In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
Reality isn't what it used to be...
The title scroll did more for my interest in this movie than most title scrolls can claim to try and do. Sam Neill from Jurassic Park (and numerous other things), combined with one of my usually-enjoyed directors John Carpenter, all wrapped in a rolling rock song? Call my interest spiked, right? That being said, I hear before hand that this is one of the best Lovecraftian movies around, and although I'm not a huge Lovecraft fan myself, I know enough about it (him) from hearsay to figure it could make for a great movie if it comes off well done. So then, let's find out if it's gonna make you lose your mind or mouth your distaste.
John Trent is (was) an insurance fraud investigator. As we are introduced to him, however, we find him wrapped neatly in a straight jacket and being escorted (rather unwillingly) to a comfy padded cell. When an investigator comes in to see if he has anything or knows anything to do with the chaos starting to spread outside, we then get to jump back in time to the start of our tale proper. As mentioned, John was a fraud investigator and was very good at his job. After cracking the case for an insurance agent, the two go to a diner for some lunch when the agent pitches him another case that he'd love him to do - when they are interrupted by a crazed man with strange eyes and an axe. The craziness only helps to fuel John's interest in the case presented by the agent - the disappearance of popular horror writer Sutter Cane.
John goes to the folks in charge of Cane, trying to dig further into the case and prove the attempted fraud where the head man lets him know that he's already talked to Cane's main agent - indeed the man with the axe that was gunned down earlier - and he always went through that man. With no clue as to where Cane has gone, his editor tells John that maybe he should read the books to get into the mind of the man - although it appears that the books have a tendency to make it's readers rather queasy and in extreme instances violently crazy. During reading the books, John finds himself affected to some extent as well, suffering from strange nightmares, but his decision pays off in the end when he notices a shape on the cover of each book. Some scissors and private eye grade detective skills gives him his first major clue - a map to the fake town of Hobb's End.
John gets sent there to investigate further with the editor Styles to either bring back Cane or his manuscript. As they get closer and closer, stranger things start happening initially to Styles. When they finally arrive within Hobb's End in a rather unbelievable manner (with Styles being quite shaken from it), they find it to be a strange place that's nearly identical to the books written by Cane. In Style's case, who's read them all, she finds it to be rather too identical, and the fact that John won't believe her when she says it's not a setup or scam isn't helping things. Unfortunately for John, things are going to get a lot worse before they get better, as he descends the steps into madness itself.
Presentation here is top notch. The devils in the details, and this movie seems to strive to pay attention to those details. When something weird starts happening, it can vary anywhere from just strange little time-loop moments to flat out things not looking right. Admittedly, some of the actual effects work or props themselves aren't always the best (twisted head, for one example). Still, when it comes to most of the strange looking people, the crazy eyes, and the things that are impossible to describe are handled in a way that one might expect from Carpenter after watching so many of his movies (such as The Thing). In most instances, if you do see a strange creature it's in a dark setting in just a quick flash - something that effectively leaves a lot to the imagination and yet shows enough to get your creature loving bits tingling. In a way, its then unfortunate when towards the end we get a decent shot of a large number of creatures (pictured below) as it kills some of the mysterious "can not be described because it drives you crazy" Lovecraftian nature of the Old Ones, but at the same time I am certainly glad that we get a shot of those things, as they are creepy, slimy, masses of wriggling bits and teeth that are in fact a little hard to accurately describe in words.
Acting is handled pretty dang well around here too. There are some parts where the acting isn't quite as good, and I can't really tell if it's intentional enough when it gets to it's more hammy moments. Still, it's managed in such a way that the descent into being crazy comes off as an honest thing, and by the end it does cause a bit of questioning of what we watched was a lie or not - of course, the fact that the entire thing is given to us by someone who's been put in a psych ward doesn't help the matter either. There's even some pretty alright child actors in here - granted, being an alright child actor can sometimes be impressive in it's own right.
The thing about this movie is that it's not just a cheap jump-scare movie. Yes, theres a few moments in there that are clearly meant to get a raise out of you for that brief moment, but the majority is that deep-seated horror. It's a questioning terror that questions itself at the same time, that fear of the unknown and the breaking down of your psyche. Beyond that, it's a thought provoker - something that in the end begs you to take moments to thinking into how dangerous belief in something can be, and inversely how powerful things can be when such faith is put behind them. At times, it can pose a question such as which came first - the chicken or the egg - in such a twisted manner that you almost hope you don't find out which. By the end, if nothing else, it leaves you wondering if anything you saw happen even happened at all, or if this entire thing is nothing more than a trip into a crazies person's mind.
Is it worth a watch? I certainly enjoyed it, and I think I can understand why people call it one of the best Lovecraftian styled movies made. It brings up solid questions for the people who want deep thought, and weaves a tale that might not even exist in it's own self. It's not gonna be for everyone, it's not an instant gratification kind of horror movie, and some might find the mystery of "what happened to Cane" to be lackluster as far as mysteries go. There is some violence, and yet most of it isn't nearly as gruesome as what comes across on screens today - and yet the twisted creatures present are probably more harmful to a viewer than the splashes of fake blood getting tossed around. If you like something like The Thing, you may find yourself at home watching this.