In the Mouth of Madness (1995)
The surreal and esoteric world of author H P Lovecraft has often inspired horror directors but many of the films have seldom successfully captured his nightmarish mix of madness and mythology. John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness is not directly based on Lovecraft's work but screenwriter Michael De Luca draws his inspiration from Lovecraft's Cthulu mythos and then adds a further homage to Nigel Kneale and many of the themes that were prevalent in his Quatermass series.
John Trent (Sam Neill), an insurance investigator recently "sectioned", tells his story to the resident psychiatrist. Hired to track down horror author Sutter Cane by his publishers, Trent finds the trail leads him to the town of Hobb's End. The thing is the town is fictional and shouldn't exist outside of the Cane’s novels. Trent watches the town collapse into madness, murder and monstrous transformations: the contents of Cane's novels manifesting in the material world. Furthermore this blight wants to spread! The dark forces working through Cane's text have designs to engulf the entire world.
In the Mouth of Madness is a surprising return to form by Carpenter during a time when his film making was very hit or miss. It is thoughtful and minimalist. It has the brooding traits of a Lovecraft story along with the "science versus the ancient world" themes common in Kneale's work. There is clever imagery, twists and black humour. However this is not a gorefest and the emphasis is on atmosphere and performances to create a disturbing tale. Sam Neil drives the narrative forward with a compelling lead performance. But watch closely because the devil is very much in the detail.
Overlooked at the box office, In the Mouth of Madness improves greatly with a second viewing. It's more an eerie vignette, than a traditional horror. It’s not designed to shock or terrify, preferring to build a sense of disquiet. This is very much a movie that leaves the viewer reflecting upon what they have seen. Certainly for those who are more patient and thoughtful, it's a rewarding experience. But then again John Carpenter’s work on a bad day (which this movie is not) is always far more interesting than many of his peers on a good one.