Like many of the great Horror innovators from the early days, John Carpenter's more recent directing catalog has not been his best, but there is one film that stands out from the rest like a beacon of his former glory. That film is "In The Mouth Of Madness". As an homage to the work of H.P. Lovecraft through various references in its plot, this film is truly nightmarish at times while keeping a hidden dark humor to it so that it never feels quite so heavy. This is what modern Carpenter films should be compared to.
John Trent (Neill) is the best at his job. Sniffing out the cons. When he is hired to find missing horror writer Sutter Cane (Prochnow) and retrieve the final book he is set to deliver with the help of Cane's editor Styles (Carmen), he discovers that Cane may have not been writing fiction at all. Stumbling upon a supposedly fictional town of evil, Hobb's End, the two find Cane about to finish his final book. This final book though, entitled "In The Mouth Of Madness" seems to have a horrifying effect on its readers and seemingly is able to blur the edge of reality and fictional horror.
"In The Mouth Of Madness" is a fairly scary film in its own right. Attacking that oh so pleasant topic of 'how far is too far for media before its deemed a societal detriment', this film strikes a rather unique style of its own with its nightmarish devices. Self referencing more often than not, it tends to blur the edge of its own reality with the audience (the ending really brings it out) as well as that for its cynical protagonist Trent. With some great plot progressions, tons of scary visual work (including some small things like the shifting painting in the little inn), and some great beats as the film slowly twists its own way into madness, this modern Carpenter flick is what modern Horror should be about. It still retains great atmosphere while never losing its visual prowess. It just blends well.
It also helps that this might be my favorite role for Sam Neill I've seen. The character Trent is your basic cynical asshole that is first to nag and detail everything, but watching him slowly unravel as his reality crumbles is something fascinating to watch. Neill's portrayal is damn near perfect. A little less could be said about most of his supporting cast with a missed chemistry hindering the effect for the character Styles and such, but Neill makes up for most of it luckily.
Although sometimes the pacing feels a bit off, "In The Mouth Of Madness" might be one of my favorite Carpenter films to date. It's penchant for Lovecraft and its execution visually and script wise more than makes up for its minor flaws. It's scary, sometimes funny, and damn entertaining. If only Carpenter could have made more like this in the decade following.
Written By Matt Reifschneider