In the Mouth of Madness is a perfect example of how beautiful absurdist horror can hide behind the familiar in film. The film, directed by John Carpenter and written by Michael De Luca, was released back in February 1995 under New Line Cinema. This film would debut after a line of classics placed under Carpenter’s name in the horror genre. Everything about the film continues to thrill me and remind me why I love horror films, so it only felt right to talk about why it has become so special to me.
When horror novelist Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) goes missing, insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) scrutinizes the claim made by his publisher, Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston), and endeavors to retrieve a yet-to-be-released manuscript and ascertain the writer’s whereabouts. Accompanied by the novelist’s editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), and disturbed by nightmares from reading Cane’s other novels, Trent makes an eerie nighttime trek to a supernatural town in New Hampshire.
The Gorgeous Paranoia of Hobb’s End
I can almost feel the fall air slip past me when I first see Neill’s character drive across the classic New England-covered bridge. The colors, the tone, and the general energy pushed into every scene almost mimic the paranoia and dreamlike perspective __ experiences. The encroaching madness surrounded by denial shows itself in the dialogue and the characters. Meanwhile, the audience is wrapped up in the small-town comforts attempting to conceal the underlying horrors.
This film has always stuck with me and for a long time, I couldn’t completely understand why. It’s a fantastic horror film, but unlike others, this one tends to make sure that every part of yourself takes a piece of the story with you. At the heart of it, In The Mouth of Madness is a film that dangles you from great heights and you never know if it’ll suddenly let you fall into true terror. The comforting and skeptical hand of Neill’s character works wonders as the walls and pages of Hobb’s End close in and wrap around you.
There’s something poetic about this Carpenter film being released shortly after I was born, in 1994. I was born into an evangelical Christian family and molded by it till my days in high school where I slowly fell in love with stories and the visual arts. The first horror film I acknowledge had a start in my love affair with the genre was The Shining. I should have known a favorite sub-genre for me would be psychological horror. The mixture of confusion with the familiar is done very well in that film, but there’s something special about how it shows up In The Mouth of Madness.
A Whole World In The Mouth of Madness
The examination of a world in the grips of the satanic panic meanwhile throwing twisted worship and adoration at horror authors like Sutter Cane (an easy sub-in for those like Stephen King) is masterful. From the opening of the film to the closing maniacal laughter before the end credits, there’s no escaping the most absurd thing itself, reality. Reality, society, trends, beliefs, and much more can become some of the most horrific parts of life itself. The weirdest part is that I tend to find some level of comfort in this movie. The idea of a town ripped from the pages of a book, appearing normal yet filled with monstrous people, brings me back to the many days I spent watching Goosebumps. There’s an absurd level of innocence woven throughout the film that brings you in.
Visually, In The Mouth of Madness is surreal and simple all at the same time. We admire the look of a small town, a cozy bed and breakfast, and fall foliage. But we secretly want to venture into the locked offices, take a quick look at the painting that keeps changing tiny details, and discover what makes the hair on the back of our necks stand straight up. You want Neill’s character to succumb to the allure of Hobb’s End, because like anyone else you’d want to see what happens. And eventually, we do see what happens as the pages turn and a dark future is revealed.
The creatures are grotesque in many ways (thanks to KNB EFX Group) but humanity shows itself to not be too far off. In The Mouth of Madness has many scenes that include gorgeous shots that guide the mind. From a wide view of the church and its ominous spires to the eerie and shocking blue tones on the bus, the world of Sutter Cane is bizarre yet brilliantly twisted. This will continue to be an important film for me. Like many other Carpenter films (The Thing, Prince of Darkness, Halloween, They Live, and many others), In The Mouth of Madness will serve as a great example of the power of the horror genre. Sit back, listen to some Carpenters, and let me ask you, by chance…do you read Sutter Cane?