Year 1995
Studio New Line Films
Producer Sandy King
Director John Carpenter
Writer Michael De Luca

John Carpenter

Dave Davies

Jim Lang


Sam Neil

Julie Carmen

Jurgen Prochow

Charles Heston

Sean Ryan as The Bicycle Boy

Length 95 mins

In the Mouth of Madness

‘‘ Oh no! Not the Carpenters too. ’’

The Thing was John Carpenter's first homage to the weird works of H.P. Lovecraft. With In the Mouth of Madness the director returns to Lovecraft's Mythos, effectively and sometimes subtly capturing Howard's obsession of what "reality" really is.

The story begins with Sam Neil as insurance investigator John Trent, being dragged into a Lovecraftian padded cell while prophesizing the end of the world. The story unfolds as an elaborate flashback, telling how and why Trent was driven mad.

It all began when Trent was hired to investigate the disappearance of a horror writer called Sutter Cane (like Stephen King . . . get it?). Cane's novels not only affect his readers, but the very fabric of reality. Cane's publisher, played by Charlton Heston, has taken out a large insurance policy on the delivery of Cane's new book—called In the Mouth of Madness—and since the writer has been missing for two months, wants to collect on his multi-million dollar policy.

Trent starts his investigation by reading some of Cane's books, novels that neatly parody Lovecraft's own melodramatic titles: The Hobb's End Horror, The Whisperer of the Dark, The Thing in the Basement, The Breathing Tunnel, and Monster out of Time.

To Trent, Cane's books all seem to have the same plot. "Slimy things in the dark, people go mad, they turn into monsters." But like a Lovecraft critic who can't help but become a little infected by the writing, he grudgingly acknowledges that "they're better written than you'd expect . . . they kind of get to you."

Trent thinks the so-called disappearance of Sutter Cane is one big publicity stunt staged by the publisher, but Heston assures him that it isn't and sends Trent to find Cane, assigning Cane's editor, Linda Styles (played by the lovely Julie Carmen), to help him find the missing novelist.

Trent and Styles take an elaborate trip into New England's heart of darkness, tipping the film's uneasy alliance between Lovecraft and King more towards Stephen as they run into an aging bicyclist on a road that disappears into another dimension, taking them through the clouds and into Hobb's End.

The film shifts back towards HPL as they drive to an old hotel with a huge greenhouse. Styles immediately recognizes the hotel as a part of The Hobb's End Horror that, like "The Colour Out of Space," was filled with "strange growing things" and "something moving—something enormous, with arms like snakes."

More nods to HPL follow as they discover that the hotel has a painting which changes from a pastoral scene to one of slithering ghouls. The hotel is run by a wizened old woman named Pickman (Richard Upton's love-child perhaps?) who later mutates into an ax-wielding, husband-killing, tentacle-sprouting monster.

Strangely, the old New England town of Hobb's End seems to be close by the Romanian location of Lurking Fear's Leffert's Corners, for it contains a huge Greek Orthodox Church with black onion towers. A place, as Trent reads from one of Sutter Cane's books, "that had once been a seat of an evil older than mankind and wider than the known universe." According to Lovecraft/Cane it's built over a gateway to one very bad dimension.

That night Styles goes back to the church and finds Cane (played by Jurgen Prochnow of Das Boat and Dune fame) behind an old Remington typewriter, putting the finishing touches on the manuscript of his final masterpiece, In the Mouth of Madness. Looking like shock-jock Don Imus but acting like a classic Lovecraftian scholar driven mad by forbidden knowledge, Cane has become a latter-day Abdul Alhazred, proclaiming his last novel the "new bible" which will allow the Old Ones back into our world.

Trent tries to escape from Hobb's End but experiences a very Twilight Zone-ish sequence of eternal returns. Cane won't allow Trent to leave, for he has other plans for him. It is Trent's role to deliver the manuscript to Arcane Publishing so the masses will read and believe in Cane's work, thereby making it easier for the Old Ones to return and reclaim the world. In effect, Sutter Cane wants to publish a trade edition of the Necronomicon and put the blasphemous book on display in everyone's local bookstore.

Cane pulls the final page of the manuscript from the typewriter and then transforms into a multidimensional passageway, literally ripping a hole in himself as though he was made of paper. Styles, in the meanwhile, reads from the blasphemous manuscript about a character named John Trent peering into Cane's inter-dimensional rip to see "the illimitable gulf of the unknown, the Stygian world yawning blackly beyond. He did not shriek but the hideous unholy abominations shrieked for him as, in the same second, he saw them spill and tumble upward out of an enormous carrion black pit choked with the gleaming white bones of countless unhallowed centuries."

Styles rams the boxed manuscript of faux-Lovecraft into Trent's gut and tells him to escape, for she has read the ending and cannot leave. The investigator takes flight down a weird corridor, hotly pursued by a gaggle of Lovecraft-inspired beasts (cardboard cutouts of a shambling tangle of teeth and tentacles).

In the end, the reality-ripping book is published despite Trent's multiple successful attempts to destroy the manuscript. Its release becomes the touchstone for worldwide massacres and Old One mutations.

John Trent, who's been safely tucked away in his padded cell, is left untouched by the apocalypse, and leaves the abandoned asylum to walk down empty corridors covered with ripped pages and blood. Eventually, as every best-seller does, the novel winds up on the big screen where Trent, with a bucket of greasy popcorn on his lap, can howl at himself in the film version of a book he's never read.

No film reviewed in this book is so strongly divisive as In the Mouth of Madness. This is either a film people love or hate . . . there seems to be no in-between. The film's arguable weaknesses include the generic rock soundtrack composed and played by director John Carpenter, and the disjointed script that left the actors as confused as the plot. The film's strength is its Lovecraftian themes and the concept that the writer, Sutter Cane, is changing reality through his writings. Not much different than Lovecraft himself, really, when you realize the lasting effect the author has had on modern horror.