a man (Bernie Casey) to investigate the disappearance of bestseller horror author Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow). Apparently, Cane has gone missing and the script for his latest book with it … and the publishers (headed by Charlton Heston, no less) needed it yesterday.

Trent starts reading the previous Sutter Cane books and thinks he might know where he can be found, so it’s off to try finding the fictional town of Hobb’s End, which is where Cane’s novels are normally set. Could there be such a town? Together with Cane’s editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), Trent sets off in search of the infamous author, and then the lines between reality and fiction get seriously blurred.

If you like your HP Lovecraft, this is going to be right up your alley. Tentacled “unspeakables” galore. If you find HP Lovecraft a bit, umm, lame … then you’re probably not going to be particularly scared. And that’s kind of the point about a horror movie, isn’t it? To scare people. I don’t remember even feeling a slight chilling of the spine the first time I saw this film years ago, and I felt nothing now either.

That being said, what happens to Trent is indeed a nightmare, there’s no two ways about it, but it doesn’t frighten me. Which is sad, because if it had been scary, it would have been excellent. As it is, it’s a bit gory and decidedly weird and mind-twisting, but not something to lose sleep over.

Being a fan of Sam Neill, I can’t help but love his performance in this. From sceptical arrogance to confusion, being frustrated and frightened and then the whole barking madness, it’s brilliant. Really a treat to watch. If you’re not a fan in particular, you’re still in for a treat.

The concept of lines being blurred between what’s real and what isn’t is very compelling, but if it descends into tentacled monsters, it gets a bit meh, to be honest. But at least it’s not actually a bad film.

3 out of 5 manuscripts that will make you lose your mind if you finish reading.

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