John Carpenter has read the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
That point is abundantly clear when you watch his loving homage to the works of Lovecraft, In the Mouth of Madness. Starring Sam Neill as a private investigator, the movie opens with Neill’s character being dragged into an insane asylum. What happened before that point is shown to the audience in flashback, as he investigates the mysterious disappearance of horror writer Sutter Cane. Since we know where he ended up, it’s obvious that things didn’t go well.
Neill does great work here – he is one of those actors who is constantly working, and the reason why is he always “brings it” no matter what the role. Neill is supported by a tremendous cast, with Jurgen Prochnow playing Cane along with John Glover, David Warner and Charlton Heston doing good work in small supporting roles.
The premise of the movie – that Cane’s books are driving people insane – is suitably creepy, and Carpenter plays it to great effect. He also relies on some horror movie cliche’s along the way, unfortunately… which is understandable, since he helped create many of them himself.
While not as involving as the best of Carpenters’ work (I never really felt any empathy for the lead character, and that prevents the movie from being as effective as it could have been) it’s still a good watch, and a great introduction to Lovecraft. Yes, it’s not a direct adaptation, but it’s more “Lovecraftian” than many movies that are supposed to be. It gets the tone right, and that’s important.
This is the second Carpenter film that I are revisiting in this series, and, unfortunately, it’s the end of an era. After this, Carpenter made one misstep after another, and Hollywood execs lost their confidence in his “bankability.” Though maybe that’s for the best. I’d rather have quality instead of quantity, and In The Mouth of Madness is definitely in the former group.
If you’re looking for a good creepy film to get you in the Halloween mood, you could do a lot worse.