In the Mouth of Madness
Wednesdays are all about movies that mess with the mind. Among the many titles that I stumbled on for it, 'In the Mouth of Madness' seemed to stick out as a sort of cult phenomenon favourite. To be quite honest, I don't even really remember this movie being a thing, despite the fact that I'm familiar with the title. Considering who is attached to this, it's kind of a wonder it took me so long to check it out. Besides a fresh from 'Jurassic Park' Sam Neill in the starring role, this one's also directed by John Carpenter (who needs no introduction), and written by none other than Michael De Luca, who also penned one of my biggest guilty pleasures, 'Freddy's Dead'). Otherwise, he's better known as a producer. But the 'Freddy's Dead' connection grasped my curiosity just enough to make it a must-see.
We open at a pretty heavy-looking psychiatric hospital where patient John Trent (Neill) is paid a visit by Dr. Wrenn (David Warner). Trent strangely seems to insist that he's not crazy, yet finds safety and comfort in the confines of his room, which he has covered in crosses. Trent then recounts the events that led him to be where he is. It begins when Trent, a freelance insurance investigator, has lunch with an insurance company owner, requesting that Trent investigate a claim by Arcane Publishing. Trent is soon attacked by an axe-wielding maniac who, before the attack, asks him if he reads famous horror author Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow). We soon learn that the maniac was actually Sutter Cane's agent, who apparently underwent some kind of mental warp, killing his family, after reading one of Cane's books.
Arcane Publishing's director, Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston), eventually brings Trent in and asks him to investigate the seemingly sudden disappearance of Cane in order to get the manuscript for Cane's final novel published and boost their sales. It's said that his horror books are so popular and well done that they outsell Stephen King by... I forget the exact amount, but it was a lot, and pretty unrealistic when we consider the King, himself. Anyway, tagging along with Trent is Cane's editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), who claims that Cane's novels can cause all kinds of fun mental instability to some of his less stable readers - namely paranoia, memory loss and getting disoriented, to which Trent remains skeptical, believing it all to be some kind of publicity stunt.
A clue ends up unveiling a map of New Hampshire, and a location known as Hobb's End; a fictional town in a real state. The pair end up heading towards this fictional town. The thing I kept bearing in mind here was that in 1994, paper maps were still being used, so God knows where these two thought they were going. Regardless, strange things do start happening on their drive, and eventually, they do find themselves in the apparent fictional town. Right around here is where the film sort of starts to go off the rails, but in that fun way we want from a movie known for its "mind-f*ckery". I won't go into too much detail here, but what follows is altogether creative and fascinating, if not a little off-putting at times.
I think if I were to give the film full credit for a few things, they would start with the use of practical effects, helping get some of those visuals crawling under your skin. But there are other pretty great effects here that aren't really scary or gross so much as just plain awesome. For those who have seen it, I'll just say that the "face-tearing scene" near the end is one of the coolest things I've ever seen, and despite what people seem to want to call it, there is no blood or gore involved. That, along with a lot of other things going on here, really managed to kick my imagination up a notch, and I was thankful to not see so much of the typical.
I do praise this movie for various other things too, effects aside. I really appreciated Neill's performance here, as I felt like I could really buy every emotion he was throwing at me. Beyond that, the very concept of the whole thing is, in its own way, quite terrifying. It does play on the whole aspect of "am I crazy or not?" which can be truly disturbing to some. By no means is this Carpenter's best work. The great subtleties of 'Halloween' aren't there, it doesn't really have a valuable message like 'They Live', and more than anything, it seemed like Carpenter and De Luca were on some sort of crazy drug the whole time they were making this. It has a very "what the hell did I just watch?" feel to it, but I might say that if you're looking for a good, scary, trippy mind-f*ck of a flick, this could be worth your time, if only once.
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