IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS
Review by Gordon Justesen
Neill, Julie Carmen, Jurgen Prochnow, John Glover, Charlton Heston
Director: John Carpenter
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Shout Factory
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: July 24, 2018
“Pull it, don’t distribute it. Even if everything I’ve said is totally Looney Tunes, I know this book will drive people crazy.”
“Well, let’s hope so. The movie comes out next month.”
Although people tend to credit Wes Craven’s Scream with being the first horror movie to be self-aware, there are actually a few pre-cursors that never seemed to get mentioned. The first of which was the very best entry in the Friday the 13th series, Jason Lives, which took the series and pretty much lampooned it for all its worth. Then Wes Craven took a stab at his own franchise creation with the super clever New Nightmare.
Around the same time of that movie, fellow horror master John Carpenter would take a similar type of stab not only at horror movies, but the craze surrounding horror novels that inspire many such movies, most notably that of Stephen King. The result was a tremendous return to form for Carpenter with In the Mouth of Madness, which was the director’s first horror release since They Live in 1988. Carpenter also labeled this as the third in his “Apocalypse” trilogy, which also included The Thing and Prince of Darkness.
The basic premise surrounds a cult phenomenon surrounding horror novelist Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow). He’s not just the best-selling horror author of all time, but author period. His works are so gripping, in fact, that their very existence seems to be driving people mad, from his readers to even his agent.
In the midst of all this, Cane has seemingly disappeared. John Trent (Sam Neill) is an insurance agent hired by the author’s publisher (Charlton Heston) to investigate his disappearance. Trent’s expertise is to detect fraud, and the publisher suspects that very element is tied into Cane’s absence. They feel nothing is as it seems...a theme which will resonate perfectly with the remainder of the movie.
Eventually, Trent and Cane’s editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen) are traveling together in pursuit of the missing author. After piecing together a map of New Hampshire from the covers of Cane’s books, their trail leads them to the town of Hobb’s Corner. And from here on out, a never-ending series of strange occurrences start to take place.
What becomes clear is that the line between fiction and reality becomes extremely thin. Cane is very much alive and working on his latest creation, the effects of which are starting to take hold of everything and everyone. Madness settles into the proceedings, and all bets are off regarding rules.
And with this, Carpenter crafts one of his absolute best horror movie offerings to date. In fact, it’s right up there with the two other films that make up this Apocalypse trilogy. It’s a maddening and, at times, very funny ride through the inexplicable, with Trent’s ultimate explanation for all that’s happening actually making sense in a weird sort of way. And the movie ends with just about the most perfect final moment that any horror movie has ever delivered...and it’s the part I always look forward to whenever I watch it.
John Carpenter earned his status as a horror movie master with the likes of Halloween, but I honestly think it’s such works as In the Mouth of Madness that strengthened his status even more so. In terms of the meta-horror movie, it maybe the best one to date and it’s certainly one of the most original the genre has ever served up. And in terms of making me never wanting to ever pick up a horror novel...let’s just say it may have gotten the job done!
Having owned the previous Blu-ray release from Warner, I didn’t think there was any improvement to be made on the video end. But this new Shout Factory release supplies a 4K restoration that manages to bring an even grander look this atmospheric horror piece. Carpenter’s films always have a signature look that lingers in the dark shadows, and this presentation makes the absolute most of that aspect with exuberant texture and detail. Color appearance is also a great deal stronger than before. Kudos to Shout for a remarkable job!
This is a horror movie that loves to toy with sound elements, and the DTS HD mix provided takes full advantage of that and then some! The sound effects associated with all the madness going on here is captured amazingly well and man do they deliver a striking punch at times. They also balance out tremendously well with the top notch dialogue delivery and music playback, with no element ever being overshadowed.
Shout Factory delivers a much needed upgrade for this Collector’s Edition release, as we get TWO commentaries with John Carpenter. One of which is the one ported over from the previous release featuring him and cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe. The second is a brand new commentary with Carpenter and his wife/producing partner Sandy King Carpenter, and both offer insightful and terrific listens. Also featured are some neat new featurettes, including “Horror's Hallowed Grounds: A Look at the Film's Locations Today” , which offers a fun look at a few of shooting sites used in Toronto, as well as “The Whisperer of the Dark: An Interview with Actress Julie Carmen”, where the actress reflects on her work on the movie. Then there’s “Greg Nicotero's Things in the Basement: Monsters, Make-up, and Mayhem of In the Mouth of Madness”, which is a fun look at the many effects used in the movie, as well as “Home Movies from Hobb's End”, a compilation of footage that Nicotero shot during production. Lastly, there’s a Vintage Featurette on the making of the movie from 1995, as well as a Trailer and TV Spots.
In the Mouth of Madness is not only one of my absolute favorite John Carpenter movies, but one of my all time favorite horror movies in general. There were very few horror movies like this at the time, and there certainly haven’t very many since outside the Scream series. It’s always great when one of your favorite directors of the genre can whip up a wonderfully original offering like this!