In the Mouth of Madness

Dir: John Carpenter
1995
The second of my Lovecraftian viewings was John Carpenter’s “In the Mouth of Madness”.
Though HPL is not mentioned, it’s clear that Sutter Cane is supposed to be some sexier, rock’n’roll version of Lovecraft, updated to modern times. (Reviewers who see Sutter Cane as Stephen King probably haven’t read much). The film has a lot of promise, but it doesn’t exactly pull through, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps Sam Neill is not likable enough as the main character, John Trent, an insurance fraud investigator sent out to determine why famous horror writer Cane has disappeared and why his novels are inspiring acts of violence. This leads to Neil and Cane’s editor to go searching for and find the fictional town that Cane has always written about.
Perhaps its Carpenter and his scriptwriter Michael De Luca’s inability to decide whether this is a high-concept Borges-like piece (where its best stuff lies) or a monster movie (where its rubberiest stuff flops). The creature effects here are done by Industrial Light and Magic, but they look really poor. The innkeeper who becomes a demon is particularly poor, and often there are shots of fleshy, drippy creatures just for the sake of it. One is seen growing out of Cane’s back, but it never turns up again.
Julie Carmen, who plays Trent’s assistant Linda, isn’t much of a presence, and seems to have different motivation in each scene. Is she part of Cane’s plot, or a victim–is she surprised or horrified by any of it? She also looks like she has on an inch of foundation, a grey-brown pallor in some shots.
My favorite parts are the subtle ones. The hotel painting that changes, the bulging door in Cane’s lair (very Lovecraft), the apocalyptic scenario. The idea that the book causes insanity and allows the Chthulu-like beings to enter this dimension is a good one–with similarities to “The Thing.”
I feel that if the story had been worked with a bit more, and the monster business had been taken out, then it might have been one of Carpenter’s best. But instead, this is middle-period Carpenter, all over the place, loose, disappointing.

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