Movie Review – In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

Released in 1994, In the Mouth of Madness is a horror film directed by John Carpenter, a legedary titan of the genre. I’m a fan of horror movies, and decided to go retro for this one. Unfortunately, the 90s isn’t known for producing great horror films. It was the decade that still relied on costumes while being plagued with questionable fashion trends and the lingering corny soundtracks of the 80s.

Sam Neill stars as John Trent, an insurance investigator responding to a claim by a publishing company that one of their star authors, Sutter Cane, has gone missing. During his search, Trent discovers that fiction just might have a power that extends beyond the pages…

This review will look at the good and the bad. There will be some spoilers.

At least it ain’t about possession…

The Good

One can really appreciate the unique premise of the plot: taking its cue from Lovecraft, the story is about demon-gods invading the planet Earth through Sutter Cane’s books; the more people who read it and are affected by it, the stronger they become, until all humans turn into the stygian alien race themselves. It’s a mix of fantasy and horror that doesn’t happen too often, so the film scores points for doing something different.

As a concept the premise is indeed terrifying. One of the main themes is the controversial idea that horror fiction, from a certain perspective, is no different than the Bible. Both are just words telling stories of the fantastic, the seemingly impossible. Since the Bible depends on faith for it to be real, who’s to say horror fiction can’t be the same? Thus, when Sutter Cane creates instant and constant bestsellers, his horror world becomes real, hence people going insane and demon-aliens invading the Earth.

Sam Neill does a great job with the role, as does most of the main actors. Though the story gets corny at certain parts, their performances were good enough to hold the entire thing together.

The Bad

Despite that, the casting of Sutter Cane was quite lacking. The way the character is set up suggests that the author is some sort of god under eldritch influences. Apart from the hair, Jürgen Prochnow doesn’t give off any creepy vibe; he’d be more appropriately cast as the devil in a suit rather than an author of horrible arcane powers.

The film was simply not scary, though this is most likely in retrospect. Many other films have experimented successfully and have managed to find better ways and better reasons to scare audiences since this movie’s release. In the Mouth of Madness depicts local riots, legions of masses consuming “junk fiction”, and the eerie small town with crazy locals. We’re less concerned with those things at the moment, which is why this film won’t have much effect in 2017.

Perhaps the film’s biggest fault, then, was that it was too ambitious. It tried to be a satire on two big topics: deterioration of society and the influence of depraved pop culture. By having two major themes it tries to tell too much, and focuses on neither, resulting in something that feels half-hearted and non-committal. On top of this there is also the character of Trent, who is struggling to believe what his eyes are telling him. With so many things going on at once, the demon aliens (whose costumes aren’t very effective) don’t get much build-up or suspense, and so when they appear it feels more like a pulp horror film rather than something that is serious.

In Conclusion…

Not much to say about this one. It was a horror movie that was probably decent in its time, but hasn’t aged very well. If you’re into Carpenter or Lovecraft, definitely check it out. Otherwise, look elsewhere if you’re looking for a good scare.

This has been a gamobo review. Thanks for reading.

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