John Carpenter is a legend. This is an unarguable fact. His recent films, though. That’s the issue. They’ve all been a bit…shit. So when was the last good one? That’s easy: it was 1995 and it was In The Mouth of Madness.
It doesn’t start well; rather than the moody synthesisers we get a rather bland piece of rock. It’s alright but it doesn’t fit with what’s to come.
The film starts with Sam Neil in an asylum, his room covered in crayon drawings of crosses and what have you. He gets visited by a man who wants to know his story, as he hints that something bad is happening in the outside world. Neil then proceeds to recount his story in flashback, he was an insurance investigator who gets hired to find a writer by the name of Sutter Cane. Sutter Cane writes horror books, and is noted as being more popular than Stephen King. His books are nearly as popular as the bible, so him going missing before his next book is finished is A Bad Thing. So off Sam Neil goes to find him, tracking him down to Hobbs End, a town written about in Cane’s books that doesn’t show on a map. But there it is.
Things then start to get very weird. This film is the final part of Carpenter’s loose series of films he called his Apocalypse Trilogy. The first two were The Thing and Prince of Darkness, both films that dealt with a threat that could end the world.
As hinted at the beginning of the film, something bad is bubbling away in the back ground of Madness. People are rioting as they try to buy Cane’s books, people turning into crazed violent maniacs with a predilection to picking up axes and putting them down again forcefully in the face of another person.
And it’s all very unsettling. A sense of foreboding soaks this film from the beginning setup to Hobbs End itself. Neil is at the centre of the Madness as it swirls around him; Cane’s work has tapped into some deeper Lovecraftian evil, delightfully portrayed by a chained, pulsating door. Cane’s books has allowed this evil to come into the world, a world it will soon take over.
The film is great. It mixes in the Cthulhu like stuff with some Thing style body horror. The effects are mainly practical with some great puppet work that doesn’t overshadow the performances. This is one of Neil’s finest, as his hard nosed realist gets faced with some pretty fucked up shit.
We then get an ending pulled from the top drawer, bleak as you like. It feels similar to the end of Prince of Darkness, that film also has an ending which is a punch to the gut.
There are flashier horror films and scarier ones as well. But what you get from Madness is potentially the last gasp of true creativity from a horror master. It knows all the buttons and pushes them with glee, before smashing it in the face with an axe.