John Carpenter has been known as the “Master of Horror” for more than a decade within the filmmaking industry. His 1994 release, In The Mouth of Madness, questions the nature of reality when a famous horror genre author disappears into the world of his own fiction. The special investigator, played by Sam Neill, assigned to his case realizes he’s in over his head when overzealous fans of this author’s work begin committing the very same horrific acts he wrote about in his novels. Although the film struggled to find audience when it was released, many agree that it marked Carpenter’s “return” to cinema in the 1990’s and contains one of the best horror film soundtracks out there.
Many critics will tell you that In the Mouth of Madness marks Carpenter’s professional decline. The film was largely panned, and contribute to the perception among filmgoers and studios alike that Carpenter was washed up. He’s gone on to demonstrate, through his contributions to the “Masters of Horror” series, and his recent interview with Robbie Rodriguez on El Rey (click here for details on where you can catch that program), that he is still adored by fans, and his influence is still resonant among modern genre filmmakers.
Halloween put Carpenter on the map in 1978, when his leading lady Jamie Lee Curtis starred in the viscerally thrilling slasher film that came to define his entire oeuvre. But unlike Halloween, In the Mouth of Madness does not depend on one specific bogeyman for it’s terror and suspense. Instead it’s heavily inspired by the work of H.P. Lovecraft – an early twentieth-century author of weird fiction and horror whose work introduces readers to the malevolent forces hiding behind their flimsy hold on reality. The film takes it’s name from a Lovecraft story “At the Mountains of Madness.” All my tales,” wrote Lovefield, “are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large.”
A Few “Oddities” Within the Film
In this homage to Lovecraft, there are a number of unique and peculiar elements within the story. While Carpenter may or may not have been aware of their unusual or coincidental nature, they add an extra layer of mystery to the film.
1.) Multiple connections to the horror film The Omen stand out while watching In the Mouth of Madness. When the film begins, the investigator is interrupted while he sits inside a padded cell inside a mental institution. His psychiatrist, played by David Warner, listens to him as he recounts the tale of his time tracking down an wildly famous author in the town of Hobb’s End. David Warner played a photographer in the first Omen, and of course it was Sam Neill who was the adult Damien in the third Omen film.
2.) The Black Church featured in the film is not a movie prop. Even the cathedral windows and decor of angels and demons fighting are real and legitimate. The Black Church was a part of the former Slovak Byzantine Rite Roman Catholic church in the past and is located in Ontario. Following the filming of In The Mouth of Madness, the church has drawn plenty of spectators and interested individuals to the location itself for further inspection.
3.) Towards the ending of the film, Sam Neil’s character finds a 12-year old newspaper delivery boy. That delivery boy is a young Hayden Christensen, who would later go on to portray Anakin Skywalker in the two most recent Star Wars prequels.
4.) Of course the credits present something strange as well, in the form of a brief panel that appears at the conclusion of the credits: “No animal was harmed in the making of this film. Human interaction was monitored by the Inter Planetary Psychiatric Association. The body count was high, the casualties are heavy.” These enigmatic statements drew the attention of viewers and critics alike. An interesting note on which to end the film, it offers few clues to it’s true meaning.
Although some argue that In the Mouth of Madness is less than average Carpenter fare, it’s meta-commentary on H.P. Lovecraft and willingness to explore the psychological underpinnings of horror literature make it essential viewing.
– Brandon Engel