Any enthusiastic reader will attest to the power of books, how they can transport you to other worlds and open doors to new realities. John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness takes that idea and whips it up into something terrifyingly literal, deliciously meta, relentlessly gruesome and thoroughly addictive for any horror fan whose tastes are rooted in pop culture.
It starts off with a crazed Sam Neill being shunted off to a remote asylum, raving like a loon about things that go bump in the night. This is cool because inherently Neill seems like a collected, pragmatic fellow onscreen so it’s especially disturbing watching him come apart at the seams and go ballistic. As he tells his story to a state appointed shrink (the great David Warner) so too do we learn of how he was once a hotshot insurance investigator hired by a publishing tycoon (Charlton Heston in an awesome extended cameo) to find their golden goose horror author Sutter Cane, who has gone missing. Cane is of course a spiritual avatar for Stephen King here but King also exists in this universe because they proudly and hilariously proclaim that Cane outsold him by a landslide, the first little meta touch of many. Neill heads off to Hobbs End, a town in one of Cane’s books that doesn’t seem to actually exist… until it does. He finds a whole lot there including Cane himself, now gone mad and played by ever intense scene stealer Jurgen Pröchnow in a devilish turn.
I’m not sure why this didn’t make as big a splash as some of Carpenter’s flagship works but for me it’s one of his very best. As Neill realizes the kind of chaos that his visit to Hobbs End will cause the audience gets to experience a medium shattering dose of immersive horror that breaks the boundaries of screens in front of us and feels both hilariously and eerily alive all it’s own (think Last Action Hero in the horror realm). That’s not to mention some truly spectacular special effects to almost rival Carpenter’s The Thing and sly, tongue in cheek performances from all involved including Julie Carmen, Peter Jason, Bernie Casey, Willhelm Von Homburg, Frances Bay and John Glover as the freaky deaky asylum administrator. You can’t ask for much more from a horror film as far as I’m concerned; reality bending narrative, gore to spare, atmosphere in bushels and humour as well. Grab the Shout Factory Blu Ray if you can because the single DVD release is a grainy, cropped affair and this film deserves to have all its gristle, guts and Lovecraftian glory shown in HD. Horror classic.