In the Mouth of Madness unleashes a surreal nightmare of insanity.
In the Mouth of Madness is a supernatural cosmic horror with Lovecraftian monsters and surreal images. It is part of the Apocalypse Trilogy of John Carpenter and the last installment. It is preceded by The Thing (1982) and Prince of Darkness (1987) and this last film closes with an Apocalypse becoming an insane reality and a creepy nightmare. When fiction blurs with reality it results in a surreal descend into madness that is craftily shot to create a visceral film that terrifies with existential concepts and ideas with real weirdness and monsters.
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When Sutter Cane a writer of horror books goes missing, John Trent an insurance agent who investigates fraud cases and Linda Styles Cane’s editor investigate his disappearance. Especially when his last book that deals with monstrous creatures and the end of the world, is about to be published and people are starting to act strangely and murderously insane. Their search brings them to a little village Hobb’s End in New Hampshire that should only exist in Cane’s books, but appears very real, albeit rather weird and strange, with even stranger people living in it. And that is just the beginning of a nightmare that turns into John’s descend into madness and the forthcoming of the end of the world.
Why you should watch it
In the Mouth of Madness starts out with a violent beginning that is an omen of what’s to come. But the film itself is immersed with surreal images, madness and cosmic horror that comes to life, that feels like a nightmare you can’t wake up from. With clues Cane lures John and Linda to Hobb’s End a place that is very strange indeed. With an ominous and unsettling atmosphere this film creates a feeling of disquiet.
But it’s not just the place that feels off. John and Linda are counterparts. Their trip to Hobb’s End leads to discussions about reality. John is a rational man, and doesn’t believe in anything he can’t see and is a sceptic, while Linda is far more openminded. She thinks that sanity and insanity are interchangeable concepts. They’re not fixed, but depend on the current norm of society. And when you are on the wrong side, you’re labeled insane, on a subjective basis and not an objective one. Their discussions are based on the fact that some readers of Cane’s books suffer from hallucinations, memory loss, disorientation, and paranoia. Something John will soon discover and experience for himself.
This discussion leads to the interchangeability of reality and fiction. While Hobb’s End is supposed to be fiction, it is there, a real place. But they got there under the strangest circumstances. John fell asleep, while Linda was driving the car and hit a bicycle. Suddenly they were in Hobb’s End. Everything in Hobb’s End meets what Linda has read in Cane’s books, even weirder maybe.
This surrealism, madness vs sanity and reality vs fiction is intertwined and mixed up in a tale that conjures up weird and bizarre happenings, that even John can’t escape anymore. It takes the viewers on a surreal trip with destination The End of the World.
It’s a cosmic fantasy tale that feels familiar while real writers in our world like Stephen King have shaped and created fictional places within their own universe and even have written themselves in, to mix fiction and reality in an engrossing way. Although it is a familiar concept, it is greatly executed. It feels like an epic fight between heroes who are unaware of it against the villain who wants to bring upon the Apocalypse, with his megalomania.
The surreal images of the painting in the hotel, the strange behavior of the villagers, and eventually the cosmic monsters are an absolute delight if you’re into cosmic horror. It’s a real treat. And John is caught right in the middle. Even with his rational thoughts, he can’t escape the madness and is influenced by it if he likes it or not. That fatalist idea is an ultimate concept of an Apocalypse. We already saw this doom-like fate in Prince of Darkness where a self fulfilling prophecy set in motion the end of the world, presumably. But now it really does come close.
The cinematography, the music, the settings and art decoration are creating a very disturbing atmosphere and it looks amazing. The dreamlike or rather nightmarish vibe is very tangible and unites the visceral with the physical. The themes, what happens and what happened to John and Linda are all very focused and well put together. The storytelling really does feel like a book. The eerie bicycle ride, the bus ride and Linda who meets her nightmarish counterpart are just examples of a surreal painting that has come to life in the most enthralling and scary way.
When compared to its predecessors, it becomes clear right away that we have left the eighties behind. No practical effects, no body horror or gore to fill you with fear. This is horror that plays out much more on a visceral level. This was a big contrast to the practical effects and body horror we were used to. From paranoia and body horror to madness and body horror to eventually pure madness which ultimately is the biggest fear of all, losing your mind, this Trilogy has come to a wonderful fitting end.
My favorite part
I loved the scene with the bicycle. It is shot in an amazing way. Pitch dark with a spotlight on the cyclist who messes up time. It’s such a strange alienating image and the perfect example of something that should be ordinary but put in the right or rather wrong context and filmed in a disturbing way, it immediately becomes something that freaks you out, even if you don’t know why. Nothing actually scary or threatening is going on, but you’ve got that strange feeling that something is not right at all, a feeling that creeps under your skin and festers. When this scene is repeated in another way, it gets even more unnerving and surreal.
Scare factor: ★★★★☆
Surreal factor: ★★★★★
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Entertainment factor: ★★★★★
Cast and crew
In the Mouth of Madness is directed by John Carpenter and written by Michael De Luca. It stars Sam Neill (John Trent), Julie Carmen (Linda Styles) and Jürgen Prochnow (Sutter Cane).
Duration: 95 minutes. Music: John Carpenter, Jim Lang. Cinematography: Gary B. Kibbe. Edited by: Edward A. Warschilka. Produced by: Sandy King. Production company: New Line Cinema. Distributed by: New Line Cinema.