In the Mouth of Madness (USA 1995)

Director: John Carpenter

Starring: Sam Neill, Jurgen Prochnow, Julie Carmen, Charlton Heston, David Warner

Cinematography: Gary B. Kibbe

Original Music: Carpenter/Jim Lang

Story/script: Michael de Luca

FACT: Sam Neill is still fondly remembered from meff-central classic Aussie wartime TV soap The Sullivans.

In One Line: Insurance investigator seeks the whereabouts of cult horror writer.


John Trent (Neill) is in an asylum for the brutal murder of a young man outside a bookshop. Trent tells psychologist Dr Wrenn (Warner) his terrifying story. Trent had been hired by publisher Jackson Harglow (Heston) to track down the whereabouts of mysterious writer Sutter Kane and his valuable new manuscript. Trent is accompanied by Harglow's assistant Lynda (Carmen). He tracks Kane down to Hobbe's End, a New England village which seems to have disappeared from the map. The journey is nightmarish and certain incidents seem to replaying over and over again. Hobbe's End is both silent and depraved. Perversion and horror change Trent's sceptism to fear. When he finally confronts Kane, Trent is told that the horrors of Kane's pulp novels are becoming tangible and will soon manifest themselves in physical form.

Trent flees from Hobbe's End, but finds it difficult to escape his destiny.


I quite like Prince of Darkness and there are one or two good bits in some of his other films since 1982, but In the Mouth of Madness is Carpenter's only genuinely good film since The Thing.

Some are so uninspired (Memoirs of an Invisible Man) or so silly (Big Trouble in Little China) that they're almost unwatchable whereas Ghosts of Mars is just plain unwatchable. In the Mouth of Madness was written by producer Michael de Luca and it has an unhinged, dream-like quality that examines the nature of reality, pre-destination and fate.

Prochnow plays a Stephen King-like figure whose novels are inducing madness in his readers. The script seems to be suggesting that Kane is divining an ancient evil from another dimension through the printed page. Besides the similarities in the names (Sutter Kane/Stephen King), there are other similarities between the two writers in the nature of the pulp horror content of the novels, the nature of the effects of horror on its readers and the role of the writer/creator in how we perceive the world.

There are a number of genuinely scary moments in the film. There are violent jump cuts, acts of betrayal as the familiar is proved to be the bland face of evil, and there is a recurring night time lonely cyclist image which is worthy of David Lynch.

Kibbe's photography is fantastic at times - the shots of the bizarre Greek church and the blue-tinted nightmare bus journey sequence are both outstanding.

The film is has echoes of City of the Dead, Angel Heart and Bryan Yuzna's (truly revolting) Society.

Neill is excellent, there's a cleverish post-modern ending and there's a great line about 'The Carpenters'. The actual monsters themselves cannot live up to their foreshadowing, but this an excellent pulp horror film and it's unlikely that Carpenter will ever reach this standard again.

I hope I'm wrong.