by Mel Valentin
"In the Mouth of Madness," a1995 fantasy/horror effort (if "effort" is the right word) from horror auteur John Carpenter ("Halloween," "The Fog," "Escape From New York," "The Thing," "Big Trouble in Little China, "They Live," "Prince of Darkness"), rarely gets mentioned in discussions of Carpenter’s better films or contributions to the horror genre. Hampered by pedestrian storytelling, poorly conceived and even more poorly executed, hollow and tensionless, "In the Mouth of Madness" delivers few jump scares or inventive visuals (with the exception of one image of a church on a hill turned to a diabolic purpose). In short, "In the Mouth of Madness" proves to be a forgettable viewing experience, unworthy of Carpenter's name or reputation.In the Mouth of Madness opens on the lead character, John Trent (Sam Neill), institutionalized in a mental facility (he's bound in a straightjacket) recounting the events that have led to his current predicament. Is the story we're about to hear the fantastical rants of a man who's lost touch with reality or are we about to hear the truth? Cue extended flashback. Trent, an experienced insurance investigator gets called into the office of a publisher, Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston). Harglow’s most profitable horror novelist, Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow, underused), has disappeared only days before the publication of his next, eagerly anticipated novel. Cane, a cross between Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, has published a series of novels that cause his readers to become violently, homicidally insane. Harglow assigns Cane’s editor (and obligatory romantic interest), Linda Styles (Julie Carmen, Fright Night 2), to help Trent investigate Kane's disappearance. With almost no effort, Trent finds a town that shouldn’t exist, Hobb's End (it exists only as the fictional setting for the missing novelist's work).
"Strictly for diehard Carpenter fans/completists."
Shifting levels of "objective" reality, paranoia, schizophrenia, self/identity disintegration, and existential dread as ideas are all present in In the Mouth of Madness, but explored only superficially. Carpenter took the path of least resistance, building the story shallowly, including only a handful of stock characters, minimal conflict, flatlining tension, a central mystery near the mid-ppoint of In the Mouth of Madness' running time, a monologuing villain, and finally, a glimpse into an otherworldly abyss that reveals deeply unscary rubber monsters, apparently Lovecraftian "Old Ones" attempting to enter our world via a transdimensional portal of some kind (they've trashed their world and want to do the same to ours), not to mention a long-haired albino on a bicycle (yes, you read that correctly) that provides a transitory moment of unexpected humor. Gore, shocks, or over-the-top performances (frequent Carpenter collaborator, Donald Pleasance is nowhere to be found), staples of '90s-era Carpenter are conspicuous by their absence.
Carpenter unsurprisingly mishandles the flashback structure: the narrative leaves the protagonist several times and follows the female lead Linda Styles when and where Trent possibly couldn't know (there's no evidence Linda shares her experiences with Trent). We know he survives, at least until the extended flashback (which covers most of the film) has run its course. Carpenter had obviously no affinity for the screenplay and budget limitations probably contributed to multiple narrative gaps filled by dialogue and not action (we're told, not shown, key events). Framing the story from the protagonist's point of view (i.e., the "wrap around" flashback structure) also minimizes suspense or tension.
John Carpenter and screenwriter/producer Michael De Luca missed the "core" story: it isn't with the insurance investigator finding Hobb's End, but in the epidemic of violence and insanity that leaks out of Hobb's End into the "real" world. Finding Hobb's End should have served as the first-act climax and not the second act, and the emphasis should have been on solving the central mystery, not exposition-heavy dialogue scenes that spoon feed information to the characters and the audience of events happening off screen.Ultimately, "In the Mouth of Madness" builds to a disappointing, lackluster, uninspired payoff. Given Carpenter’s involvement, genre fans can fairly expect more than a hackneyed, derivative effort. Ultimately, "In the Mouth of Madness" isn’t even second-tier Carpenter (more like third- or fourth-tier). Instead, "In the Mouth of Madness" should be recommended for diehard Carpenter fans only, and even then caution and low expectations are the operative words.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=3005&reviewer=402
originally posted: 09/04/05 17:22:00