In the Mouth of Madness

John Carpenter’s first horror feature in eight years was this disappointing pastiche of Lovecraft (as the title suggests) and Stephen King. Sam Neill is John Trent, an insurance-fraud investigator assigned to find Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow), a mysterious King-like horror author, and deliver Cane’s new manuscript. What follows is one of those what-the-fuck-is-going-on-at-any-given-moment plots, with lots of icky monsters and demons by Bruce Nicholson and KNB EFX. The movie eventually eats its own self-referential tail; the only scary thing about it is that, along with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, it points at the future of horror movies: dull conceptual mind games. Carpenter tries, but he’s too workmanlike a director to make us feel as disoriented as the main character, as if we’d actually become part of a twisted fiction. And if we don’t feel that, the movie has no point. Also with Julie Carmen, John Glover, David Warner, and Charlton Heston — the last actor you would’ve expected to show up in a Carpenter film (I suspect Kurt Russell vouched for Carpenter to Heston). Screenwriter Michael De Luca was in charge of New Line for a while. Carpenter’s next was Village of the Damned, released later the same year.

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