When horror novelist Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) goes missing, insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) scrutinizes the claim made by his publisher, Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston), and endeavors to retrieve a yet-to-be-released manuscript and ascertain the writer’s whereabouts. Accompanied by the novelist’s editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), and disturbed by nightmares from reading Cane’s other novels, Trent makes an eerie nighttime trek to a supernatural town in New Hampshire.
John Carpenter is a filmmaker that has been acclaimed for decades now. Perhaps his two most iconic pictures Halloween and The Thing have since grown into legendary status in the many years following their releases. Both films have spawned properties of sequels and remakes of directors trying to replicate the success of the original, but mostly to no avail.
There is a reason why Carpenter is considered to be one of the greatest horror directors of all-time. He knows exactly what he is doing behind the camera and he rarely ever has a misstep. Don’t get me wrong, there are some exceptions such as Ghosts of Mars, but his string of excellence is almost always intact.
But when you think of Carpenter you probably think of the aforementioned Halloween or The Thing. Rarely do people think about In the Mouth of Madness when you bring up the iconic director’s name. But that should definitely change because this is without a doubt one of his most underappreciated works to date.
Right from the opening scene alone, Carpenter proves that he is a master of creating amazing atmosphere that sets the chilling tone for the rest of the movie to come. All of his movies boast truly stellar cinematography, and In the Mouth of Madness is certainly no exception. The film is dripping with cold and dreary colors almost throughout the entire running time, but it’s blended beautifully with plenty of blues and oranges to make everything pop.
Although the film can oftentimes suffer from some dull scenes that don’t add a whole lot to the overall storyline, the same cannot be said about the atmosphere that lingers from the beginning to the end.
Carpenter’s film is almost always moving though, meaning that the scenes that drag don’t stay around too long. Just when your interest may waver a little bit, the film adds a new ingredient to the recipe to freshen things up.
In all honesty, In the Mouth of Madness is like an even trippier and depressing episode of The Twilight Zone. The events that you are watching are so insane and hard to believe for not only us but for the characters in the story as well. As soon as John Trent arrives in Hobb’s End, it is clear that the place is definitely holding some dark and sinister secrets. Watching the story unfold was not only greatly satisfying but fun to dissect as well.
Speaking of John Trent, the lead performance from Sam Neill is one that is highly overlooked, as is the film itself. Neill is perhaps best known for his role as Dr. Alan Grant in Steven Spielberg’s beloved Jurassic Park, but this just may be his strongest performance as an actor to date. He feels totally unhinged throughout the entire movie, and you’re never sure what he is going to do next.
Really, everybody in the film does an excellent job and there isn’t a weak link to be found anywhere. And although In the Mouth of Madness does suffer from some scenes that feel unnecessary and some that are just downright confusing, it still stands tall as a mammoth of a psychological horror-thriller.
In the Mouth of Madness is a mammoth of a psychological horror-thriller with its mind-bending Twilight Zone-esque storytelling and its incredible lead performance from Sam Neill.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: R for images of horror, and for language
Directed by: John Carpenter
Distributed by: New Line Cinema
Release Date: February 3, 1995
Running Time: 95 minutes