Many directors have attempted to adapt the works of H.P. Lovecraft, most with dubious results. John Carpenter has managed to craft one of the best attempts yet with In The Mouth Of Madness. While not a true adaptation, there are enough references and common themes that fans of Lovecraft’s fiction will know whats up. This film also marks the conclusion to what Carpenter has called his “Apocalypse Trilogy”, which began with “The Thing”, and continued with “Prince Of Darkness”. While the 3 films have little in common from a narrative perspective, they do each contain potentially world-ending scenarios.
*I will try my very best to omit any spoilers as this film is totally worth watching*
In The Mouth Of Madness is an oddly “Meta” film that begins at the end, only to tell the bulk of the story through flashbacks. It concerns an Insurance investigator who is tasked with recovering the latest Manuscript by acclaimed Horror Novelist Sutter Cane after he has gone missing. Along the way, it becomes clear that we are slipping into the world depicted within Cane’s novels, begging the question: “which came first, the world? Or the Writing” As we try to comprehend this unanswerable paradox, we are treated to unsettling imagery depicting insanity slowly corrupting our reality, of unspeakable horrors from a time before existence, of hopelessness and despair.
Heavy stuff, right? Sam Neil does a great job of playing the level headed skeptic who is sucked into insanity. As with a great many of the works of Lovecraft, Madness plays a heavy role in this story. As do unspeakable slimy tentacled things. The Film’s title is a reference to both “The Shadow over Innsmouth”, and “The Mountains of Madness”, two of Lovecraft’s best know works. Direct reference is even made to “The Old Ones”, which fans of Lovecraft will know full well from the celebrated Cthulhu Mythos. We even get treated to a few references to Stephen King as well, in claiming that the writing of Sutter Cane is both scarier than King’s and outsells him.
This film manages to provide genuine chills without the need to show ghastly monsters in every frame, or to shock us with gore. There is a distinct dream-like quality to the events, as if you know you’re dreaming, but refuse to believe it. How does it all start? Did the Old Ones use Cane as a conduit to bring themselves into our world? Or did Cane create it all? Did these people places and things spring forth from his twisted imagination, given power by the sheer number of readers? What came before the books? What did reality used to be? Ask yourself these questions, and you’ll truly know Madness.