Director: John Carpenter
IMDB Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113409/
It’s no secret that I’m a John Carpenter fan. With the exception of Ghosts of Mars, I’ve liked pretty much every film he’s ever made. Big Trouble In Little China is still one of my favorite movies of all time. Carpenter is a fan of pulp stories himself, and his seminal Antarctic horror yarn, The Thing, was based on a Robert Bloch short story. With In the Mouth of Madness, Carpenter pays tribute to H.P. Lovecraft with a story of insanity and reality vs. perception.
Insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) is in an insane asylum at the beginning of the film, visited by Dr. Wrenn (David Warner). We begin to discover that the story is both unfolding forwards and backwards, and the circumstances surrounding Trent’s are revealed.
Trent is attacked by a crazed fan of horror novelist Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) and learns that the man was Cane’s agent. He’s hired by Cane’s publisher to track down the missing writer, and Cane’s editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen) comes along. Trent eventually discovers a map made by combining pieces of the covers of Cane’s novels and follows it to New England and the mythical town of Hobb’s End. Along the way, he and Styles encounter a kid on a bicycle that sharp eyed watchers will recognize as Hayden Christiansen (who would go on to portray Anakin Skywalker).
In Hobb’s End, the agent and the editor discover that Cane’s books have seemingly come to life, and Cane himself is holed up in an old church. Reality begins crumbling and Trent is swept into a bizarre world where everything seems to be under Cane’s command. He also encounters “the Old Gods,” Lovecraftian monsters who chase him at one point. He is ordered to deliver Cane’s final book to the publisher, signaling the end of the world.
Trent tries to resist, but a monstrous Styles and Cane himself eventually drive him mad. He returns to the city only to discover that he returned with Cane’s manuscript months ago, and not only has the book already been on shelves, but a movie adaptation is about to come out. Trent loses his grip on reality and attacks a Sutter Cane fan in a bookstore, leading to his internment in the asylum.
At the end of the movie, something lets Trent out of his cell, though what it is we never see fully. News on a radio indicates the world has gone mad, and Trent visits a theater where he watches the movie version of the book. He sees that the movie is, in fact, his own story, and he begins to laugh and cry at the same time.
The movie is very well done, creepy in all the right Lovecraftian ways. Sutter Cane owes more to Stephen King than Lovecraft, but the story itself is straight out of Weird Tales. There are numerous Lovecraft references throughout the movie and the creatures are clearly Cthulhu mythos like beasts. This movie is also the third in Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” which consists of The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and In the Mouth of Madness.
The years have not been kind on some of the effects, and the story itself can be very confusing the first time you watch it. However, I recommend picking this movie up on DVD or Blu-Ray, as it’s one of the finest examples of “weird fiction” you’ll come across.