Written by: Greg McCabe
Released in 1995, this John Carpenter movie seems to be one of those films that people either love or hate. This can only be due to the fact that, at times, it’s absolutely riveting, but at other times, it can be mundane and confusing. Thankfully, the former far outweighs the latter, making me someone that falls into the camp of people who love this movie.
By far, the best aspect of In the Mouth of Madness is its creative and original story. John Trent (Sam Neill) is a cigarette-smoking insurance investigator who’s hired by a publishing company to investigate the disappearance of their bestselling horror author, Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow). John teams up with Cain’s editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), and the two embark on a dark journey to find the missing novelist. As the mystery unravels, it becomes apparent that Cain’s writing is somehow altering reality, and the consequences are terrifying. It’s a very high-concept storyline, especially for a horror movie.
However, the fabulous story gets bogged down with some dull scenes and confusing dialogue. During certain portions of the movie, I found myself checking my watch or cellphone, slightly bored. Then, at other times, I was absolutely engrossed, experiencing genuine scares as my heart raced with anticipation.
The source of another mild frustration was that this was one of those movies where the opening scene was the “end” of the story, and the rest of the film was a flashback leading up to that point. This is fine if it supports a twist or adds mystery, but it really didn’t. To me, it was just a bit of a spoiler. The entire time I was watching, I had a pretty good idea of where the protagonist was going to end up. I feel the climax could’ve packed a little more of a punch if that brief opening scene was eliminated, or just put at the end where it belongs.
The acting is solid, but not phenomenal. At times, Sam Neill seemed to be overdoing it a bit, which could be slightly distracting. Jürgen Prochnow gave a sharp performance as Sutter Cain, and Charlton Heston had an amusing cameo as the director of Cain’s publishing company.
The special effects were well done, and there were a number of quick-flashing, creepy montages that John Carpenter seems to love. There were also a number of winks, nods, and send-ups to various aspects of horror lore, especially in regards to the movie’s Lovecraftian themes.
If you’re looking for a character-driven horror film with an airtight script, this may not be the movie for you. But if you’re looking an intriguing and original story with some quality scares, this could be right up your alley.
Here are a few of my favorite lines from In the Mouth of Madness:
Linda Styles: “A reality is just what we tell each other it is.”
John Trent: “God’s not supposed to be a hack horror writer.”
Dr. Wrenn: “There’s a guard with a pair of swollen testicles who swears you wanted out of here.”
Guy With a Gun to His Head: “I have to. He wrote me this way.”
Sutter Cain: “I think therefor you are.”
About the author: Greg McCabe is a born-and-raised Texan. His debut novel, The Undying Love, was published in 2013. Greg enjoys all genres of fiction, but seems to gravitate towards horror and science fiction.