IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS ***** USA 1994 Dir: John Carpenter. 95 mins
Carpenter’s return to horror after an eight-year hiatus is, like the same year’s WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE a scary, witty commentary on the genre itself in which the “unreal” accepted as a kind of religion by some of its consumers merges into the “real”. Sam Neill is outstanding as a cynical insurance investigator dragged kicking and screaming into John Glover’s asylum in the first scene (to the tune of The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun”) and telling his story to David Warner’s doctor. Via flashbacks we learn that he was hired by publisher Charlton Heston to solve the disappearance of enigmatic horror writer Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow), whose novels have had a disturbing effect on more unstable readers. Neill’s journey to the Quatermass-inspired “Hobbs’ End” unleashes monsters, a ghoulish figure riding a bicycle on an endless, circular highway, Frances Bay as an elderly murderess and Cane reinventing himself as the leader of the Black church.
KNB provide some fun creature FX, though the subtler scares are the most effective and the shifting layers of reality incorporate nods to the greatest 20th century horror writers from Lovecraft and Arthur Machen through to Nigel Kneale and Stephen King. Like NEW NIGHTMARE, Michael De Luca’s imaginative script allows the filmmaker to sardonically comment on the violence-in-movies debate and place himself in the narrative: Cane’s insanity spreads like a plague everywhere, with its ultimate release coming via a screen adaptation directed by John Carpenter! Considered the third in an “apocalypse” trilogy begun by THE THING and PRINCE OF DARKNESS, it builds to a marvellously sour denouement and, like the earlier films, balances its sustained dread with a recurring dose of gallows humour.
Review by Steven West