Director - John Carpenter
Writer - Michael De Luca
Stars - Sam Neil, Julie Carmen, Jürgen Prochnow
It’s been said often in the 21st century that originality in cinema is a concept of the past, that Hollywood is nothing more than a cynical production line of franchises, re-hashes and reboots, and this is an argument with some validity. Nevertheless, occasionally a film will crawl out of the shadows thrust an original concept in your face. Rarely has this been more rapidly apparent than In The Mouths of Madness, an incredibly intelligent and self-aware piece of satirical meta-fiction, from the iconic mind that brought you Halloween (1978) and The Thing (1982). It is also a damn fine Lovecraftian adaptation, which is a sentence rarely typed.
First, let me make one thing abundantly clear. I am going to break the traditional rules of reviewing by offering you absolutely no plot details whatsoever. Why? The answer is extraordinarily simple; this is a film best gone into blind, with no prior expectations whatsoever. The narrative is so incredibly clever that I wish for you to experience it without having a clue what to expect. This stands out as one of those few films that ever captured the spirit of a Lovecraft story, as it blurs the line between reality and fiction seamlessly. If I have one complaint about this magnificent tale, it would be that the cards are played far too early, and there is little ambiguity in the plot. Once you begin to understand what’s happening, you can very quickly predict the rest of the narrative with little difficulty. This holds the screenplay back from every truly being great, but takes away very little from what is still a beautifully unique concept.
Sam Neil puts in a fantastic performance as per usual, beginning beautifully unhinged and deranged, before reverting back to the straight cynical fella for the majority of the run-time, before ending as unhinged as we found him. It’s a testament to the ability of Neil that this never comes off as forced or cheesy, and he is an extremely underrated thespian, traditionally known as ‘That guy from Jurassic Park’. Julie Carmen puts in a deliciously layered femme fatale performance that does not head in the direction you’d expect. But, in terms of performances, Jürgen Prochnow steals the show as the enigmatic and iconic author Sutter Cane, whose disappearance drives the film’s narrative into motion. Prochnow is fantastic; exuding charisma and calm, with subtle sinister undertones, never missing a step for the duration of his screen time, which is, sadly, limited. The character is a beautiful blend of Lovecraft and Stephen King, and, as a fan of both, he instantly resonated with me. Also, the classic ‘the author is God’ metaphor is used here in an intelligent and quite literal sense.
Carpenter’s direction is joyously mysterious, as he is clearly having a whale of a time taking us on our journey. A journey which is, by B-Movie standards (Which this effectively is), exceptionally well-shot, if never particularly new or innovation. These high production values are what traditionally allows a Carpenter film to escape the confines that come with being labelled ‘B-Movies’ and elevate them, like the great horror films, to higher heights than they perhaps merit.
Perhaps Madness doesn’t quite match the tension of The Thing, which shall probably remain eternally as Carpenter’s masterpiece, but this is a unique meta-film with an ending that is nothing short of pure genius. I can almost guarantee you’ve never seen this, but if you have even the slightest vested interest in horror, I recommend that you do as this is an incredibly intelligent meta-film that skewers fan obsession, media manipulation and the lines of reality, whilst remaining straight faced, atmospheric and genuinely disturbing. Need a horror film to watch this weekend? I implore you look no further.