Cyclic, fateful, hypnotic and darkly satirical; a horrible hoot from start to finish
In The Mouth Of Madness Blu-ray ReviewJohn Carpenter invites us to look In The Mouth of Madness, and we discover that he’s going to poke his ghoulish tongue right back out at us.
Creating a metaphysical odyssey that casts an amusing eye over the cult of celebrity and the sheep-like mentality of the gullible minds that follow such false modern-day icons, his clever and thoroughly entertaining romp through Lovecraftian territory pitches us into a macabre maelstrom of monsters and dementia. Sam Neill heads-up a top cast and delivers a typically assured and totally charismatic performance as the fraud investigator embroiled in solving the mystery of a disappeared horror writer. Reality and fantasy overlap and the end of the world could be on the cards in the third of Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy.
With axe-wielding mobs of the murderously mutated, whipping tentacles, a pack of big demonic dogs and seething swarms of beings from beyond the void, he supplies a terrific rollercoaster ride of lurid EC Comics-flavoured set-pieces that veer very determinedly into somewhere akin to The Twilight Zone, but it is clear that Carpenter is having a whale of a time continually tugging the narrative rug from under us. After a succession of lackluster productions, it is great to see a former genre god finding the right groove again. Sadly, the film flopped, but it remains a late highpoint in a career that was inarguably plummeting.
Cyclic, fateful, hypnotic and darkly satirical, In The Mouth of Madness is a horrible hoot from start to finish.
In The Mouth Of Madness Blu-ray Picture Quality
“Your books suck!”
Carpenter’s love-letter to Lovecraft comes from Warner with an AVC encode and is presented 2.40:1.
Gary B. Kibbe is the director of photography and he emulates the traditional Carpenter/Dean Cundey look with his anamorphic lens and lush widescreen compositions. I’ve talked before about how Kibbe does not seem as expert in the art as Cundey – perhaps because Cundey was so damn good and distinctive in the first place – but whereas Madness does not contain the same level of blurriness about the frame as, say, Prince of Darkness (which he also shot), it does have a tendency to bend tall linear objects over. This is keenly observed with the lamppost in the Hobb’s End and the byzantine spires of the church, which clearly lean over towards the top due to the anamorphic distortion. This, however, is not at all detrimental to a film that describes a story and a situation that defies normal laws of physics … and, in many ways, helps to suggest the impossibility of this off-kilter world and its weird bending of reality.
Sutter Cane’s favourite colour might well be blue, but we didn’t expect his infernal influence to affect the palette of this BD transfer. The teal push to Warner’s In the Mouth of Madness is very apparent, and those with a sensitivity to such things may feel as paranoid as Sam Neill’s beleaguered character by the end of it all. Personally speaking, I know that we’ve seen this look from many discs before and although it does look too obvious at times here, I didn’t really have much of a problem with it.
This is a typical catalogue transfer from Warner. No remastering has been done, but the image is still leaps and bounds above any other version I have seen on home video. There is some vague waxiness on display and I would suspect that some minimal noise reduction has taken place, but there is still plenty of fine detail to be seen. There is an inherent softness to the film’s veneer anyway, which means that it will never appear quite as textured as you might expect. This said, there is a visible layer of fine grain across the picture which does remain film-like. Detail can be very good despite this not being a transfer that could immediately shout from the rooftops about having pin-sharp clarity. But the prosthetic facial appliances, the incandescent blue contact lenses for the Cane disciples, the wounds and mutilations, and those fabulously designed book covers all reveal lots more than ever before. The wheat-fields and the playing cards spinning in the bicycle spokes, the snarling dog jaws and the writing on the typed pages of the manuscript are much better defined than we have previously seen. Sadly, the various monsters that tumble forth from the abyss and the tentacle thing in the conservatory window, which have never looked convincing, now seem even less so with the added definition.
The blood from the various deaths and mutilations is thick and satisfyingly gloopy
Black levels hold their own, but I have seen much better and I had actually hoped for deeper shadows. There are times when we are denied the Stygian depths of inky blackness that are described to us via snatches of Cane’s/Lovecraft’s spoken aloud prose, and left with a milky-grey murk. Contrast, although actually finely maintained, can fluctuate during some early sequences. Look at the sky outside the mental institute near the start. The instances when bright white/blue flashes ignite the screen make good transitions across the frame. I didn’t have a problem with any crushing going on in the darker portions of the frame, but what you may find is that some of the mechanical effects and puppeteered creatures are deliberately masked by shadow. It is obvious why as we can still see perhaps too much of some of them.
Colours are very good. We have that teal push, but reds and greens also burst forth from the image with strong and bold effect. The orange and red backgrounds to Linda Styles on her return to the church are warm and enveloping. The blood from the various deaths and mutilations is thick and satisfyingly gloopy. I love the colours of the book jackets and the posters on the alley wall – all suitably lurid and arresting. The electrically charged pale blue-white of the lightning-frazzled Spielbergian sky that the car travels over is also nicely rendered. Skin-tones may be cosy and warm but there is some variance afforded the different characters.
Print damage is tiny and mostly negligible – just little spots and flecks. Edge enhancement is not an issue and nor is there any banding or aliasing. All in all, this is a fairly strong transfer that should please fans of the film. I was very happy with it, although I can certainly imagine further improvements could be made.
In The Mouth Of Madness Blu-ray Sound Quality
“Oh Jesus … this place makes my head hurt.”
Whilst this is quite a dynamic mix I found that I had to crank the volume up a little bit more than usual to get the dialogue at a comfortable level, but once there, this was an enjoyable DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that wisely avoided re-prioritising anything or enhancing effects in the surround channels and maintained a faithful-sounding experience. Checking back on my older US DVD of the film I found the dialogue to be quite submerged there too, so I am presuming that this is simply down to the original source. You may discover that during some of the more startling sequences the resulting sound may actually be too loud, but this does provide the action with a jarring emphasis that actually comes across well in the grand scheme of things, properly startling you. Occasional looped dialogue stands out a mile too. Cane’s axe-hefting agent’s voice, for example, is very obviously ADR’d.
The stereo front is reasonably spacious, with a tangible sense of breadth and some movement catered-for.
The stereo front is reasonably spacious, with a tangible sense of breadth and some movement catered-for.
The rears kick into effect predominantly when it comes to adding size and depth to the score, although they are also utilized to lend weight to the various jolting stingers that liberally punctuate the movie, and these gain some appreciable force. There may not be a great deal of activity going on, and certainly no directional zig-zagging, but the additional channels certainly help to embellish the brooding atmospherics, allowing sustained tones to linger on the air. There is some hubbub in the offices of the publishing house, some engine movement as Trent’s car drives into various scrapes, monstrous whipping of tentacles and some hideous hacking thuds from a multitude of axes that attempt to spread some acoustic excitement around, but with minimal success. Impacts, however, are heavy and hard-hitting. The shattering of glass, the spectre’s body hurling over the bonnet of the car and the screeching of brakes, the supernatural slamming of the church doors and the savage barking of the Doberman dog sentinels, the blast of a shotgun and Trent getting flung through his hotel room door in a shower of debris. All good, thick and meaty sounding effects that are ably presented with resounding bass and a satisfying level of inner detail.
Subtleties such as the flapping of the playing cards in the spectre’s spokes, the soft ignition of Trent’s lighter and the little thud of Mrs. Pickford’s kick to her husband register finely in the mix too.
Make some allowances for the slightly stunted dialogue, and you should have a ball with this.
In The Mouth Of Madness Blu-ray Extras
“Must be pretty lonely being the last one left.”
Sadly, there is nothing here that is new. Or even interesting.
Warner recycles the old and woeful commentary track from Carpenter and DOP Gary B. Kibbe that has always been a laborious chore to listen to. Unlike many of his chat-tracks, this is resolutely technical and consists purely of Carpenter asking his lensman how he lit this scene or that scene when he is not mundanely describing the shooting of what we are currently seeing on the screen. But hearing him quizzing his cameraman about how they achieved any of this is like trying to get blood from a stone. The chat is hugely one-sided and Kibbe’s input is tired and unenthusiastic despite Carpenter doing his damnedest to remain upbeat. With the cast that he has and the story he is telling, you would expect something less dry and containing much more of an anecdotal substance. He was working with Sam Neill and Charlton Heston but he has very little of worthwhile opinion or interesting trivia regarding the experience making this a tired and ultimately yawn-inducing bore.
I usually strongly recommend chat tracks, but this one is poor, I’m afraid, and probably not worth your time.
Beyond this, all we get is the film’s theatrical trailer.
Considering the effort that Shout (or Scream) Factory have put into their Carpenter releases, this is just lazy. You really wish that Shout had the rights to this one and not Warner. A paltry offering.
Is In The Mouth Of Madness Blu-ray Worth Buying
“I think, therefore you are.”
After a lengthy sprawl of disappointments, John Carpenter bounced this bonkers tale of Lovecraftian monstrousness out of the park. Although you really shouldn’t take it seriously, there is a nice vein of satire running through it, poking fun at the celebrity cult status that slavish fans and devotees bestow their pop culture gods with. But there is a great deal of fun to be had from seeing Sam Neill’s cunning insurance investigator become so psychologically unraveled by bizarre metaphysical events he cannot control. The creature effects are enjoyable but really not up the levels we might have expected, though this shouldn’t detract from what is a giddily chaotic and off-the-rails spook-fest with the emphasis on mind-warping paradoxes.
A jaunty, incident-packed supernatural romp that sticks its tongue out at you and teases the metaphysical barrier
The transfer is a good one, with the film looking and sounding the best I’ve seen it on the smaller screen. There is room for improvement, I’m sure, but this is solid stuff from Warner’s back catalogue. The lack of any new extras is a disappointment as the now vintage commentary track that is offered is one of the worst committed to disc. It does make you wish that a label like Scream Factory had the rights to give the film the full-on treatment that it deserves.
Even so, In The Mouth of Madness comes highly recommended. A jaunty, incident-packed supernatural romp that sticks its tongue out at you and teases the metaphysical barrier. Tremendously entertaining.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.