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IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS ($25) is a movie that I find myself liking more and more every time I see it, which has caused me to reevaluate my earlier tepid opinion of the film. In fact, I have come to regard IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS as one of John Carpenter's best movies- second in outright scariness to his masterpiece HALLOWEEN. Additionally, because of my appreciation for IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, I have become a fan of the atmospheric horror stories H.P. Lovecraft, from which Michael De Luca drew his inspiration for the film’s screenplay. As written, Lovecraft's tales aren't easily translated to the visual medium, yet De Luca's screenplay succeeds in capturing the subtle, but terribly frightening essence of the legendary author's stories. Sure, the plot of IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS begins to unravel a bit towards the end, but for the most part, the movie succeeds in bringing some genuine "Lovecraftian" style horror to the screen.

IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS stars Sam Neill as insurance investigator John Trent. Trent is engaged to find reknown horror author Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow), who has gone missing before delivering the manuscript of his most eagerly awaited novel, In The Mouth Of Madness, to his publisher. Through a series of horror novels, Sutter Cane has become the world's best selling author, even though his disturbing works have been known to drive his less stable fans off the deep end. Of course, Trent doesn't buy into the mania surrounding Sutter Cane and even believes that his disappearance is a publicity stunt to drive up sales for the new book.

Trent is further convinced of that possibility, when he is able to figure out Cane's approximate location by piecing together the artwork from the covers of the writer's previous novels. Using the book covers as his guide, Trent is certain that he will find Sutter Cane in Hobb's End, New Hampshire- even though an actual town by that name isn't listed on any map. Unfortunately, Hobb’s End also happens to be the setting of In The Mouth Of Madness, a town that the author described as a place of unimaginable horror. With Cane's book editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen) in tow, Trent begins driving through the New Hampshire countryside searching for the community of Hobb's End. After several strange experiences on the highway, Trent and Styles eventually locate both the elusive town and the missing author. The duo quickly come to regret finding both Hobb's End and Sutter Cane, when they discover that dark forces controlling the writer have begun to rewrite reality to meet their own twisted needs. With humanity's demise being carefully written by Sutter Cane, the ancient evil that once controlled our realm will have no trouble returning to ascendancy.

Because of his experience with films like HALLOWEEN and THE FOG, John Carpenter is the ideal director for IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. Carpenter knows how to create an unsettling sense of atmosphere, as well as knowing just how much to show an audience and just how much to keep buried in the shadows. This is especially effective for a "Lovecraftian" tale such as this, because the indescribable evil of IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is best left to the imagination of the audience. Sam Neill is highly effective as John Trent, giving a solid performance that carries the movie and allows the audience hang on to the one character that represents the last semblance of normalcy. Jürgen Prochnow makes the most of his small, underwritten role, bringing to life the truly frightening horror author with just a few brief scenes. The cast of IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS also features Charlton Heston, Frances Bay, Wilhelm von Homburg, Conrad Bergschneider, David Warner, John Glover and Bernie Casey.

New Line Home Video has done an excellent job with their DVD release of IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is available on a single sided, dual layered DVD that offers a choice of wide screen and full screen presentations. Since John Carpenter is one of the directors who actually compose shots for the full 2.35:1 frame, the full screen version of the film is nothing more than an exercise in frustration. Of course, all of Carpenter's fans already know this and will immediately select the 16:9 enhanced wide screen version of IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. The beautiful looking transfer makes this relatively low budget film look like it cost twice the studio investment. But then again, Carpenter is a master of that particular form of screen magic. The DVD reproduces Gary B. Kibbe's terrific cinematography with a crisp, well-defined image that provides a lot of shadow detail; a necessity on this darkly shaded movie. Additionally, film grain is not a problem, despite the fact that IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is a very dark movie. Colors are reproduced with good saturation, while the flesh tones are recreated quite naturally. Neither chroma noise nor bleeding effected color reproduction in any way. The image also sports excellent contrast, as well as perfect pitch blacks. Digital compression artifacts are difficult to detect without actively seeking their presence. 

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack has a solid mix, which is high on atmosphere, but low on aggressive directional effects. However, when required the mix snaps into action to emphasize on screen shocks. The forward soundstage gets the most play, with good channel separation and definite left-right panning of effects. As for the surround channels, they primarily provide richly atmospheric ambient sounds, as well as musical fill and an occasional surprise. Dialogue is cleanly reproduced and is always intelligible. The Bass component of the soundtrack is solid, but it is never overwhelming. An English Dolby Surround soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles. 

The interactive menus are suitably stylish, but very basic in their implementation. Through the menus, one can access the standard scene selection and set up features, including which version of the film to play. All of the supplemental material is also accessible through the interactive menus. Director John Carpenter and cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe are featured on a great little audio commentary that plays like a film course titled: introduction to cinematography. The commentary also provides behind-the-scenes information about the production and the personalities involved. A theatrical trailer and cast filmographies fill out the disc's supplements.

IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is one of director John Carpenter's best works and New Line Home Video has delivered a great looking and sounding DVD that Carpenter's fans will to own. Recommended.


 In the Mouth of Madness


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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