Today I watched John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
Sam Neill plays John Trent, an insurance investigator who has been incarcerated in an asylum during a plague of insanity. In the asylum Trent is visited by Dr. Wrenn who wants him to recount his story and tell him how he came to be in this place. The rest of the film is Trent’s recounting of his final investigation, the disappearance of pulp horror author Sutter Cane. Cane is like a combination of H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and a messiah as his work is absurdly popular and seems to have a strong psychological effect on many of his readers. At first Trent believes the disappearance to be a publicity stunt as clues seem to lead him to an imaginary New England town from the novels. But when he travels to the location in an attempt to find Cane, he uncovers the apocalyptic truth.
This is the last act of the apocalypse trilogy, so naturally the world is ending. With the types of literary references that this film basks in, it’s obviously an apocalypse of sanity on a cosmic level. One could describe the loss of sanity as the loss of reality on an internal level and this film uses that idea to stylistically represent the opposite, the actual, material loss of reality. It’s a neat trick and it pulls the audience along with Trent as progressively more disturbing events plague him and the world. That being said the referential aspects of the film do cut the tension with plenty of odd and dark humour, which ranges in effect from distracting to some of the film’s best moments.
This humour makes this perhaps the most ‘fun’ out of the Apocalypse Trilogy, which is odd to say considering how dark it gets. There just seems to be a playfulness to this film, perhaps owing to it’s literary influences. It just seems as though the creators are having a lot of fun with some of their favorite old horror tropes here, exploring that strange brand of New England terror which has defined much of the American writing in the genre. That playfulness combined with the all consuming sense of doom really makes this movie work for me, it’s just clever and fun despite what could have been highly nihilistic themes. Yet it is a surprisingly divisive movie so I would highly recommend checking it out and forming your own opinion. 5/5