Michael Scott

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In the Mouth of Madness


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Movie: :4stars:
Video: :4.5stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :4stars:
Final Score: :4stars:



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Movie

John Carpenter epitomizes some of the best and worst aspects of the horror genre. He was a living legend back in the 70s and 80s (and some in the 90s), but after a while he lost a lot of his creative spark and faded into the background of the horror community with a line of “mushy” films that really didn’t live up to his talent. Ok, ok, I will admit that I have a weak spot for Ghosts of Mars, but post 1995 he really had lost much of his luster. HOWEVER, for those of us growing up in the 80s and 90s he had a rich history of film making that has created his name as a bonafide legend in the genre. Films like The Thing, Dark Star, Prince of Darkness, and of course In the Mouth of Madness. In the Mouth of Madness was probably the last “great” John Carpenter film, but it was also the one met with some of the least positive reactions from people during it’s theatrical run. Thanks to John Carpenter’s penny pinching ways in regards to his budget, New Line still turned over a profit, but most critics poo-poo’d it when the film hit theaters. But time has been kinder to the bizarre film, allowing it to gain a sizable cult following over the years and elevate it to one of the 90s better horror films of supernatural genre.

In the Mouth of Madness is the third and final film of the “apocalypse trilogy” from Carpenter. The first two being The Thing and Prince of Darkness. In The Thing we suffer the threat of extinction from an alien parasitic race, Prince of Darkness brings apocalypse from another dimension, while In the Mouth of Madness brings destruction from ancient evil beings that may or may not be real. A move that drove some of the critical displeasure with the film. Audiences really didn’t know what to think of the movie when it came out, as it was a trippy little film that requires several viewings to really grasp some of the onion layer like storytelling that Carpenter was getting at. At first there are several tenuous stretches that SEEM to push believablility, but there is an underlying theme that unsettles the whole train and actually ties these stretches together nicely, if you believe it that is.

John Trent (Sam Neill) is an ex insurance investigator who is taken into an insane asylum for paranoid schizophrenia. He sees “things” that are to come, and knows “things” that got him into this position. When the helpful Doctor Saperstein (John Glover) comes to question him about his delusions, John tells us a tale of terror and disbelief about his descent into madness (or is it reality). It seems that John was not always this crazy. A year ago he was a brilliant insurance investigator who freelanced for several firms. His last case was looking into the disappearance of famed pulp horror writer, Sutter Kane (Jurgen Prochnow), a man who was SUPPOSED to have delivered his last book to the publishers months ago. The only thing is, he’s vanished and his publisher (played by Charlton Heston) hires Trent to see if the man is still alive, or if he’s pulling a scam on the company.
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The hitch of the situation is the key to his madness. Sutter Cane’s books seem to have a strange effect on the weaker minded of his readers. They suffer dizziness, dysphoria, lunacy and some even go COMPLETELY mad. When Sutter’s agent tries to kill Trent, the insurance agent decides to look closer at the books and realizes the crazy writer has created a map right back to his supposed home town. Taking a publisher’s assistant named Linda (Julie Carmen), Trent tries to follow the clues back to Sutter’s home town, only to find a world of mayhem, terror and tentacled beasts that could only come from H.P. Lovecraft’s twisted mind.

I’m being intentionally vague about the happenings of Trent and Julie on their search, but it’s for a reason. Giving away many of the reveals spoils some of the mystery, and this is a film that’s best watched going in blind (or a second or third time). Carpenter made it his most trippy film to date, and he does so with a seemingly discordant style of storytelling. The movie makes less sense as it goes on, but if you look closely, those things you consider “nonsensical” are actually keys to pulling the story together on a second watch. At first you’re wondering just WHY things fall into place like they do (such as Trent finding the map to Sutter’s home), and the Asylum where he’s staying at seems out of place with reality. The same goes for the publishers house where the room is filled with people not seeming to DO anything. It’s these little things that clue you into the subversive idea that maybe, just maybe, this is all a delusion in Trent’s Schizophrenic mind.

It’s this unreliable narrator aspect that really keeps the audience guessing. The only source of information in the film is all from Trent’s memory, and coming from a schizophrenic, you can bet it’s not going to be entirely accurate. While we’re visually seeing all of this on screen, the audience is constantly (or SHOULD BE constantly) questioning the validity of what we’re seeing, due to the fact that we don’t know anything but what a supposed lunatic is telling us. Is it the end of the world? Are ancient demons coming for us? Or is this all a delusional fantasy in the fractured mind of one John Trent?

Sam Neill was at the top of his game in the 90s, and both he and Jurgen Prochnow dominate the screen whenever they’re on. Prochnow is delightfully creepy and demonically evil, while Sam is the perfect skeptic to all of this. He doesn’t believe in this nonsense, and he’s the tough guy who’s going to muscle his way through it. However he does an incredible switch when he snaps in Sutter’s lair, changing from a tough guy to a terrified lunatic who has seen the face of the devil and come back to tell the tale. While it didn’t do AS well as it could have in the theaters, In the Mouth of Madness actually starred a great host of secondary actors in the film. Charlton Heston, David Warner, John Glover, Frances Bay, and many more show up and leave throughout the film. Each one adding their own old style flair to the film.




Rating:

Rated R for images of horror, and for language




Video: :4.5stars:
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Being that I never realized that a Blu-ray of In the Mouth of Madness existed before this last week, I never actually saw the New Line Cinema and can’t comment on the differences between the old transfer and the new 2K scan Scream Factory is touting. All I can say is that this new 2K scan looks REALLY good on Blu-ray. One of the best 90s transfers I’ve seen in fact. The film is photographed by Gary B. Kibbe, who has infamously been John Carpenter’s director of photography ever since his work with Prince of Darkness, making him John Carpenter’s “go to” guy (although Carpenter is known for digging his hands in and getting dirty with the actual cinematography as well) for a vast majority of his films. The Blu-ray has a nice layer of grain that is most evident in night shots, and wide angle shots (such as when the duo breaking into “Hobbs End” through the tunnel), but it’s never intrusive or distracting. A great deal of effort has been done to clean up the print, as the speckles and flecks that were present on the old DVD are long gone. Fine detail and clarity are astounding, especially in daylight sequences of Hobbs End. That opening shot of when Stiles and Trent make their way through the almost abandoned town is one of the most revealing, showing off incredible amounts of fine detailing along cars, clothing, and faces. The stop motion monster effects are a bit cheesy by today’s standards, but they are Carpenter like to the core, and include the infamous “orange paint” blood and heavy use of prosthetics. All in all, this is a HUGE leap over the old DVD, and a great looking Blu-ray to boot.





Audio: :4stars:
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Scream Factory forgoes it’s typical “duo” of sound tracks, giving up their standard DTS-HD MA 2.0, and only re-using the same 5.1 DTS-HD MA track from the 2013 New Line Blu-ray (according to other reviewer contacts it is an identical track to the older Blu-ray). This seems to be a good thing (and a bad thing, which I’ll explain in a moment), as the original track got VERY high marks back in 2013. The vocals are crisp and clear, with John Carpenter’s trademark usage of discrete background scratching and whispering to build suspense. The surrounds are used quite generously in this regards, adding in echoey hallways, scratching of monster feet on the ground as well as creepy score moments to heighten the mood. The dynamic range is absolutely enormous, giving us some very powerful “gotcha!” moments, as well as chest crushing bass like I haven’t heard for quite some time. This is also the “bad” thing that comes from the old 2013 Blu-ray mix. The dialog is mixed a bit low, making those surprise “gotcha!” moments overbearingly powerful at times. I actually had to turn my subs down 3 Dbs on my receiver as it was hot that it became a distraction. With that adjustment the track feels a lot more balanced, although the vocals are still just a teensy bit soft in comparison to the effects.





Extras: :4stars:
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• BRAND NEW 4K REMASTER of the film
• NEW Audio Commentary with director John Carpenter and producer Sandy King Carpenter
• NEW Horror's Hallowed Grounds – a look at the film's locations today
• NEW The Whisperer of the Dark – an interview with actress Julie Carman
• NEW Greg Nicotero's Things in the Basement – a new interview with special effects artist Greg Nicotero including behind-the-scenes footage
• NEW Home Movies from Hobb's End – Behind the Scenes footage from Greg Nicotero
• Audio Commentary with director John Carpenter and cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe
• Vintage Featurette – The Making of In the Mouth of Madness
• Theatrical Trailer
• TV Spots









Final Score: :4stars:


I would venture to guess that In the Mouth of Madness was the last of Carpenter’s truly GREAT films, and a wonderful ending to his Apocalypse Trilogy. He was a god among directors back in the 70s and 80s, but by the time the 90s came about he was starting to lose his zest for the films. By the time Ghosts of Mars (which is an enormously guilty pleasure of mine) was released he had largely petered out, and after that he pretty much stopped altogether. In the Mouth of Madness sadly doesn’t get the respect it deserves from the populace, but it is still one of his better films and a great wrap up to what he started in The Thing. His use of Lovecraftian visuals combined with his (now) trademarked use of special effects makes it an effectively creepy horror movie and a great addition to your John Carpenter Collection. The new Scream Factory Blu-ray boasts a nice 2K master that really is a treat to behold, as well as a plethora of new extras that easily outclasses the old New Line release. With the New Line release still holding steady at about $17-$18 after all these years, this new Scream Factory collector’s edition is the easy choice between the two editions. Highly recommended.



Technical Specifications:

Starring: Sam Neill, Chalton Heston, Julie Carmen, Jurgen Prochnow
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Michael De Luca
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH
Studio: Scream Factory
Rated: R
Runtime: 96 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: July 24th, 2018






Recommendation: Highly Recommended

 
Last edited:

Asere

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Wow! I remember watching this one at the theaters and I was like what has just happened here. It really trips you out. Thank you for the review.
 

tripplej

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Thanks for the review. Never saw this. Will add it to my watch list. :)
 
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