IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1995)
The fact that I have been watching a lot of John Carpenter films lately is purely coincidental. But with that said, it has been interesting revisiting some of the movies from his middle period. “Middle period?” you ask. Let me explain.
Carpenter is an enigma to me. I don’t know him personally and can only speak of his oeuvre of films. His first group of films (ASSAULT to STARMAN) are masterpieces of the genre. Some of the best genre films ever committed to celluloid.
Then his next batch (BIG TROUBLE to VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED) were extremely hit or miss. They each had moments of that “old Carpenter flair,” but they seemed watered down and a little less inspired. I call this his “Middle Period”.
From then on (ESCAPE FROM L.A. to the present), I feel he has lost that magic that made him such a powerhouse of genre filmmaking. This is just my 2¢ and is not meant as a personal attack on Carpenter, who I have the utmost respect for. I am just not enjoying his more recent films and that is such a disappointment for me as a fan.
I’m happy to say that IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is quite possibly his most accomplished film of this middle period. Taking a page from H.P. Lovecraft, it tells the tale of an insurance claim investigator (Sam Neil) who is tasked with determining whether the sudden disappearance of horror mega-author Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) is a publicity stunt or the real deal. This leads him to the supposedly non-existent town of Hobbs End where the apocalypse is just getting started.
The film is a surreal nightmare where reality is always in flux as is the line between sanity and bat-shit crazy…And there are a lot of slimy and tentacle-laden monsters.
My biggest complaint is that even though by regular standards, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is a handsomely shot film, it lacks that creepy visual feel of Carpenter’s early work and is ultimately a little more generic than I’d prefer. There was just something so special about the way Carpenter crafted films like HALLOWEEN, THE FOG and especially THE THING that combined an eerie mood with oppressive music that alone puts you on edge. IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS lacks that quality which is a shame, because with that, it might have truly been a masterpiece.