|In the Mouth of Madness|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 08 February 2000|
‘In the Mouth of Madness’ has the effect of a tap on your shoulder when you’re sure you’re alone. Director John Carpenter and screenwriter Michael De Luca demonstrate that they know what works when it comes to horror. The audience (particularly those who are familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft) may have some idea of where all this is generally headed and anybody who’s ever seen anything in this genre will want to yell at the screen when the female lead goes exploring alone in the middle of the night. However, none of this detracts from how exuberantly and unnervingly the filmmakers tell their story.
When we meet John Trent (Sam Neill), he’s strait-jacketed and heading for a solitary cell in a mental institution. He seems violent and dangerous, but then, the outside world seems more ominous than usual. We find out why as Trent tells his tale of dread and doom to a government psychiatrist (David Warner). Flash back to the not-too-distant past. Trent is an insurance investigator hired by a publishing house to track down star horror author Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow). Cane’s best-selling works have been rumored to send "less stable" readers over the edge. Accompanied by Cane’s editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), Trent tracks the AWOL writer to the weird little New England town of Hobb’s End. Styles recognizes the place as something straight out of Cane’s prose to the last detail, not a good sign, given the kind of things that happen in (and inhabit) the locale.
The DVD is handsome and clear. Set-up, with choice of audio and video formats, comes before the film starts (both the widescreen and full-screen versions are on the same side as menu options, rather than on opposite sides of the disk). A supplemental track features director John Carpenter and director of photography Gary B. Kibbe. Although Carpenter provides a few anecdotes about filming - such as actor Neill being injured by broken glass but soldiering on like a pro - he primarily interviews Kibbe about the lighting and lenses. This will be instructive for budding cinematographers, but will likely be pretty dry for general audiences. More interesting is Carpenter’s observation that he considers ‘In the Mouth of Madness’ to be part of an "apocalypse trilogy" that also includes his remake of ‘The Thing’ and ‘Prince of Darkness.’
Carpenter and De Luca pull off the heady feat of spinning a number of intellectual plates at once while proceeding to crank tension to the breaking point. Neill’s central performance is a strong asset, as he creates a likable figure who moves from blithe skepticism to incredulity to pathetic terror with zest and conviction. ‘In the Mouth of Madness’ is a wild, phantasmagoric nightmare in which the oft-abused ethos of anything-goes-for-a-scare actually works. There’s a fair amount of humor (most of it on the dark side) to keep us engaged, but the movie succeeds in eliciting real chills as well. The filmmakers seem a little unsure of how to cap their achievement at the finale, but by then they’ve more than put their point across. Although the creepy glee of ‘Mouth’ contrasts with the dourness of Lovecraft’s fiction, the essence of that seminal writer’s Cthulhu mythos comes through loud and clear.