In the Mouth of Madness
Reviewed by Russell Tharp
Rating: 6 Beans
magine that H.P. Lovecraft was correct, and hideous, unspeakable monsters lurk just outside the fabric of our reality, waiting to break through and gobble us up. And, while you're at it, imagine Ronald McDonald in a thong made of french fries, because neither flight of fancy is likely to help you make sense of John Carpenter's cheesy and hopelessly convoluted homage to Lovecraft, "In the Mouth of Madness."
Sam Neil stars as freelance insurance investigator (exciting, huh?) John Trent. Trent is hired by a book publisher (NRA pin-up model Charlton Heston, in a performance that reminded me why it's imperative that we be able to access guns at short notice) to investigate the disappearance of the world's best-selling author, Sutter Kane. Kane's books are said to have a strange effect on their readers, causing dizziness, hallucinations and psychosis, making him the literary equivalent of Hanson. Kane (Jürgen Prochnow, trying gamely to look menacing despite a hairstyle modeled after Larry of the 3 Stooges) is late delivering his newest book, and fans are rioting in bookstores as a result. (Of course, if Americans were literate enough to riot over a book's release date, movies like this wouldn't get made, but nevermind.)
So Trent and Kane's editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen) drive to New England to find him, because Trent has discovered that the covers of Kane's books conceal a map to a town called Hobb's End. Once there, they discover that Hobb's End is "fictional," and that the residents are behaving exactly as described in Kane's books--i.e. growing tentacles and chopping up their spouses with axes. Styles meets Kane in a huge "black church," reads his latest manuscript, and her eyes bleed. (This is exactly what happened to me when I glanced through my wife's copy of "Glamour.") Next thing you know, Styles is sprouting weird thrashing tentacles and doing backbends with her head twisted around backwards. Trent tries to escape Hobb's End, finds he can't, and is eventually informed that he is himself a fictional character written by Kane to help bring about the return of the Great Old Ones and the end of human civilization. There is a little more plot, none of it any more coherent than what's come before, and the movie ends with Trent in an empty theater--while, presumably, the world is ending outside--watching himself in "John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness."
This movie suffers from what I have taken to calling Carpenteritis; an interesting premise destroyed by sloppy writing, direction and editing. He's done it a number of times, both "Prince of Darkness" and "They Live" come immediately to mind, but seldom has he done it more egregiously than here. This story is based on a fascinating concept: what is reality, what is the reader's relationship to fiction, and what would happen if the lines between reality and imagination could be blurred? There's a good movie lurking in there somewhere, but Carpenter wasn't able to find it.
You can't blame it on Sam Neil, who is reliable as ever as John Trent. He plays Trent perfectly as a cynical rationalist who refuses to believe what seems to be happening around him, but his efforts are drowned out by the noise of the plot and the astonishingly bad performance of his co-star Julie Carmen. Carmen wanders through the movie as though she's being lobotomized between takes. Her face seems locked in a heavy-lidded, slack-jawed stare; I spent most of her screen time waiting to see if she'd drool. I suppose she was as bewildered by the plot as I was.
For the sake of accuracy, I suggest that "In the Mouth of Madness" be retitled, because its present title clearly features the wrong end of the digestive tract.
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