31 Days of Hell: Truth is Stranger Than Fiction: In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

In individuals, insanity is rare--but in groups, parties, nations, and epochs, it is the rule.

--Friedrich Nietzsche

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) is John Carpenter's take on Lovecraftian style horror and is also imbued with his patented sardonic sense of humor. It's a wonderful piece of meta fiction that explores the concept of what truly makes one insane. If a delusion is shared by enough people does it become the new reality?

We follow an insurance investigator named John Trent (Sam Neill) who takes on a case with a book publishing house. It seems they have lost their cash cow, popular horror novelist Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) who has also taken his latest manuscript with him. Apparently, Cane's books cause strange symptoms in some of his readers: paranoia, memory loss, and disorientation. John is teamed up with Cane's editor, a sultry woman named Linda (Julie Carmen), and together they set out to unravel the mystery of the eccentric writer's disappearance.

This film relies heavily on both dream logic and an unreliable narrator but it is crafted so well that it completely works to the film's advantage. The viewer experiences John's slow descent into madness firsthand and it gives the atmosphere a palpable sense of foreboding and dread. Once John and Linda arrive at Hobb's End, the fictional town in Cane's novels, the narrative takes all these bizarre twists and turns, almost as if someone was making it up as they go along. What's interesting is what normally would be a negative in a screenplay (plot holes and unexplained events) is all part of the bigger picture, and the way Carpenter implements it is pure genius.

The special effects have aged wonderfully due to the liberal use of practical work and animatronics as well as some good old fashioned guys in rubber suits. Hell is literally unleashed in this film, and there are plenty of demons to spare. One sequence, where John is frantically running away from a large group of abominations, is fantastic both in its scope and complexity. This is one of the best Lovecraft adaptations committed to film and it's not even based on any of his works! One of the tropes it borrows heavily from is the "lone crazy guy in an asylum recounting the tale in a flashback" but it doesn't feel contrived.

A theme that often runs through Carpenter's work is the idea of the every man fighting against some sort of oppressive system. In They Live (1988) you have one man railing against a fascist alien race controlling humanity. In Escape from New York (1981) there's a lone bad ass who doesn't give a rat's ass about the government that's in place. John Trent is yet another version of this archetype, as he is trying to escape a reality that is being forced upon him even if he may not even be in control of his own actions. He's going through an accelerated course of "future shock" which is an adverse reaction to society changing too quickly. Only when he accepts his new role can he finally give into the insanity. It's a happy ending, I suppose, because for some oblivion is relief.

--Michelle Kisner