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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

In the Mouth of Madness  (1995)
3 Stars
Directed by John Carpenter.
Cast: Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jürgen Prochnow, David Warner, John Glover, Charlton Heston, Bernie Casey, Peter Jason, Frances Bay, Wilhelm von Homburg, Conrad Bergschneider, Hayden Christensen.
1995 – 94 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for images of horror, and for language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, July 23, 2018.
Reality and fiction transmogrify in teasing, twisting, shuddersome ways within the atmospheric frames of "In the Mouth of Madness." The film—director John Carpenter and screenwriter Michael De Luca's haunting tribute to the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King—made little impression when it was theatrically released in February 1995 (U.S. box office totals barely passed $8 million), but, as is so often the case with quality horror titles daring to break free from convention, it has increased in consideration and esteem in the intervening two-plus decades.

The ever-reliable Sam Neill stars as John Trent, an insurance investigator hired by publisher Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston) to track down Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow), a rabidly famous horror author who has suddenly gone missing on the eve of turning in his latest eagerly awaited manuscript. Cane's work, his editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen) says, tends to have a negative effect on his "less stable readers"—a claim John has already learned all too well after narrowly escaping a random axe attack perpetrated by Cane's homicidal literary agent (Conrad Bergschneider). John and Linda's search leads them to Hobbs End, N.H., not found on any map and, until they arrive, thought to be a purely fictional locale where Cane's novels are set. If this weren't enough, they gradually come to discover they very well may have entered into the pages of the writer's terrifying, monster-filled world.

Considered to be the third entry in John Carpenter's "Apocalypse Trilogy" (following 1982's "The Thing" and 1987's "Prince of Darkness"), "In the Mouth of Madness" chillingly blurs the lines between truth and fantasy, between logic and the malevolently illogical. A love letter to the boundlessness of literary creativity and the dark corners where it can often take readers, the picture serves as a page-turner in cinematic form. In addition to the keen sense of macabre discovery within his narrative, Carpenter devises a number of particularly chilling moments: a ghastly nighttime drive haunted by a phantom bike rider; a kindly old hotel clerk (Frances Bay) hiding dirty secrets in the basement and behind the front desk; and a desperate attempt to leave Hobbs End sending John in a loop from which he cannot seem to break free. An opening prologue where a raving, straightjacketed John is brought to a mental institution acts as harbinger for what is to follow—and, indeed, if the third act of "In the Mouth of Madness" doesn't quite match its marvelous opening hour, it does culminate on just the right note of portent hinted at from the start.
© 2018 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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