I got to rewatch on of my favourite John Carpenter films for the blog this week, In the Mouth of Madness, which brings Lovecraftian horror to the screen in a way that hadn’t been done before, and honestly helped introduce me to his writing, which albeit is racist, but also incredibly unnerving and frightening, happily Carpenter’s film keeps only the horrific elements in this film that eels like a nod to horror fiction, especially the giants like Lovecraft and King, while also commenting on the perception of reality.
Sam Neill (always someone I enjoy watching) plays John Trent, an insurance investigator, who is hired by Arcane Publishers, to track down their top cash cow, the horror author Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow), who has disappeared before he can deliver his most recent novel, In the Mouth of Madness.
Cane’s work has had an effect on his readers,and there have been outbreaks of violence, and strange reports surfacing, but Trent charts it up to b.s. and a great marketing gambit. But he takes the case, and soon begins to question not only reality but his own existence,as the fabric of reality seems to change around him all at the whim of one horror author, and the Old Ones that he writes about.
Trent with an Arcane representative, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen) travelling with him, seeks out Cane, having pieced together through clues, and finds himself, somehow, in what should be a fictional town, Hobb’s End. Styles knows the details of all the inhabitants because she’s served as Cane’s editor, and things really get weird and frightening after that.
Paintings move, strange things are happening, and one lonely boy on a bicycle becomes increasingly creepy, and there’s a loan church standing above the town that some of the locals have warned has leaked something out, something that has infected the children first and is now turning the rest of the town.
The film talks about the belief a reader has in their subject matter while they read it, they buy into it, and enough people buy into that form of reality, who’s to say it’s not real? And what happens to everyone else who doesn’t read? Or believe in that kind of thing?
Neill, as always, is fantastic, and seems very at home in the John Carpenter universe, watching how his character changes, and his final fate is horrifying if you truly think about it.
I also love the fact that all the creatures described in Cane’s works (as well as Lovecraft’s before him) are referred to as indescribable so we only catch glimpses of them on the screen, very much keeping with the less is more trait of filmmaking and letting the viewer’s imagination do some of the work, which is what makes horror novels so frightening for some readers – their imagination brings them write in, creating the reality, the basis for what is happening in the film.
But what is reality? And what if you’re just a character written up by someone to be featured in some tale you aren’t even aware your a part of?
Love this movie, it remains in my top three Carpenter films, and I love re-watching it – the story’s great, Neill brings his all to the performance – he has bought in completely to the film, and of course Carpenter helps deliver the score as well.
This for me, is practically perfect John Carpenter.