“Do you read Sutter Cane?”
In the Mouth of Madness is a 1994 American horror film directed and scored by John Carpenter and written by Michael De Luca. Informally, the film is the third instalment in Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness.
In the midst of an unspecified disaster, Dr. Wrenn (David Warner) visits John Trent (Sam Neill), a patient in a psychiatric hospital, and Trent recounts his story:
Trent, a freelance insurance investigator, has lunch with a colleague. He asks Trent to work with his largest client, investigating a claim by New York-based Arcane Publishing. During their conversation, Trent’s attacked by a man wielding an axe who, after asking him if he reads Sutter Cane. The man is quickly shot dead by a police officer before he can harm Trent. The man was Cane’s agent, who went insane and killed his family after reading one of Cane’s books.
Trent meets with Arcane Publishing director, Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston), who tasks him with investigating the disappearance of popular horror novelist, Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow). He also requests he recover the manuscript for Cane’s final novel. He assigns Cane’s editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), to accompany him. Linda explains that Cane’s stories have been known to cause disorientation, memory loss and paranoia in “less stable readers”. Trent’s skeptical, convinced the disappearance is a publicity stunt. While sorting through Cane’s published collection, Trent notices red lines on their covers which, when aligned properly, form the outline of New Hampshire. They mark a location alluded to be Hobb’s End, the fictional setting for many of Cane’s works.
They set out to find the town. Linda experiences bizarre phenomena during the late night drive, and they inexplicably arrive at Hobb’s End in daylight. Trent and Linda search the small town, encountering people and landmarks described as fictional in Cane’s novels. Trent believes it all to be staged, but Linda disagrees. She admits to Trent that Arcane Publishing’s claim was a stunt to promote Cane’s book, but the time distortion and exact replica of Hobb’s End were not part of the plan.
The pair split off to explore. Linda enters a church to confront Cane, who exposes her to his final novel, In the Mouth of Madness, which drives her insane. She begins embracing and kissing Cane passionately. A man (Wilhelm von Homburg) approaches Trent in a bar and warns him to leave, then commits suicide. Outside the bar, a mob of monstrous-looking townspeople descend upon him. Trent drives away from Hobb’s End, but is repeatedly teleported back to the center of town.
Will John and Linda ever escape Hobb’s End? Could this all still be staged or is it something much more? Watch and find out.
In the Mouth of Madness isn’t a film I’d ever heard of before which is surprising considering it’s directed by John Carpenter but despite what I anticipated going into it, it’s actually a very solid movie and deserves more recognition.
The concept of the film is executed perfectly and engaging throughout. In the Mouth of Madness is well acted and full of intriguing characters; which is why our main protagonist, played by Sam Neill, fits in perfectly. An insurance investigator, straight as an arrow. He constantly tries to rationalise and keep it together throughout the progressing madness he’s found himself wrapped up in. Each scene grips you and just like Trent, you’re never sure of what’s truly afoot until it’s too late.
Additionally, the effects are amazing. They hold up exceedingly well and are signature John Carpenter, reminiscent of The Thing and his other works.
The only negatives I can grasp at are that I found Linda and John’s chemistry to be lacking. Perhaps they could have had more dialogue. Linda unfortunately didn’t feel like much of a character and more a plot device to get Trent from A to B. Also, it’s best to not question or rationalise the plot too much and just accept its supernatural elements. Your brain is best left at the door for the most part.
Overall, an engaging and unique film that’s well executed and in general, well done. Definitely one to watch if you haven’t already.
In the Mouth of Madness