Released: 16th June 1995 (currently only available on Region 1)
One lingering question hangs over this film like one great big black cloud, why the hell is it not available on region 2??? I really, honestly don’t get it. My number two best horror of the nineties, and it has appeared on many horror lists as one of the best. This film was the reason i eventually got my dvd player chipped. Some dumb fuck somewhere has let this one sit on the shelf for 15 bloody years as a vhs only version in the UK. Come on distributors, sort it the fuck out!!!!
Rant over, now to the good stuff . Oh my oh my, what a film we have here! Most definitely Carpenter’s last classic, and easily his best since the Thing, in fact, it’s probably his second best film, behind the Thing. In the Mouth of Madness is a real brain teaser. I remember my first viewing of this film, and going down the local straight after watching it. I sat there, in a corner, i didn’t speak to anyone for some time, i just stared out into space, sipping my beer. My brain was a mess, my senses were all over the place, i couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t think straight. Am i living in reality here, or is this some bizarre incident from a story, am i a puppet, is nothing i do or say my own choices, is reality really what i think it is, or have i got it all wrong. Bloody hell, when a horror fucks up your poor little brain and turns you into a blundering, almost vegetable, hell it deserves your full respect!!! I was a total mess down the pub, and it took me a few beers to get my head straight.
The film is lead by Sam Neil who plays an insurance guy by the name of John Trent, a realist, a guy who sees what’s in front of him and doesn’t believe in, shall we say, hocus pocus He has been hired by a publishing company to track down their most profitable writer, the mysterious Sutter Cane. Cane, apparently, out sell’s Stephen King by the bucket load and his work is known to have an effect on the reader, basically turning them into a bit of a psychotic, basically, a bit like me down the pub that night Trent decides to delve into this horror writers work after being told of how is books effect people. A truly mesmerising scene see’s Trent and his boss in a cafe talking about the case, whilst creeping up outside is a crazy looking man who looks like he should be homeless. He has a huge great axe, and uses it to smash through the cafe’s windows in order to ask Trent “do you read Sutter Cane” in a strange, higher than expected voice. He could’ve just used the door, but it wouldn’t have had the same effect! He is shot dead, and Trent is a little nervous, and after finding out the guy was actually Cane’s agent, Trent starts to believe that maybe the books do have some sort of hold over its readers.
Trent reads, and nightmare visions become all too frequent. A brilliant scene, reminiscent of the classic dream sequence from An American Werewolf in London, sees Trent wake up from a nightmare, only to turn head on into another. Its these moments that show Carpenter’s skill, and proof that he can make as many Ghosts of fuckin Mars as he wants, but he still has this film under his belt! Starting to go a little mad himself, Trent believes he has found a map to Hobb’s End, the town mentioned in all Cane’s books, and the place he expects to find him. He heads off, using his map and taking a female publisher, and has an almost childlike optimism that this whole thing is a set up, a way of getting him to help sell Cane’s new book. The build up before this gradually gets more and more intense, as Trent’s visions and mental state seem to be getting worse. And who better to play the part than the King of all things weird and crazy, Sam Neill. Anyone else, the film would not have been as good, it would still have been a classic, but Sam Neill’s commanding central performance pushes its level of greatness just that little bit further.
As we head towards Hobbs End, Carpenter is clearly relishing in his inventiveness at really messing with our heads. We have Cane’s agent who keeps making an appearance to Trent’s dreams, saying “he see’s you”, and an odd looking Cane fan in a book shop also telling Trent “I see you”. Everyone seems to be able to see him! So Carpenter brings us to Hobbs End in fantastic style. Trent, still full of excitement at this hoax, the woman sleeping, and we start to see a young lad on a bike ride past the car in the middle of nowhere, in the dead of night. Not once, but a few times. It’s creepy to say the least. The woman takes over driving, and in a scene very much like the arrival of the Cenobites in Hellraiser, she drives through a dark tunnel with strange lights coming through the gaps. Bright light all of a sudden, Hobb’s End, we have arrived. Fully expected to be the stuff of nightmares, it look like your average country town. Nothing strange or odd about it. What the hell was all this fuss about. They check into a hotel from one of Cane’s novels, but hey, what that? The woman who apparently cut her husband into little pieces is nothing but a frail old bag who probably couldn’t harm a fly! But there is something sinister going on, the paintings seem to be moving….
Trent still believes it all to be a hoax, and even after witnessing the towns folk attempting to Lynch Cane at his Demon church in order to get their kids back, Trent does not believe. Nobody pulls his strings, this is NOT reality!! Carpenter lets loose some great set pieces, like Cane’s dogs coming out from the church, all in slow motion, and attacking the locals, the excellent use of paintings which are ever changing, the creepy old lady in the hotel, could she really murder her husband? The mood continues to darken and become more and more dreamlike. One of horrors truly great moments happens as Trent decides enough is enough and he tries to leave. After witnessing the woman he is with swallowing the car keys, and letting out a really heartfelt “Jesus!!!!”, he drives off. That young lad who they kept seeing at the side of the road, is there again, this time he is old and they knock him off his bike. After riding off, Trent is dealt another horrific blow, his lady friend has turned herself upside down, in a brilliant special effects and perfect sound effects moment, and she appears from behind the car. You almost want to laugh, but it’s just too damn unsettling to laugh at, you’re horrified! And then Carpenters big moment comes, one of horrors true greats, Trent on his way out of town, suddenly drives back into town “a few bad judgements, a few wrong turns” says Trent Ok, let’s try again, whoops, no, not gonna happen! He can’t get out! Its genius, a brilliant brilliant moment!
Even after all this, all this pure horror brilliance, playing everything perfectly, doing everything you always hoped a horror would deliver, Carpenter still has even more great moments up his sleeve. In the Mouth of Madness is literally full of all those horror moments that you cannot help but love. Not horror cliché’s, Carpenter is too full of ideas here for that, but horror moments, and some even nodding back to the 80’s heyday. Another nod to Hellraiser is when Trent is literally chased out of Hobbs End after being told his fate by Cane, and a bunch of wonderful, non-CGI moments chase him. You only get glimpses of the beasts, but it’s just enough, and they do look awesome. Cane himself is not quite how you expected him to be, he’s devilish and creepy but has a charm to him, a feeling you would’ve got from Julian Sands as the Warlock. He’s evil, but not made to look over the top evil. He doesn’t need to hide behind horrific monstrous looks; he’s more a confident evil bastard!
We finish off on a most excellent ending, full of more head fuck, jump out of your seat moments. We truly sympathise with Trent’s mental state, and a sudden moments when everything inside his coach turns blue, you find yourself literally screaming along with him. I won’t go into any detail about the end in case you haven’t seen it, but it’s a great twist, and very few horrors have pulled off a mind-trip quite like this. It’s a truly wonderful finish to a perfectly polished film, and the final scene will either have you applauding at its greatness, laughing at its irony, and screaming your damn head off. Either way, In The Mouth of Madness is one of the last truly great horrors with more ideas than it could justifiably squeeze in to 95mins, more terror, more brute power than most other horrors put together. It is a one off, one that doesn’t require a sequel, or a feckin remake, it just requires a damn fine special edition version on region 2!!!!