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For, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: Filmmaker John Carpenter’s most surreal effort is this slightly shaded jab at Stephen King’s popularity, which, like so many of Carpenter’s films, nosedived at the box office but has taken on a cult status with its many video releases. And now the Shout! Factory, under its Scream! horror-movie label, has given released a Blu-ray “Collector’s Edition.” Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Feb. 3, 1995.

Over the years, John Carpenter has had hits ("Halloween," "Starman") and flops ("Memoirs of an Invisible Man," "Big Trouble in Little China"), and he's had moderate successes that have, on video, turned into cult favorites ("The Thing," "Escape from New York," "They Live").

But Carpenter has never really lived up to the potential he promised in those early years, when he established his reputation with "Assault on Precinct 13" and then followed it up with the first "Halloween."

But his latest effort, "In the Mouth of Madness," would seem to be the perfect comeback vehicle, and Carpenter's fans may have rightly hoped to find him back on track. Unfortunately, they will be disappointed.

"In the Mouth of Madness" is a dark comic assault on the popularity of Stephen King, and King would seem ripe for this kind of satire. But alas, after a solid start, the picture falls into repetitive patterns and ultimately simply runs out of steam.


     Louise Beaven, Sam Neill, 'In the Mouth of Madness'

The central character is John Trent (Sam Neill) and as the film opens, he is in a straightjacket, being hauled into a weird asylum run by a goofy doctor (John Glover). Inside his padded cell, Trent draws tiny crosses all over the walls — and all over himself, until the head doctor (David Warner) comes in to hear his story.

As he relates his tale of woe, and predicts the end of the world, we see in flashbacks that Trent was a freelance insurance investigator hired by a big-time publisher (Charlton Heston) to find a missing author. Not just any missing author, but Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow), the most widely read writer in publishing history.

For some reason, just as he was to deliver his latest manuscript, Cane disappeared. So, Trent uses clues from Cane's novels to construct a scenario, suggesting that the town where Cane's stories take place, Hobbs End, actually exists somewhere in New England. It does not appear on any maps, of course, but the cynical Trent, who thinks this is some kind of hoax, is determined to discover the truth.

As you might guess, Trent does find Hobbs End, and thanks to the wild-eyed special effects of Industrial Light and Magic, it's one wild ride, with time lapses, repeated events, a satanic old church and enough seemingly benign — but actually malicious — small-town folk to fill a novel by Stephen King … er, Sutter Cane. In fact, these people and the things they do parallel several of Cane's books.

There are some funny, albeit dark moments here, and Neill is quite good as the doubting investigator who wonders if he's going mad as he encounters one weird incident after another. But after awhile, the redundancies begin to hamper the narrative and it becomes rather tiresome. Worse, there is no ending, which is often the easy way out for pictures like this.


On the casting side, it's always good to see Glover and Warner, but neither has much to do here. Julie Carmen is good, however, the editor assigned to accompany Trent, and Heston has some fun with his tailor-made role.

There are enough chills and thrills to satisfy horror fans who are tired of the same old garbage this genre tends to bring us (i.e. "Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight") but it still doesn't fulfill that Carpenter promise.

Oh, well. Maybe next time.

"In the Mouth of Madness" is rated R for considerable violence and mayhem, some gore, profanity and brief male nudity.