In The Mouth Of Madness - Insanely Inside; literally!

It is a late highpoint in a career that was inarguably plummeting

by Chris McEneany Nov 29, 2013 at 2:47 PM

  • Movies Article


    In The Mouth Of Madness - Insanely Inside; literally!
    “Do you read Sutter Cane?”

    I may have ruffled a few feathers with my opinion on John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, but I still regard that as being the point at which the cult filmmaker began to go off the boil. Subsequent movies were almost all letdowns, but 1994’s In the Mouth of Madness is definitely an exception to that sad transition. Although hardly earth-shattering in terms of audacity of plot – Assault on Precinct 13, Escape From New York, The Thing and even They Live were extremely provocative in their high-concept and daring scenarios – it represents Carpenter having a great deal of fun and still cleverly making pointed observations about the link between fiction and reality, the responsibility of the artist, celebrities and the ludicrous power that their devout followers furnish them with, and the invisible demarcation line between sanity and madness. And it is immensely enjoyable.

    After box office failure with Memoirs of an Invisible Man, he made the amazingly effective and highly entertaining TV horror anthology movie Body Bags with Tobe Hooper – a concept that could and should have run and run. This ghoulish triplet of tales that featured an unbelievable raft of industry cameos went down pretty well, and In the Mouth of Madness was supposed to be the opportunity to bring the auteur back to his former status as a master of the macabre and the fantastical. Sadly, the curse that had afflicted his movies since, and including The Thing had still not vanished and Madness was a dismal flop as well. Which is entirely unfair in my opinion because this is a damn fine film that actually stands out against many of Hollywood’s horror offerings of the 90’s.

    Absolutely off the rails and infused with the dark and downbeat sense of inevitability that all of his best movies have, these factors may have gone against it in an era of self-conscious revisionist horror set by Wes Craven and the Scream franchise. Certainly, the story may have been a little too sophisticated and wacky for some Multiplex tastes, and even some of the fans seemed unsure whether or not Carpenter was having a go at Stephen King’s fame and glory or celebrating it with an existential ode to the society-changing powers of the creative mind. But Carpenter was cutting loose with a brain-blowing exercise in metaphysical marauding that showboated his unique and distinctive visual style and delivered occult mania and a plethora of blackly comic, FX-laden shenanigans in a surprisingly cerebral story.

    In The Mouth Of Madness

    Carpenter’s genius has always resided in his ability to explore the theme of external evil – the bogeyman, a street gang, alien entities etc – invading the sanctuary of home, the established order, the human body itself or, in this case, the mind and its perception of its own self and independence and the real world outside it. For him, the delights lie in how individuals manage to rise to the challenge, to fight back, to cling onto their own individuality and identity. Normality is put through the wringer, ordinary people forced to dig deep into their resolve and find the will to survive.

    Whereas most similarly themed horror films of the monster-on-the-loose or the slasher picture tend to be rather obvious and black and white in their mechanics, the best of Carpenter has always been fuelled by a terrific sense of the unknown and the purely uncanny. Michael Myers just keeps on getting up and we don’t really know why he does what he does. The seaweed-smothered ghouls in The Fog act neither like ghosts nor zombies, but as something irrevocably “other” again. The alien shape-shifter from under the ice in The Thing defies all conventional analysis and association. As does the ’58 Plymouth Fury in Christine, which reveals no formulaic explanation for its malicious behavior. And, of course, this brings us round to Stephen King, who wrote the original novel Christine and forms one side of the double-edged narrative sword that cleaves through this movie.

    In the Mouth of Madness is ripe supernatural genre fare with a decidedly blackly comic twist. Written by Michael De Luca, who is better known as a producer with the big screen adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey to his credit as well, it travels along a surprisingly well thought-out trajectory that unites the shapeless horrors from the void so frequently warned of by H.P. Lovecraft with the mind-bending fantastical ambiguity so often encountered in The Twilight Zone. It confounds logic in many ways, yet makes perfect sense in a host of others. It is, in short, a brilliant piece of horror hokum that authentically teases the grey cells as much as it jerks the knees.
    In the Mouth of Madness is ripe supernatural genre fare with a decidedly blackly comic twis
    Insurance fraud investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) is employed by a prestigious publishing house to track down their cash-cow, the world’s most popular and bestselling author, horror specialist Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow), who seems to have vanished from the face of the Earth before submitting the final manuscript of his latest novel, entitled In The Mouth of Madness. With fans literally going crazy as they await the book, Trent’s canny detective brain uncovers the trail to where Cane’s secret hideaway might be – the lost town of Hobb’s End in New England. Publisher Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston) agrees to send him out there to pinch the collar of the maverick writer and get back the manuscript that is now their property, so long as his assistant Linda Styles (Julie Carmen) accompanies him.

    But what they find in Hobb’s End is a haunted town, lost in its own dimension and under the full control of Cane, himself, who now has the power to manipulate life with his writing. As their world collapses around them, reality bending itself inside-out, Trent and Styles discover horrors and mutations and monsters galore. Cane is summoning the Old Ones from their slumber in a deep, dark abyss and, if his new book is read by enough people, the combined strength of their belief will bring about the end of the world. And even if a lot of people don’t bother with books in this day and age, we are ominously informed that there is a movie coming out as well. The masses will be exposed and the apocalypse will be wrought, by hook or by crook. But preferably by book.

    Carpenter and De Luca are having a ball with the literary tie-ins. The titles of the Sutter Cane novels are very similar to those of Lovecraft’s tales. Certain character names (Frances Bay’s creepy Hobb’s End hotelier Mrs. Pickford) and the inclusion of the black byzantine-spired church are culled from genuine stories, as is the idea of ancient and evil gods wanting to gain dominion over our world. When Trent reads aloud the history of the dark church, Neill is actually reciting Lovecraft’s prose, as is Styles when Carmen reads about what Trent is seeing in the “carrion-black pit” on the other side of the portal that is no longer keeping mankind safe. Although the name of this haunted hamlet sounds like something that the New England writer would dream up, it is actually a reference back to the location in which most of the action of Quatermass and the Pit takes place … Carpenter perhaps insisting on another little hark back to one of his inspirations in esteemed British fantasist and creator of Prof. Bernard Quatermass, Nigel Kneale. Hobb is an old name for the Devil, so it is hardly inappropriate anyway.

    In The Mouth Of Madness

    Arguably, Carpenter had already dabbled with Lovecraft with his leprous mariner-wraiths in The Fog (although he used a quote from Edgar Allen Poe to open that ghostly tale) and with the shocking manifestations and transformations seen in The Thing – the mutating creature seen in the painting on the wall of the hotel foyer is a fine example of something we could have witnessed in that Antarctic research outpost. But this combines the popularity of a writer like Stephen King - the name Sutter Cane, itself, has the same verbal impact as Stephen King too - with the grotesquerie of EC Comics, which were often inspired by Lovecraft and, in turn, would inspire both King and Carpenter. So the cultural and genre lineage is clear to all.

    “Reality is not what it used to be!”

    Why Madness works so well, however, is because it is all over the place – and deliberately so. When tackling the mind-altering terrors of Lovecraft, you cannot expect things to make sense in a proper linear fashion. The paranoid author’s characters often opened gateways to other dimensions and the concept of reality was regularly turned on its head. Thus, once Trent and Styles begin their odyssey to find Hobb’s End, we experience events from both their separate points-of-view, despite later revelations that this story all seems to have been in Trent’s mind and that Styles does not actually exist. Obviously, if this was the case in a more serious film we would only have seen the things that happen to Styles as witnessed by Trent, and never from her own perspective. But this is all part of what Arnie Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall double-agent Doug Quaid would charitably call a mindf***. Cane has written the whole thing and he can write people in and write people out on a whim, as he sees fit.

    Whereas I think Carpenter botched the metaphysical concepts in Prince of Darkness, he largely succeeds here because he isn’t really trying to prove anything. He’s just stringing together a series of crazy set-pieces along an increasingly mysterious thread, but his basic grasp on the fragility of our perception of reality is strong and well developed, with results that are often spellbinding. When you are thrust into an environment that blends the real and the unreal, blurring conventional terms of reference … then, folks, all bets are off and anything can happen. This is where Carpenter captures that essence of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone so well. Trent getting zapped from place to place may seem like narrative convenience but this is all down to Cane’s authorship and manipulation of events and, thus, it is no conceit. Rather, all part of a malign masterplan.

    I think the film works on two separate and highly valuable levels.

    As a piece of creepy and luridly fantastic entertainment it offers shocks aplenty and enough bizarre situations to keep the rug almost continually hauled from beneath your feet. We are basically along for the ride in what is Carpenter’s most flamboyant entry in his enjoyably bleak Apocalypse Trilogy, which also includes The Thing and Prince of Darkness. (To be honest, Escape from New York should be included to make this a quartet, as Snake Plissken pretty much decides the fate of the human race when he rips-up that crucial Presidential tape on nuclear physics and limps off into the night.)

    But there is a more considered subtext about the effects of pop culture phenomena that goes a little deeper than you might first think. Using celebrated classical fantasist H.P. Lovecraft as his foundation, the obvious target, or inspiration is very definitely Stephen King and the power he wielded over horror/fantasy literature. King once remarked about the filmmaker putting his own name before the title on his excellent adaptation of Christine, calling it John Carpenter’s Christine, saying that the audiences will decide just whose Christine it is. Do we detect in Madness, evidence of Carpenter further stamping his claim of ownership on the genre, albeit in a wittier, more self-effacing fashion? I think so.
    Sam Neill is typically brilliant. When is he ever not?
    Sam Neill is typically brilliant. When is he ever not? Even the risible TV show Alcatraz shone whenever he was onscreen. Paul Anderson’s Event Horizon, a film that promised so much and set its sights so high that it simply had no hope of ever reaching them, is still hugely engaging to watch because of Neill’s performance at least as much as because of the fabulous Alien/Geiger-esque art design. Neill can play heroes, villains, wizards, paleontologists, supporting cast fence-sitters and even the Anti-Christ and bring to all a certain believable gravitas and dignity that effortlessly elevates them from the scripted incarnation. Trent is a smug, distrustful wiseass. He is not as cynical or world-weary as many other actors would have played him, though. He knows the angles, understands the scams, accepts that things are rarely what they seem and that most people wear masks and camouflage the truth – which is entirely appropriate for what he will encounter in Hobb’s End – but he has a sense of humour that you wouldn’t find in a full-blown, dyed-in-the-wool cynic.

    And, with this in mind, Neill brings to him a sense of frivolity and amusement to someone who could have been a stereotypical Doubting Thomas a la Dana Andrews’ skeptical American academic Professor Holden in Tourneur’s awesome Night of the Demon, and run the risk of making him brusque and unlikeable as a direct result. Even when confronted by a mad axe-man, he is quick to grin and recover his senses. Neill gives him the Bogart/Mitchum favourite of tugging of the earlobe as a little character trait whenever he is dubious about what he is being told. This is not just a personal foible, it is actually a little sign that Trent is giving away to show the potential liar that he is onto them … a sort of Columbo-like intimidation to subliminally wear them down. Neill loves the genre, as you can tell from his tremendous CV – remember he was also in Andrzej Zulawski’s highly controversial art-house horror Possession – and he would come up with ideas for the film, such as shooting a scene from high above the actors to give a weird, off-kilter stimulus. He is very comfortable with fantasy.

    Carpenter enjoys the dream-within-a-dream concept of double-shocking us that John Landis did so well with in American Werewolf … only Carpenter goes a stage further and wallops us with a triple-whammy with his aggressive pus-faced copper – “You want some too, buddy?” What I love about this is that you can plainly see the third spasmic knee-jerk coming but it still works! This sort of thing is often labeled as being obtained from the cheap trick aisle, but it takes a good director, a good editor and fine acting to pull it off even though the audience’s collective sixth sense is tingling, and all three elements are in perfect alignment here. Even if he is hardly going for broke, and pretty much playing things by the numbers, Carpenter proves, quite maddeningly, that he still has the cojones to conjure up the frights, although there has been precious little else to back that up in the films just preceding Madness and whatever came afterwards. I really enjoy The Ward though, and it seems to prove this point about it not entirely mattering how obvious the gag might be. Or, in the case of 2010 film, how obvious the entire plot twist is. If the director has you, he should be able to get away with almost anything … and with Madness, Carpenter definitely has us by the metaphysical balls.

    In The Mouth Of Madness

    As each new revelation is unfurled, his escalating paranoia is convincingly met with his own determination to see beneath the charade. Strange things keep on happening, but that furtive, probing mind of his ceaselessly endeavours to find the strings and uncover the puppet-masters behind it all. A nice conceit is that there has, indeed, been some wool pulled over his eyes to get him on Cane’s track, but this is swiftly booted to one side as something far more mysterious and sinister is revealed. It also serves to reinforce how savvy Trent is at smelling rats in the walls. And another is that Trent, himself, remarks that the world would be a better place once people were removed from it. Is this his own belief, or has Cane written him that way? Whichever, it is a prophetic suggestion that comes to pass with devastating impact. As is Styles’ comment to how he would find himself in a padded cell should society share Cane’s point of view and sanity and insanity swap places.

    “I’m not insane!”
    “If he’s not … nor am I!”
    “Me neither!”

    The story is partially told in flashback as Trent discusses the cataclysmic events taking place in the outside world with a visiting doctor in his asylum cell. Once he is trussed-up in his straitjacket, Neill’s wild-haired and grubbier version of Trent actually resembles the zombified Dean Halsey from Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, itself lifted from the pages of Lovecraft. And Neill also affects some neat Jack Nicholson-like expressions and grinning head-turns reminiscent of Mad Jack’s possessed caretaker in The Shining and his OTT take on the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman. I’m not sure how his “one request … for a single black crayon” could result in the entire padded cell, floor, walls, ceiling and mattress, as well his body getting covered in dark crosses for protection, but it is a bold and amusing image of all-out obsession. When his successive attempts to drive right out of Hobb’s End always wind-up with him being turned around and plonked straight back on the same street and facing the same axe-wielding mob, Neill’s realization that this is a psychic loop that he cannot break is marvelously written on his face, an expression that then gains strength when he opts to drive straight at the crowd of deformed denizens instead of trying to flee again. Repetition and fate play a large part in the proceedings, anchoring the sense of cyclic inevitability. Precognition and forewarning also steer our course as everything our two visitors to the town encounter once they are there has been read previously in Cane’s books.
    Repetition and fate play a large part in the proceedings, anchoring the sense of cyclic inevitability
    As we saw in Jurassic Park when his dino-fossil expert first surveys a valley full of the real living thing, Neill has a genuine ability to convey stunned disbelief. He has plenty of occasions to expand upon this talent here. And since he is our main conduit into this deranged universe, each new shock, no matter how daft, gains weight and legitimacy thanks to Neill’s easygoing empathy with us.

    Fright Night II’s Julie Carmen is good value too. Barring the utterly stoned and monotone line delivery of what is a great piece of dialogue after she has been forced to read the ending of the new book, when she collapses onto Trent and moans “I’m losing me. I’m losing me!” she does well with a character that may or may not exist. Carpenter seems to be modeling her on Jessica Harper’s Snow White-like American dance student Suzy Bannion in Dario Argento’s tour de force Suspiria. The hairdo, the wide and innocent eyes, the framing of her against supernaturally inflamed backgrounds. When she experiences the dimensional rift upon entering Hobb’s End, and when she returns to Cane’s writing lair in the byzantine church she especially resembles the fragile and waif-like Harper investigating the Disney-esque and spectacularly baroque den of the occult in Argento’s primary-saturated classic. I just wish that when Styles refuses to run down the tunnel with Trent, informing him that she can’t because she’s read to the end of the book, she capped this off with the line, “and I’m not in it,” as it would have fitted perfectly with the continual assemblage of barbed twists and turns.

    In The Mouth Of Madness

    “God’s not supposed to be a hack horror writer!”

    Buried somewhere beneath an absolute mountain of wayward grey locks, Jurgen Prochnow treads that delicate line between uncanny plaything of the Old Ones and Master-like gamesmanship of those who enter his domain. Without portraying Cane as resolutely evil, Prochnow has a tough job to do. Cane is polite yet sinister, charismatic and somewhat sympathetic yet implacably malevolent. His eyes hint at dark delights and his voice is insidious and provocative. The craggy-faced German actor has a tremendous presence and is able to keep the author’s true intentions a little bit more ambiguous than just being purely demonic. He ruled in Das Boot, of course, and his compassionate German officer in Michael Mann’s adaptation of The Keep is the tragically perfect foil to Gabriel Byrne’s horrible Nazi tyrant. We may never really get to the bottom of what makes Cane tick, but it is great to see Prochnow holding court and hear him clipping syllables with that beguiling Teutonic brogue, especially when he has so many little conversations with his intended messenger-boy of the psychologically trapped Trent. But Cane is a pawn as well. The Old Ones are using him, so he is more of a monstrous front-man, or PR guru for the main event than the real performer.

    After the likes of John Houseman, Donald Pleasance, Lee Van Cleef, Jeff Bridges, Christopher Reeve, James Woods and, erm, Roddy Piper, Carpenter is able to add another classic Hollywood icon to his list with Heston, who supplies some fine gravitas to the powerful but refreshingly un-curmudgeonly Jackson Harglow. He could so easily have chewed the scenery, or merely phoned his performance in but he gives dignity to what was probably only one day’s shooting. For instance, when he informs Trent that the deranged axe-maniac who attacked him and his client and was shot and killed by policemen was actually Cane’s agent and the only person known to have seen part of the final manuscript – and then promptly gone mad – there is an icy, cutting glint in his eyes. And his calm dismissal of Trent’s rather unbelievable story is also dealt with a strangely compassionate acceptance. “That’s quite a story. If you could write it, I’d publish it.”
    His eyes hint at dark delights and his voice is insidious and provocative
    There is even the ever-excellent and versatile David Warner cropping up in the mental institute to examine Trent as Dr. Wrenn, who listens to his queer tale as all hell breaks loose outside. Warner has long been a darling of fantastic cinema. He lost his head after meddling with Damien Thorn in The Omen (interestingly, Sam Neill would go on to play the grown-up version of the antichrist in The Final Conflict). Warner, himself, would play the Ultimate Evil in Terry Gilliam’s exquisite Time Bandits, he would shudder from werewolves in the fairytale enclave of Neil Jordan’s surreal The Company of Wolves and he blaze through the cyber-world as the menacing Sark in Tron. He would even don the hallowed forehead pasty to play a Klingon chancellor in Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country. With credentials like those, you might have hoped that Carpenter could have opened-up his role here, but we are left with little from Warner, other than a grave expression of fatalistic concern when nonchalantly quizzed as to whether or not he reads Sutter Cane as he heads off into a world that has clearly mutated outside the asylum walls.

    Carpenter’s close friend and regular supporting cast member Peter Jason crops up as a sweaty fraudster getting sussed-out by Trent. And see if you can spot a young Hayden Christenson doing the rounds as a paperboy. If only Sutter Cane could have written him out of those Star Wars prequels, eh?

    In The Mouth Of Madness

    “There’s a guard with a swollen pair of testicles who swears you wanted out of here.”

    All along this funhouse ride there are many splendid vignettes. The road-trip sequence is brilliantly realised. The spectre of the cyclist with the playing cards flapping in his spokes that mimics the sails on the little windmill is a superb touch of the truly eerie. In fact, the entire film could have revolved around the concept of this feller’s eternal attempts to escape from Hobb’s End, and still have been great. There is the disturbing imagery of the scarred kids chasing the dog, which is later revealed to have one of its legs torn off. The sheer bravura of the mad axe-man sequence as we see the lunatic coming across the road towards them whilst Trent and his client, Robinson (Bernie Casey), calmly sit and talk and drink coffee, totally oblivious to the chaos taking place outside and heading their way.

    The montage of Trent piecing together the map to Cane’s limbo-locked hideaway via the trail imprinted on the jackets of his paperbacks. The oft-seen image of the mutant cop battering a graffiti artist in an alleyway. The contortionist spider-dog that Styles becomes – a visual reference to both Lovecraft and Carpenter’s own alien shape-shifter – is like the cute love-child of Linda Blair and the hobo/dog hybrid from Philip Kaufman’s superb 70’s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Trent getting a decidedly “blue” visit from Cane on the bus and then awakening with a huge scream. Mrs. Pickford kicking something unseen behind the reception counter, which is then craftily revealed to be the nude and whimpering body of her struggling husband cuffed to her ankle. The egg-on-face conclusion in the movie theatre as Trent settles down in complete madness to watch the film of all that he has just gone through. However, I do think that Carpenter takes the joke a little too far with the visible in-joke credits of this film-within-a-film, patting himself and his crew on the back when it wasn’t really necessary.
    You would find more convincing creatures made out of plastic as free gifts in a cereal box
    Where the film falls down as far as I am concerned – well it’s more of a faltering step than an actual fall – is in its creature-FX. Although I cannot remember who said it, one quote regarding the monsters in the film when it was originally released has always stuck in my mind. The critic said “the monsters would shame the inside of a Corn Flakes packet” meaning that you would find more convincing creatures made out of plastic as free gifts in a cereal box. Well, he’s not too far off the mark. Although the various critters and abominations that manifest themselves under Carpenter’s wrangling are fun to look at, they are considerably sub-par when you compare them to what we saw much earlier in The Thing. Now I am always banging-on about The Thing, and it is true that its groundbreaking FX work from Rob Bottin and Stan Winston’s (the inside-out dog) are revolutionary and still very hard to match, but when 80’s super-make-up team KNB are pulling the latex on the job, I think we could justifiably have expected better. Individual FX, such as the ghoulish cyclist, and other various malformed faces, are very good.

    But the bigger beasts – the tentacled harridan that Mrs. Pickford becomes and the gaggle of meandering monstrosities that spew forth from the other side to chase Trent – are too shiny, too rubbery and too silly to really elicit any shudders. Considering that the crew from KNB, namely Greg (The Walking Dead) Nicotero, Robert Kurtzman and Howard Berger had worked on previously, this can only be attributed to budget and time constraints. With a résumé that includes Day of the Dead, Evil Dead 2, Re-Animator and From Beyond, the level of creativity and imagination on display here is all a bit underwhelming. I remember when Hellraiser first came out and being wowed by Bob Keen’s amazing makeup effects until we saw that scorpion-like, teeth-gnashing guardian in the tunnel that hurtles after Ashley Laurence’s oft-terrorised Kirsty, which now seems related in design, composition and innate fakery to these things.

    On the other hand, the visual effects that were handled by ILM are more than decent, if a tad sporadic. When Styles looks out of the car window to discover that she and the sleeping Trent are driving across a Spielbergian cloudscape electrically illuminated by lightning, it is a striking image. The stretching out of a suddenly revealed tunnel of dark reflections is another great image that sadly then gets a little crowded with KNB’s clunky swarm of ponderous monsters but Neill must have been reminded of this during his days on the Event Horizon set, which this gleaming, onyx-lined corridor resembles. I like the scenic matte paintings supplied by Ian Nelmes, especially the view of the black church from Trent’s hotel window. It’s a bit obvious, I know, but I think you fall for its very unreality. This is a dark variation on the helter-skelter world of Oz, so some theatricality is easily accommodated. As a whole, you still get your money’s worth from the inventiveness on offer, and whatever some of the effects lack in realistic integration they come thick and fast, with either subtlety or in-yer-face emphasis.

    In The Mouth Of Madness

    “What’s to be scared of? It’s not like it’s real or anything.”

    And where would a John Carpenter film be without a proper John Carpenter score? Come on, even the Italian maestro, himself, Ennio Morricone aped Carpenter’s minimalist approach when he scored The Thing (for which the filmmaker and his once regular associate Alan Howarth supplied extra elements), and even if this was a phase when he had moved into drafting-in rock songs or even creating his own, there is no mistaking the tonal style of the synth and the jarring stingers that propel the score. As his career went on, Carpenter would play less of a crucial role in the scoring, engaging other collaborators and allowing them more leeway in the musical creation.

    He would even pass the majority of the duties on to the late, great Shirley Walker on Escape From LA, although, like Morricone, she would ensure that the essential synth rhythms and vibe that audiences expected to hear were still fully present and correct. Even in the mental institution, Dr. Saperstein (John Glover) plays relaxing mood music over the speakers to calm the inmates at night, but in a splendid in-joke, it is The Carpenters singing We’ve Only Just Begun, which only makes Trent’s experience in a straitjacket and a padded cell even worse. Post Prince of Darkness, this is the best score to pound its way out of the Carpenterian sound stable.
    A brilliantly entertaining modern-day slice of Lovecraftian hokum
    A brilliantly entertaining modern-day slice of Lovecraftian hokum, In the Mouth of Madness is strewn with inspired moments, often impressive imagery, a mood that is richly atmospheric and revels in redolence, and boasts a finely manic performance from Sam Neill. Despite being predominantly lightweight in terms of its horror quotient, several set-pieces stick in the mind, and the whole thing rattles along with plenty of incident and a deliciously colourful sense of escalating insanity. What helps immeasurably is that it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously and this only adds to its nightmarish quirkiness.

    Carpenter certainly likes the idea of things not being what they seem, secrets and charades and hidden truths. Even The Ward continues this desire to explore beyond the veil. But he has a field day with the concept here, providing it with an amusingly pulpish comic-book stance. Madness may not up there with the best of his films, yet it has lots of repeat value and genuinely takes you for a macabre and mesmerizing ride.

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