Director: John Carpenter
Writer: Michael De Luca
Starring: Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jurgen Prochnow, David Warner, John Glover, Charlton Heston, Bernie Casey
I think I’ve stated in the Vampires review that I am pretty much a devotee of John Carpenter’s cinematic works. The first Carpenter movie I remember seeing was at a local drive-in, it was the incredibly awesome the Thing. Looking back most of the great movies of what I consider my early film education was watched at the Drive-In. Would you believe it was a sci-fi double feature that night, the first movie being…Blade Runner? Anyway, fast forward to 1995 when I read that John Carpenter’s new movie was H.P. Lovecraft inspired AND it had David Warner…there was just no way I was not going to be there on opening night. When it was all over I was so ecstatic, the tone of the movie was everything I had hoped for and better yet I had been frightened.
As the movie opens we are treated to a nice rock riff during the credits, as we view giant printing presses at work. By the end of it we see books are being printed up by the thousands with a coming soon blurb on the back of them for In the Mouth of Madness by someone named Sutter Cane (Prochnow), the author’s title is very much like Stephen King’s books in the late 80’s and early 90’s. As the credits end we see an ambulance moving very fast, barely taking a moment to slow on a turn towards a very official looking structure. Inside that building we are introduced to Saperstein (Glover), head of the psychiatric hospital who is rather impatiently asking the Admitting department where ‘He’ is. The ‘He’ that Saperstein is referring to is John Trent (Neill) who seconds later is dragged in kicking and screaming outfitted in a straitjacket, raving that he is not insane. Trent’s physical appearance does lead one to believe he might have lost his mental faculties.
After a brief struggle Trent is shoved into his padded cell where he pleads to be let out at the top of his lungs, which Dr. Saperstein remedies, perhaps cruelly, by playing the Carpenters loudly to drown out his yells. Trent bemoans his fate as the rest of the psychiatric ward joins in song along with the Carpenters…until the music slows to a crawl then quits all together as the lights begin to flicker. Silence fills the ward for a few seconds until a hand appears to tap on the glass of the door, Trent confused and very much doubting if he actually is sane raises up to look through the glass, behind him there is a shadowy figure and the lights behind Trent begin to dim. Trent turns around and we see there is someone else in the room, with great disdain Trent responds, “This is a rotten way to end it.” The Shadowy figure, who we will later learn is Sutter Cane replies, “This is not the end…you haven’t read it yet.” We are then treated to some nightmarish images before Trent falls to his knees as the hand burst through the glass behind him…he raises up once again to see that everything is fine. For now.
As a storm rolls over the hospital we are introduced to Dr. Wrenn (Warner) who informs us that his agency has been monitoring the police and paramedic channels, which causes Sapperstein to make the statement, “Things must be getting pretty bad out there to bring you fellows in.” Dr. Wrenn doesn’t reply to the statement but asks if Trent had any requests since his admittance that afternoon, Sapperstein answers, “Just…one. Eh, a single black crayon.” When Dr. Wrenn steps in the cell we see that Trent has been very busy. The entire surface of the walls of the padded room are covered in crosses, Trent has also applied said crosses on his own body and clothing with the black crayon. Dr. Wrenn soon discovers to his dismay that Trent no longer is requesting his freedom, he has changed his mind and feels it is safer in the cell now. Dr. Wrenn informs him that he is there to hear Trent’s story, which he obliges by explaining he used to be an insurance investigator that specialized in fraud claims, strictly freelance. His story he explains started with the disappearance of Sutter Cane…
We see Trent at work for his current boss, Robinson (Casey), taking down a man with a fraudulent claim that his warehouse burned down. Robinson treats Trent to lunch a little later and we learn what we need of Trent, he is cynical and bitter, and refuses an offer to work for Robinson full time because he likes knowing that no one is pulling his strings. Robinson asks for help on a current case that is causing him some problems, Arcane Publishing which we are told is his biggest account has filed a claim that could cost him millions because Sutter Cane has gone missing. Trent has no idea who Cane is and before they can continue their conversation a man smashes the window they are sitting next to with an axe, the madman squats down next to Trent and asks, “Do you read Sutter Cane?” Even more disturbing is that when Trent looks up at him we can see the man has two pupils that are merging in each eye. The madman raises up to plant his axe into Trent but a pair of patrolman arrive and shoot the man down.
As Trent tries to calm his nerves that evening with the aid of some hard liquor (Really, can you blame him? He almost got an axe in his skull!), on the television they are showing footage of riots that are happening at book stores that were unable to meet the demand of Sutter Cane’s new book. The following day Trent visits Arcane publishing where he meets Jackson Harglow (Heston), head of the publishing giant, and Linda Styles (Carmen). Linda is Sutter Cane’s editor we are told as Harglow explains to Trent that the company wants to find Cane and retrieve his latest manuscript, In the Mouth of Madness, or the insurance payout if Cane has come to a bad end. Upon asking if Cane had contact with anyone before his disappearance we learn that his agent had been sent a few chapters by e-mail, his agent by the way turns out to be the madman with the axe.
Spoilers stop here, friends, to go any further might hurt your viewing of this fantastic film. I will add only that Linda and Trent end up taking a road trip to place called Hobb’s End…a place where most of the horror takes place in Cane’s novels. What evil do they find there? I told you already, the spoilers have stopped.
Turn the lights out and the sound up on this one before you start viewing it. If you are an H.P. Lovecraft fan like myself I really believe you’ll find this movie the perfect tip of the hat in honor of those wonderful creepy tales. I give this film a solid five pumpkins out of five.