After the box-office failure of "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" in 1992 forced him to work in TV (with the movie "Body Bags"), director John Carpenter returned to his roots in the horror genre and began working in what would be his return to the big screen with the 1995 horror film, "In the Mouth of Madness", a movie that would become the third and final part of his Apocalypse Trilogy (an unrelated series of horror films started with "The Thing" and followed by "Prince of Darkness"). Together with writer Michael De Luca, Carpenter crafted a film that pays honest tribute to the genre's original root: the written word.
In the film, Sam Neill plays John Trent, a freelance insurance investigator hired to find out if the disappearance of horror writer Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) is part of a complicated marketing plan, as he is the most popular writer at the moment. However, it seems that Cane has really disappeared, as not even his publishers know where he is. Together with Cane's editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), Trent will attempt to find out where Cane is, but will discover that the famed horror writer has a deep dark secret hidden in the apparently not so fictional town of "Hobb's End".
Inspired by legendary horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, De Luca's story is a powerful ride to the dark side where the line of fiction and reality disappear. Themes such as the duality of reality and fantasy and the concepts of God and free will are carried through the film's remarkably well-done script, becoming one of the most interesting, intelligent and insightful horror stories ever put on film. As a tribute to Lovecraft, De Luca captures that atmosphere of dread and madness that was so characteristic of Lovecraft's works and that no film adaptation of his works has managed to capture.
A fitting return to form, "In the Mouth of Madness" is again John Carpenter at his best, giving form to De Luca's imaginative script with amazing talent and an effective care for the story not seen since "The Thing". While the plot is clearly inspired on the work of H.P. Lovecraft, Carpenter completed the "tribute" by adding countless of references to Stephen King and Nigel Kneale (his own favorite writer), making "In the Mouth of Madness" a homage to writers of horror fiction. With great skill, Carpenter crafts a film that is never boring nor tiresome, and that even manages to transmit the feeling one would get by reading a book.
Sam Neill delivers an excellent performance as John Trent, who incredulous of Cane's talent, enters the unknown and discovers the source of Cane's popularity. It is a very natural and believable performance that can give the chills as Neill makes his character to be so easy to be identified with. Jürgen Prochnow and Julie Carmen deliver both excellent performances too, although their characters receive few screen time (even for important supporting roles) as it is truly Neill who carries the film becoming the focus of the story.
"In the Mouth of Madness" is a haunting horror film that is both intelligent and effective thanks to Carpenter's expertise as director, and more than 10 years after is release it's hard to see why it failed at the box-office. While it's not a perfect film, it's a lot better than the average, and while it's true that it seems to lose some steam in the last third, the ending is really one of the best in horror history. Despite some quibbles with the special effects (as I think that Carpenter shows a lot more than what was needed), the film is overall a very well-done film that deserved a better reception in its day.
With an excellent cast and a superb story, "In the Mouth of Madness" ends up as a really inventive story that proves that horror in film can deliver the same creative as it has in literature. An intelligent and twisted tale of horror, this homage to horror fiction makes a really great film. To most people, the name John Carpenter is (and will always be) related to the "Halloween" franchise, but personally, I find "The Thing" and this film as the best works of his career. 9/10