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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 10%
Average: 6%
Pretty Bad: 30%
Total Crap: 2%

2 reviews, 38 user ratings

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In the Mouth of Madness
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by Justin Helmer

"It's not moist and warm."
2 stars

To be fair about it, originality, when it comes to storytelling, is really a rare commodity. In fact, somewhere there is a list of all of the possible stories that one can tell in fiction. Genre stories are, by their nature, even more derivative than straight fiction because there are very strict rules that must be followed. So, when we talk about originality in movies, nine times out of ten we are talking about questions of style rather than substance. Sometimes a movie will come out of left field with something that hasnít been seen before; more often itís the style, the spin on old concepts, which make us sit up and take notice.

John Carpenter does not usually have any trouble finding his own way to say things, maybe that is why In the Mouth of Madness was such a disappointment to me. Mixing equal parts Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and Shirley Jackson, Carpenter seems to want to tell a story about fiction and its relationship to reality. Instead, what we are given plays more like a greatest hits compilation; sort of a ďNow thatís what I call Horror: Volume 1.Ē

First, there is a brief opening that manages to cram David Warner and John Glover into the first five minutes; that is in itself no small accomplishment. Half of the weird character actors in Hollywood are in this movie. Charlton Heston and Bernie Casey are also here, along with Wilhelm von Homburg (the guy who played Vigo in Ghostbusters II). Honestly, I was waiting for Dennis Hopper or Crispen Glover to show up, causing the movie to collapse in on itself from overt weirdness.

Eventually we get to the main plot, which is told from the point of view of Sam Neilís character in flashback. Neil plays John Trent, a jaded insurance investigator so sure that he has seen it all that he has begun to look at people trying to see what it is they are hiding. Trent is the perfect type to be sucked into this kind of misadventure because his disbelief mirrors our own. His company has given him a job tracking down a missing author for a publishing house. Seems Sutter Caine disappeared before he could deliver the last chapter of his most recent book, In the Mouth of Madness.

Now apparently Caineís work causes somewhat of an extreme reaction in his fans: they become sort of killer fan-boys. People who are none too happy about the publishing delay are rioting in the streets like mothers after the last Cabbage Patch doll in the universe. So, along with Caineís editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), Trent heads of into the wilds of New Hampshire looking for the missing author. Trent assumes that this is some sort of wild publicity stunt; that is until they reach Hobbís End. Thatís when reality and (oddly enough) the movie both take a giant shit.

Okay, what went wrong? First of all, the screenplay feels like a hack and slash job of all of the suspense/horror films made since the mid seventies. The writer, Michael DeLuca, has four other writing credits, including two Nightmare on Elm Street movies, an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, and Judge Dredd. Clearly this is not someone who should ever be allowed near a word processor again. When you can almost feel the movie downshifting into exposition or heavy didactic arguments that sound like a first year philosophy tract about the nature of reality, the cast and director can only do so much.

All of the punches are telegraphed here like signposts pointing the way to mediocrity. Creepy kids, creepy old people, creepy black churches, big black dogs and (for the sweet love of Christ!) an angry mob of townspeople all make an appearance. Add to this a soundtrack that almost shrieks, ďBad scary shit is about to happen.Ē After a while it becomes difficult to muster even the kind of interest that would allow me to treat it like a MST3K vehicle.

I think the thing I found most aggravating of all was the imbalance of the three main characters. Not every movie that Sam Neil has done has been a winner, but by and large he is a serious guy. I can only assume he was working off some kind of community service here. For the most part Jurgen Prochnow holds his own, although he basically just has to pop up occasionally and go ďOOGA BOOGAĒ and disappear again. It isnít anything too taxing for him. Julie Carmen is a whole other question though. She has to carry a significant portion of the drama, and she is clearly way out of her league.

I just didnít care about any of what was going on. The longer the movie got, the more it became two characters to whom I was indifferent running around in a badly-defined town of horrors. I fell asleep in the beginning of the third act! Just about the time things are supposed to be getting the most interesting. Iíve fallen asleep in two movies in my life; the other was The Mask of Zorro, so that should give you an idea.

I donít think Iíve ever been so disappointed in my life as when I woke up and had to rewind that 15 minutes in order to be able to do this review. There are moments in this movie that work well, but they are few and far between. By the time I got to what is supposed to be the shocking twist at the end, I realized that it worked much better in Blazing Saddles. The whole thing made me feel kind of bad for Stephen King. At least Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson are dead, they didnít have to see their work turned into this.

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originally posted: 08/15/03 15:24:48
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell underappreciated a good film 4 stars
5/12/06 ES Brilliant- very lovecraftian and well told. carpenter's best since 'the Thing' 5 stars
5/07/06 Freeze Carpenter's best! My favorite horrorflic! A must see! Truly!!! 5 stars
5/03/06 Josh Standlee Absolutely brilliant, and scary as fuck! This has one of the best endings ever!!!!! 5 stars
3/11/06 Sam An awsome, creepy movie, very underappreciated 5 stars
11/02/05 shackle A great, creepy, underrated, overlooked film. All Lovecraft fans should own this. 5 stars
10/26/05 Crumbcake You ask for smart horror, you get it, then you bitch 'cause it's too complicated. Fuck off 5 stars
10/24/05 Suk-R-Punch Some people just wouldn't know brilliant horror if you raped them in the ass with it... 5 stars
10/19/05 Gumbo For once, a smart horror film...and fuck King, this baby is all Lovecraft!!! 5 stars
10/15/05 OodlesofOs Just a great mind-trip of a horror film with lots of subversive ideas instead of just gore. 5 stars
10/14/05 gasp In my humble opinion, as well, Carpenter's best, most thought-provoking film. 5 stars
10/13/05 Bryant Gumby A total mind-fuck...I loved it. 5 stars
10/12/05 Johnny Cake Great movie, half-shitty ending (should have ended outside the asylum). Still, excellent. 5 stars
10/11/05 Biz-e One of the best, most overlooked and misunderstood horror masterpieces of recent years! 5 stars
9/23/05 Jakub Right on par with HALLOWEEN as Carpenter's best film (granted it's a sorry lot). 5 stars
9/19/05 mung Lovecraftian cinema at its FINEST 5 stars
9/12/05 Bloodclot Fuck all of you, this is Carpenter's best film. 5 stars
8/16/05 ES Lovecraftian horror fest, not too many like it out there 4 stars
5/08/04 R.L. 3 One of my favorite movies JC ever made. Funny at times, and just a lot of fun to watch. 5 stars
4/11/04 American Slasher Goddess Cool and atmospheric,Carpenter's best in his latter films. 4 stars
3/20/04 john develops one idea that's only mildly interessting to begin with to a tiresome conclusion 2 stars
10/24/03 Sammy One of the strangest movies I've ever seen... I love it! 5 stars
9/20/03 Laurian Diaconescu Awesome, awesome, awesome!!! 5 stars
8/28/03 anna Just got weirder and weirder until you had to say, damn. Fucked up. 5 stars
8/25/03 aaron appleby i don't know 5 stars
8/18/03 Noacat This movie was crap. It should be stopped before it hurts more innocent people. 1 stars
6/14/03 Alice Great story, I loved it ! 5 stars
5/22/03 mr. Pink Some good ideas and Neill's good, but descends after half an hour into hokum. 3 stars
3/04/03 Jack Sommersby Never develops its central idea satisfyingly. Clunky and uneven. Neil is outstanding. 2 stars
11/17/02 Mr. Gone actually pretty interesting, a decent attempt by carpenter 4 stars
11/06/02 Smacking Up Women One Bitch at a Time The ending maintains integrity, but everything else is random and boring. Typical Carpenter 3 stars
6/19/02 Charles Tatum Okay, but H.P. Lovecraft wrote better stuff 3 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk As far as Carpenter flicks go, this is the scariest...quite disturbing. 5 stars
5/30/01 big malc a scary movie that didn't follow the same dumb ass plot that most of them do, thumbz up! 4 stars
1/26/01 Diego Romero One of the scariest movies Iīve ever seen, 5 stars
1/16/01 Aurora This movie, it really fucks with your mind. I love it!! 5 stars
1/17/00 Will why no reviews??? this is a great movie, dammit. 5 stars
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  03-Feb-1995 (R)



Directed by
  John Carpenter

Written by
  Michael De Luca

  Sam Neill
  Jurgen Prochnow
  Julie Carmen
  Charlton Heston
  Frances Bay

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