It’s not hard to believe that the character and presence among the entire film Sutter Cane is a depiction of Stephen King who also bears a collection of almost unearthly and creepy books as Cane does in the film, and they both have a mass following of readers. Of course, his fan’s devotion to his books is not as intense as it is in this film. John Carpenter manages to show people with “In the Mouth of Madness” why he’s considered among the best directors in film and among horror royalty. Watch “Halloween”, “The Fog”, “Vampires”, “The Thing”, just to name a few and you will witness his true aptitude for capturing horror in its true essence, and what he manages to do in “In the Mouth of Madness” is capture it in all its pure unrestrained essence onto the cells of this film.
John Trent is taken into a mental asylum where he’s deemed clinically insane. When a therapist confronts him asking about his case, he begins telling a story so horrifying it’s beyond belief. After a famous horror author goes missing, and his fans begins rioting violently for his next book, John Trent, an insurance investigator who is attacked by a rabid axe – wielding Sutter Cane fan is sent by Cane’s publisher along with his editor Linda Styles to investigate his disappearance in the town of “Hobb’s End”, but they’ll soon begin to discover that not all horror tales are exactly fiction as the books begin taking on a life of their own. I’d never really heard a whole lot about this film other than it was released in 1995, and I barely remember it ever being released, but when I discovered John Carpenter directed, I just had to check it out, and I wasn’t disappointed. This is a very ambitious film that Carpenter approaches with all his skill and he manages to use it to his disposal without ever letting go.
He first starts the story off with a very slow progression, introducing the characters then instantly begins showing off his knack for horror. With an always original and atmospheric score from Carpenter and Jim Lang, what Carpenter goes for in the film is a large mood of discomfort and unease; we, the audience, never feel comfortable while watching the film, and we’re never sure what’s illusion and what’s reality. Carpenter plays tricks not only on the characters but on the audience as well playing with our perspective at times, almost as if he’s sticking his finger at us and laughing. We’re never sure what’s real and what’s just a trick from Carpenter, and we’re never sure if the characters on the film that we’re watching is real, and Carpenter milks it for all its worth, and the more he pulls at our mind, the better the film becomes progressing into a great film worth watching.
Cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe helps Carpenter orchestrate the feeling of unrest and discomfort throughout the film going for a very contradictory atmosphere. The film is dark but not murky, it’s grim without being grimy, and it’s calm while feeling incredibly chaotic. He takes pages right off of legendry Gothic authors such as H.P. Lovecraft (who also bear an immense loyal following), and Clive Barker and manages to recycle their material and pay homage to their brilliance in the film with many references and nods during the story. Lovecraft and Barker rely on the odd, Goth, and unusual to achieve their true scares, which is what Carpenter does. There are scenes in this film that are so simple it’s almost too complicated to examine, scenes so odd that it becomes terrifying, and scenes so out of the ordinary it’s mind-blowing.
There is one scene that is so visually mind-boggling that it lingers in the mind, at one point while Trent and Styles are driving along the dark road to the town of Hobb’s end, the yellow lines in the road disappear into total darkness to which we’re shown storm clouds along the road, almost as if they’re floating. It sounds simple, but it’s very effective and became a scene that lingered. When Trent is finally met by Sutter Cane who becomes more of a presence than a character throughout the film, we’re not given any disappointment. Jurgen Prochnow is very effective in his role as Sutter Cane, the mysterious author who runs the show from his lair. Also legendry actor Charlton Heston has a walk on role as Cane’s publisher and really plays with his brief part in the film.
Carpenter uses the abnormal to his advantage also creating a finale that is so remarkably bizarre with his use of makeup effects to create odd looking zombie characters, and his change of colors and textures; you begin to feel absorbed into the film as well. The last moments of the movie is such a head trip, it will stay in your mind for days on end when you’ll begin to wonder what was real in the film and what wasn’t and ask who has the trick been played on? The characters in the film, or the audience watching it? Hardly terrifying, but where Carpenter fails in that device he makes up for in ambitious leaps of mind-boggling and odd entertainment. His knack for change in perspective and illusion truly make this a memorable masterpiece.