“Do you read Sutter Cane?”
John Carpenter’s mind-bending ’90s film In The Mouth Of Madness is rarely given much respect by critics or attention by the masses – yet the cult psychological-chiller is among the most ingenious creature features of the past 50 years.
With the 20th anniversary of its US release taking place next month, Mark Butler gives ten reasons why the outlandish movie is a true horror masterpiece.
1. It’s the greatest Lovecraftian film ever made
The great HP Lovecraft has rarely had his style and vision of hideous, unfathomable beings from beyond our reality translated into worthy cinematic offerings. But In The Mouth Of Madness may be the strongest movie attempt at a Lovecraftian story yet. The moment when the protagonist – and we, the audience – are confronted by ancient monsters attempting to escape into our world, is a hair-raising one.
2. The creature effects are downright creepy
No stranger to giving viewers the willies with disturbing practical effects in prior efforts, such as his classic B-Movie The Thing, Carpenter’s twisted, nightmarish monsters were brought to unholy life by Hollywood legend Greg Nicotero.
3. The set-up is intriguing
Sam Neill’s stuffy insurance investigator is a properly old-school kind of horror ‘hero’: the sort of smug, everyday white-collar nobody who we rarely see fronting major releases these days. He’s sent off to look into the mysterious disappearance of best-selling horror writer Sutter Cane: is it a publicity stunt as he suspects – or something more sinister?
4. Sutter Cane is a terrific creation
Inhabited with relish by German actor Jürgen Prochnow, the enigmatic author is a mesmerising, attention-holding presence once encountered – part crazed cult leader, part arrogant messenger for the dark forces he has ultimately unleashed.
5. It has amazing atmosphere
Neatly building a slow-burning sense of unease and dread throughout its running time, this is a film that really knows how to play tricks on the mind. The night-time car scene alone is a masterwork of shiver-inducing suspense and tension. (Dat bike guy…)
6. It’s both fun…
As with a lot of Carpenter’s finest work, In The Mouth Of Madness has moments of schlocky goofiness, off-the-wall absurdity and comic relief.
7. …and VERY scary
But when the chips are down, it gets very messed-up indeed. The hotel basement scene is not for the faint-of-heart.
8. The cast are top-notch
Neill and Prochnow both do a fine job, while the game supporting players include cult horror favourite David Warner (of Omen fame) – and a certain bloke called Charlton Heston, as the head of Cane’s publisher.
9. It skillfully blurs the lines between dreams, and reality
The whole glorious 95 minutes is an exercise in ‘is this really happening?’, for both the audience and Neill’s increasingly horrified lead. When you’re never quite sure if the things unfolding are taking place in the character’s head or in the real world, and these boundaries become more and more confused, it really does keep you on your toes.
10. It breaks the fourth wall
Before the whole idea of ‘films within films’ and self-referential material became popular in horror, the movie’s ending was an early triumph of post-modern goofery. Much like the protagonist, it’ll leave you laughing and screaming at the same time.
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