John Carpenter really makes some creepy horror films and I think this one gets up there with some of the best that he’s made. The story has some H P Lovecraft influence but I think it resembles the writing of Stephen King a lot too.
We are introduced to John Trent (Sam Neill) reluctantly being admitted to a psychiatric hospital putting up a bit of a struggle as the staff put him into a padded cell. It was a funny scene that he’s sitting in his room and they start piping The Carpenters‘ We’ve Only Just Begun and there’s an insane chorus of inmates singing along to it. (I think the same music is played on the radio in the film 1408 too). Later Trent gets a visit from Dr Wrenn (David Warner) and he tells Wren his story
Trent is an insurance fraud investigator who looks into big claims for his boss at an insurance company. He is intelligent but deeply cynical, always believing people are pulling some sort of scam if they have the opportunity. Trent gets asked to look into the case of claim from a publishing company whose best-selling horror writer Sutter Cane has gone missing. He is sitting having lunch with his boss who is telling him the details when a madman with crazy eyes (and really mean crazy eyes) smashes through the window next to them asks Trent “Do you read Sutter Cane?” before raising the axe he’s carrying and getting shot dead by cops before he can kill Trent with it.
At the publishersTrent talks with Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston). Trent smells something is going on and suspects they are faking it for a publicity stunt but Harglow insist he wants to know what’s going on just as much as Trent does. He introduces Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), an editor who worked on all Cane’s books. Styles tells him that they never had any direct contact with Cane, only through his agent. Trent asks about the agent and is told that he was the axe-crazy man he saw shot dead. Trent is not all that impressed by Cane dismissing his writing based on what he’s heard about it. Styles recommends Trent tries reading it for himself.
On the news there have been stories of riots in bookshops everywhere with fans of Sutter Cane wanting his latest book. Trent goes to a bookshop to buy all of Sutter Cane’s books and the place has been wrecked. A young fan of Cane’s has got crazy eyes. Earlier Styles had told Trent that Cane’s writing has been found to an effect on his less mentally stable readers. Trent goes home and speed reads through the Sutter Cane books. He nods off and has a terrible nightmare. He suddenly notices something on the covers of all the books, red lines, When he cuts through the red lines the pieces of the cover fit together to form a map of New Hampshire, with the location of the fictional town of Hobb’s End marked on the map.
Trent takes his discovery to Harglow and Styles, sure that he’s uncovered part of their plot but Harglow denies it. Trent is going New Hampshire to look for Hobb’s End and find Sutter Cane so Harglow decides to send Styles along with him. They are driving through New Hampshire all day with no sign of Hobb’s End, with Styles insisting it’s because the place doesn’t exist. She brings up the idea of what reality is and says that if most believe in Cane’s reality then it would be those who are sane that would be the crazy ones
At night Styles takes over the driving while Trent gets some sleep. They pass Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christiansen) riding his bike. A bit further on Styles is startled by an old man cycling towards her and she hits him. When she gets out to help him he has a boy’s voice and is dressed the same and has the same bike as the boy she saw earlier. The man/boy gets up and cycles off again apparently unhurt so they get back in their car and Styles drives on. It is pitch back but the sound of the road seems to stop yet they are still moving. She looks out and it looks like they are flying through the airabove the clouds. After a few moments noise erupts as the wheels land on a covered wooden bridge and the darkness is broken up by flashe of sunshine through the wooden planks of the bridge. They get to the other side in broad daylight and Styles stops next to a “Welcome to Hobb’s End” sign. Trent wakes up then and congratulates Styles on finding the place. Styles just gives him a look then says “You can drive,”
They drive around the town of Hobbs End which is pretty quiet. The only activity seems top a bunch of young kids chasing a dog. They check into the hotel and Styles gets creepy feeling of familiarity. Everything she has seen is like it has come of Sutter Cane’s books, especially the hotel. In their room she tries to convince Trent but he’s cynical as you’d expect. To try to prove his point he reads a description of a black church that should be visible from the window and it isn’t. Styles goes to the other window and points to the church, visible exactly as described in the book. They go to the church and see several townspeople driving up armed and angry, with Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters 2 (Wilhelm von Homburg) demanding the return of his son. Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) appears in the doorway with the boy but the door closes before the man can get his son and a pack of viscious dobermans chases everyone away.
Trent is sure it’s all a performance but Styles insist that it isn’t. She confirms that the disappearance was a stunt arranged by the publishing company for publicity but insists that Hobbs End is not real. Trent says he doesn’t remember evil children and dogs but Styles says that’s because it’s from the new book. Trent wants to just go back to confront Harglow but Styles steals the car keys and makes her way back to the black church. Cane tells her about dark creatures, eldritch abominations from other dimensions htat had been guiding his writing and have given him the power to make what he writes reality so that he can write them an entrance into the real world. Cane lets her read the finished book, the new bible that will start the change.
Trent goes to the bar and the man from earlier at the church warns him to get out of town before the evil infects him too. Outside Trent gets chased by a mutated mob of townspeople and he runs back the hotel. Styles is there and she’s mutating too. The old lady running the hotel has transformed into a tentacled monster. Trent gets in his car and tries to get away but every road leads him back to the mob at the centre of town. He decides to drive through the mob and Styles appears in the road in front of him, forcing him to swerve and crash.
Went Trent come round he finds himself in a confessional booth inside the church. Cane tells Trent that he’s a character written by Cane with task of taking the manuscript into the outside world. Trent refuses to believe this but Cane insists it is true. Cane rips his face open like a paper and it opens a portal and the dark ones chase Trent down a long tunnel.
Suddenly Trent is lying at the side of a road with no sign of Hobb’s End or its residents. The manuscript keeps following him on his way back to the city despite his several attempt to destroy it. Back at Harglow’s office Trent apologises for no managing to get the manuscript, but Harglow doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Trent delivered the book months ago and the film version was due to be released soon. He also doesn’t know anything about Styles.
Trent is losing it and he goes to a bookshop full of other people who are losing it too. He kills a young man with crazy eyes outside the bookshop and this leads to his admission to the psychiatric hospital and back to Trent telling his story to Dr Wrenn.
After Wrenn leaves the power goes out in th hospital and Trent sees strange shadows and hears terrible screams, some of them human. Next day his cell door has been ripped open, the hospital is wrecked and lifeless. Trent leaves the building and outside it looks like an abandoned battle zone. He makes his way into the city and sees a cinema screening the new Sutter Cane novel “In the Mouth of Madness” starring John Trent and directed by John Carpenter. He sits down and watches the same film we have and he laughs hysterically at the film, the hysteria edging gradually into despair and the film ends.
You know what hate most about this film? That I’m stuck with a video of this film instead getting it on a decent quality DVD with a John Carpenter commentary. The self-referential nature of the story is nicely done. Some of the effects are better than others but I think this a really entertaining film.
- In the Mouth of Madness (1995) (horroraddicts.wordpress.com)
- Rotten Tomatoes
- TV Tropes