Friday, June 6, 2014

In the Mouth of Madness review

    "Do you read Sutter Cane?"

    This is one of my favorite horror movies. Which is saying something, as I've seen hundreds. It's a delightful homage to both the works of Stephen King as well as H.P. Lovecraft with twists on both. So, before I review anything else of the movie, I'm going to tell you--see this movie. Go on Netflix or Xbox Live or even buy it on DVD from if you can.

    You won't be disappointed.

This resulting scene is horrifying AND hilarious.
    The premise of In the Mouth of Madness, named for the H.P. Lovecraft novel At the Mountains of Madness, is that former insurance investigator, John Trent (Sam Neil), is locked up in a mental asylum. Something terrible happened to him when he went looking for missing horror author Sutter Cane (a hybrid of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King). The rest of the movie is told in flashback, except for the epilogue which provides a delightful twist ending.

    I think In the Mouth of Madness is a movie designed for writers as it builds a lot on the creative process and its potential for horror. In a very real way, writers are gods in their tiny little worlds and our characters are subject to our whims. Our creations can, and the best ones do, take on a life of their own to the point we sometimes feel like we're only chronicling their actions as opposed to deciding them.

    We follow John Trent, a rational man, into a world which slowly unravels as he deals with the fact he's no longer in complete control over his actions. I won't spoil the movie for you but a major turning point in the story is when he discovers the supposedly fictional city of Hobbes Landing, a stand-in for both Lovecraft's Arkham and King's Castle Rock, is real.

Hmmm, I think Sam Neil's character may be a trifle uncomfortable.
     Fans of Stephen King will get more out of this movie than most as there's a ton of in-jokes based upon his writing. The movie doesn't rely on King's name brand recognition, however, as anyone familiar with the idea of a horror story will appreciate the town's ambiance. The place is normal enough at first but, gradually, it becomes clear something isn't right 

    In the Mouth of Madness isn't a gross-out film and the terrors faced are largely off-camera. Yet, it is the story's creep factor which makes it effective. Which is more scary? Blood, guts, and gore or the slow loss of free will?

    I say the latter.

    Assisting John Trent through his journey into madness is Linda Style's character of Julie Carmen. Sutter Cane's editor, she is a little more open to the increasingly baroque nature of the happenings in the town. Unfortunately, for her, she's as subject to the whims of Sutter Cane as anyone else and we get to see her deal with some shocking revelations. I liked the way Linda Styles and Sam Neil played off one another and would have watched a whole movie about those two bickering.

    Jürgen Prochnow plays the small but important role of Sutter Cane masterfully. Who the Old Ones represent (whether his editors or adoring public) is anyone's guess but the ambiguity just makes the story all the more entertaining.

    As an artist, Sutter Cane has completely bought into his fantasy of being a god and that means taking his story to its natural conclusion--no matter the results. I also like how his character plays into the fringe occultism myth that Howard Phillips actually had some supernatural insights.

Always look on the brrrrrrighhttt side of life.
    In the Mouth of Madness reminds me most of H.P. Lovecraft's Dream Cycle. As the name of the dimension implied, it was a place subject to the whims and imagination of Randolph Carter. As a writer, H.P. Lovecraft understood the terrifying power writers held over characters which in their own way might have their own lives.

   Stephen King, with the Dark Half and Bag of Bones, knows this too. I think this movie might have even had a hand in inspiring my favorite cult-classic video game, Alan Wake. Alan Wake, too, dealt with a writer who discovered the power of words was not all it was cracked up to be.

    The classification of this as a story set in the Cthulhu Mythos may irritate some as the Old Ones are mentioned only toward the end but I think the mythology of Lovecraft underscores everything. Hobbes Landing is a cruel, pitiful, and terrifying place for its inhabitants since they are toys to a god they cannot to appease.

    Just like my characters.


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