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In the Mouth of Madness
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by Mel Valentin

"Strictly for diehard Carpenter fans/completists."
2 stars

"In the Mouth of Madness," a1995 fantasy/horror effort (if "effort" is the right word) from horror auteur John Carpenter ("Halloween," "The Fog," "Escape From New York," "The Thing," "Big Trouble in Little China, "They Live," "Prince of Darkness"), rarely gets mentioned in discussions of Carpenter’s better films or contributions to the horror genre. Hampered by pedestrian storytelling, poorly conceived and even more poorly executed, hollow and tensionless, "In the Mouth of Madness" delivers few jump scares or inventive visuals (with the exception of one image of a church on a hill turned to a diabolic purpose). In short, "In the Mouth of Madness" proves to be a forgettable viewing experience, unworthy of Carpenter's name or reputation.

In the Mouth of Madness opens on the lead character, John Trent (Sam Neill), institutionalized in a mental facility (he's bound in a straightjacket) recounting the events that have led to his current predicament. Is the story we're about to hear the fantastical rants of a man who's lost touch with reality or are we about to hear the truth? Cue extended flashback. Trent, an experienced insurance investigator gets called into the office of a publisher, Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston). Harglow’s most profitable horror novelist, Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow, underused), has disappeared only days before the publication of his next, eagerly anticipated novel. Cane, a cross between Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, has published a series of novels that cause his readers to become violently, homicidally insane. Harglow assigns Cane’s editor (and obligatory romantic interest), Linda Styles (Julie Carmen, Fright Night 2), to help Trent investigate Kane's disappearance. With almost no effort, Trent finds a town that shouldn’t exist, Hobb's End (it exists only as the fictional setting for the missing novelist's work).

Shifting levels of "objective" reality, paranoia, schizophrenia, self/identity disintegration, and existential dread as ideas are all present in In the Mouth of Madness, but explored only superficially. Carpenter took the path of least resistance, building the story shallowly, including only a handful of stock characters, minimal conflict, flatlining tension, a central mystery near the mid-ppoint of In the Mouth of Madness' running time, a monologuing villain, and finally, a glimpse into an otherworldly abyss that reveals deeply unscary rubber monsters, apparently Lovecraftian "Old Ones" attempting to enter our world via a transdimensional portal of some kind (they've trashed their world and want to do the same to ours), not to mention a long-haired albino on a bicycle (yes, you read that correctly) that provides a transitory moment of unexpected humor. Gore, shocks, or over-the-top performances (frequent Carpenter collaborator, Donald Pleasance is nowhere to be found), staples of '90s-era Carpenter are conspicuous by their absence.

Carpenter unsurprisingly mishandles the flashback structure: the narrative leaves the protagonist several times and follows the female lead Linda Styles when and where Trent possibly couldn't know (there's no evidence Linda shares her experiences with Trent). We know he survives, at least until the extended flashback (which covers most of the film) has run its course. Carpenter had obviously no affinity for the screenplay and budget limitations probably contributed to multiple narrative gaps filled by dialogue and not action (we're told, not shown, key events). Framing the story from the protagonist's point of view (i.e., the "wrap around" flashback structure) also minimizes suspense or tension.

John Carpenter and screenwriter/producer Michael De Luca missed the "core" story: it isn't with the insurance investigator finding Hobb's End, but in the epidemic of violence and insanity that leaks out of Hobb's End into the "real" world. Finding Hobb's End should have served as the first-act climax and not the second act, and the emphasis should have been on solving the central mystery, not exposition-heavy dialogue scenes that spoon feed information to the characters and the audience of events happening off screen.

Ultimately, "In the Mouth of Madness" builds to a disappointing, lackluster, uninspired payoff. Given Carpenter’s involvement, genre fans can fairly expect more than a hackneyed, derivative effort. Ultimately, "In the Mouth of Madness" isn’t even second-tier Carpenter (more like third- or fourth-tier). Instead, "In the Mouth of Madness" should be recommended for diehard Carpenter fans only, and even then caution and low expectations are the operative words.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=3005&reviewer=402
originally posted: 09/04/05 03:22:00
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell underappreciated a good film 4 stars
5/11/06 ES Brilliant- very lovecraftian and well told. carpenter's best since 'the Thing' 5 stars
5/07/06 Freeze Carpenter's best! My favorite horrorflic! A must see! Truly!!! 5 stars
5/02/06 Josh Standlee Absolutely brilliant, and scary as fuck! This has one of the best endings ever!!!!! 5 stars
3/11/06 Sam An awsome, creepy movie, very underappreciated 5 stars
11/01/05 shackle A great, creepy, underrated, overlooked film. All Lovecraft fans should own this. 5 stars
10/25/05 Crumbcake You ask for smart horror, you get it, then you bitch 'cause it's too complicated. Fuck off 5 stars
10/23/05 Suk-R-Punch Some people just wouldn't know brilliant horror if you raped them in the ass with it... 5 stars
10/18/05 Gumbo For once, a smart horror film...and fuck King, this baby is all Lovecraft!!! 5 stars
10/15/05 OodlesofOs Just a great mind-trip of a horror film with lots of subversive ideas instead of just gore. 5 stars
10/13/05 gasp In my humble opinion, as well, Carpenter's best, most thought-provoking film. 5 stars
10/12/05 Bryant Gumby A total mind-fuck...I loved it. 5 stars
10/11/05 Johnny Cake Great movie, half-shitty ending (should have ended outside the asylum). Still, excellent. 5 stars
10/10/05 Biz-e One of the best, most overlooked and misunderstood horror masterpieces of recent years! 5 stars
9/22/05 Jakub Right on par with HALLOWEEN as Carpenter's best film (granted it's a sorry lot). 5 stars
9/18/05 mung Lovecraftian cinema at its FINEST 5 stars
9/11/05 Bloodclot Fuck all of you, this is Carpenter's best film. 5 stars
8/16/05 ES Lovecraftian horror fest, not too many like it out there 4 stars
5/08/04 R.L. 3 One of my favorite movies JC ever made. Funny at times, and just a lot of fun to watch. 5 stars
4/10/04 American Slasher Goddess Cool and atmospheric,Carpenter's best in his latter films. 4 stars
3/20/04 john develops one idea that's only mildly interessting to begin with to a tiresome conclusion 2 stars
10/23/03 Sammy One of the strangest movies I've ever seen... I love it! 5 stars
9/20/03 Laurian Diaconescu Awesome, awesome, awesome!!! 5 stars
8/27/03 anna Just got weirder and weirder until you had to say, damn. Fucked up. 5 stars
8/24/03 aaron appleby i don't know 5 stars
8/17/03 Noacat This movie was crap. It should be stopped before it hurts more innocent people. 1 stars
6/13/03 Alice Great story, I loved it ! 5 stars
5/22/03 mr. Pink Some good ideas and Neill's good, but descends after half an hour into hokum. 3 stars
3/03/03 Jack Sommersby Never develops its central idea satisfyingly. Clunky and uneven. Neil is outstanding. 2 stars
11/17/02 Mr. Gone actually pretty interesting, a decent attempt by carpenter 4 stars
11/06/02 Smacking Up Women One Bitch at a Time The ending maintains integrity, but everything else is random and boring. Typical Carpenter 3 stars
6/18/02 Charles Tatum Okay, but H.P. Lovecraft wrote better stuff 3 stars
8/05/01 E-Funk As far as Carpenter flicks go, this is the scariest...quite disturbing. 5 stars
5/29/01 big malc a scary movie that didn't follow the same dumb ass plot that most of them do, thumbz up! 4 stars
1/25/01 Diego Romero One of the scariest movies I´ve ever seen, 5 stars
1/16/01 Aurora This movie, it really fucks with your mind. I love it!! 5 stars
1/16/00 Will why no reviews??? this is a great movie, dammit. 5 stars
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  03-Feb-1995 (R)



Directed by
  John Carpenter

Written by
  Michael De Luca

  Sam Neill
  Jurgen Prochnow
  Julie Carmen
  Charlton Heston
  Frances Bay

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