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This review originally appeared in issue 12 of THE CINEMA LASER.

IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS

When John Carpenter's IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS ($40) premiered in theaters it was pretty much panned by the critics. But then again, I've come to expect that from the critics where John Carpenter is concerned. The reviews I read were pretty brutal, so I was expecting a film along the lines of CHRISTINE or perhaps PRINCE OF DARKNESS. You know, mediocre Carpenter. Instead, I found that IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is really quite good. Of course, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is certainly no HALLOWEEN or THE THING (both initially shredded by critics), but it is still mighty entertaining.

Sam Neill (who has become one of my favorite actors) stars as John Trent, an insurance investigator assigned to find the world's most popular horror author, Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow), who has recently disappeared. Cane's disappearance coincides with his eagerly anticipated new book, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, which is scheduled to be published, even though the author has not delivered the manuscript. Adding to the mystery that is Sutter Cane is the violence that has begun to erupt in bookstores where Cane's earlier novels are on sale. It seems that Cane's novels have the tendency to drive his less stable reader insane, and to acts of extreme violence. Trent determines that Cane has left clues to his whereabouts in his books, and sets off with Cane's editor (Julie Carmen) to find the author in the small town of Hobb's End, which doesn't appear on any map. It just happens that the town of Hobb's End was the exact location of Cane's last novel- a place of unspeakable horror. The search for Sutter Cane turns into an excursion into Lovecraftian horror as the border between reality and fiction is shattered by the dark powers that control the author. The reality that Sutter Cane has created on the printed page replaces our reality, thus allowing the dark powers to drive humanity into extinction and gain dominion over our realm.

IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is the kind of old-fashioned horror movie that sets out to scare you with unimaginable horror, which is hidden in the dark, and is only glimpsed in the film. IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is a fun horror outing, but isn't perfect. The screenplay turns out to be the weakest link in the film because it has a tendency to become slightly unraveled in places, and it looses some of its fizz towards the end. Despite this weakness, John Carpenter's sure direction and Sam Neill's engaging performance really do make up for the deficiencies in the screenplay. The cast of IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS also features Charlton Heston, David Warner and John Glover.

IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS has been given an impressive Letterbox transfer, which does come up a bit short of the full Panavision aspect ratio. The transfer is nicely detailed and the colors faithfully render cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe's intentions. Dark scenes, which should be problematic, also render without significant grain. The digitally encoded Dolby Surround soundtrack is quite good, although the effects sometimes subdue some of the dialogue passages. Still, the low bass and directional effects will make this track a workout for your sound system. The musical score by John Carpenter and Jim Lang makes effective use of the surround encoding. IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS is also AC-3 encoded. The Pioneer pressing had only a minor amount of inclusions.

Additionally, director John Carpenter and cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe have provided an audio commentary that supplements this release of IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. The commentary is entertaining and gives one a great deal of insight into the difficulties a cinematographer faces working on a motion picture. The audio commentary which John Carpenter has supplied to his various films has turned into a mini-film school course and has become essential listening (see issue ten for more John Carpenter reviews). A theatrical trailer, a "making of" feature and six television spots for IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS complete the package.

For John Carpenter fans, this disc is an absolute must have.

 
Check out The John Carpenter Panavision retrospective
which appears in issue 10 of THE CINEMA LASER.
 
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Laserdisc reviews are Copyright 1996 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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