John Carpenter has always been about transcending what ever form of storytelling he pursued. Even when paying homage toWesterns or remaking something like “Village of the Damned,” Carpenter never approaches it conventionally. With “In the Mouth of Madness,” he had every chance to repeat the same meta-beats as “They Live,” but he ends up delivering a genius, beautifully loony, often brilliant piece of cinema that’s both a tribute to literature, a meditation on the power of the imagination, and our own state of being and reality.
Sutter Cane is one of the most popular authors in America and he’s amassed a rabid (and murderous) fan base. When he’s gone missing, insurance investigator John Trent takes down the insurance claim by his publisher, Jackson (Charlton Heston), John sets out to find Sutter Cane, learn of his whereabouts once and for all, and retrieve his yet to be finished manuscript. Accompanied by his editor Linda, he’s soon haunted by Cane’s written works, and decides to make a trek to a New Hampshire town known simply as Hobb’s End. Drawn to the mysterious locale, he soon learns what happened to Sutter Cane, and so much more he’s not prepared to handle.
In a decade where horror took itself much too seriously, “In the Mouth of Madness” is creepy, weird, and surprisingly tongue in cheek. Carpenter’s film took much too long to finally gain momentum and notice as one of his finest cinematic works, and years later it’s still a shockingly eerie and great genre work. Carpenter plays with narrative and time quite often with “In the Mouth of Madness” toying not only with his protagonists, but the audience as well. Most of what we witness in “In the Mouth of Madness” is based on perception and what Carpenter slips in to our sub-conscious. Although it’s not always explored, Carpenter very slyly injects subliminal imagery and meticulous details in every scene he stages, allowing us to slowly lose a sense of what’s real and what’s a nightmare.
Carpenter doesn’t just stage a creepy mystery and horror movie, but also cleverly pays homage Stephen King and HP Lovecraft, as well as the idea of the creator, as a whole. What is reality? Are we living in a reality? Or are we living in a reality drawn out by a master writer? What if everything we’re doing is just one big show? Do we attempt to escape it and risk destroying our world, or do we act it out until the next novel is written? The cast are marvelous, including Sam Neill who approaches his performance with enthusiasm and the proper volume of insanity necessary, while folks like Jurgen Prochnow, Charlton Heston, and John Glover, respectively. “In the Mouth of Madness” is just an astounding piece of cinema that proves John Carpenter can deliver on levels of the cerebral and visceral.
Included in the Collector’s Edition from Scream Factory are two0 audio commentaries, one with Director John Carpenter and Producer Sandy King Carpenter, and another with Director John Carpenter and Cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe. “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” is another chapter with Sean Clark, who visits the locations from the film as they look today. Clark offers some great history facts and tidbits, and has access to a ton of the locations. “The Whisperer of the Dark” is a nearly ten minute interview with actor Julie Carmen, and “Gregory Nicotero’s Things in the Basement,” a sixteen minute visit with Gregory Nictoero who gushes about working with John Carpenter, his excitement of tackling Lovecraftian monsters, their development, and which of the monsters Carpenter loved most.
“Home Movies from Hobb’s End” is a twelve series of VHS clips looking at the effects from Nicotero, including make up tests, on set footage, and looks at actual takes. “Vintage Featurette: The Making Of In The Mouth Of Madness” is a five minute EPK with on set interviews with John Carpenter, Sam Neill, Charlton Heston, Jurgen Prochnow and a few of the effects people, accompanied by narration. There’s finally the original theatrical trailer, and nine minutes of vintage TV Spots. Finally there’s reversible cover art featuring the original theatrical poster.