Release Date(s)1995 (July 24, 2018)
Studio(s)New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
“Do you read Sutter Cane?”
Mixing a Phillip Marlowe private eye sensibility with an H.P. Lovecraft end of the world scenario, In the Mouth of Madness tells the story of an insurance investigator named John Trent (Sam Neill) who has been hired to look into the disappearance of world-famous horror author Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) by Cane’s publisher (Charlton Heston) and his editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen). Initially believing that his involvement is part of an elaborate publicity stunt, Trent’s search for Cane leads him to the town of Hobb’s End, which uncannily resembles the fictional town of the same name from Cane’s latest novel. Reality and fiction soon begin to intermingle as Trent questions not only his sanity, but also whether or not the effect that Cane’s work is having on both readers and the living world is actually happening or a hallucination.
John Carpenter considers In the Mouth of Madness to be the third entry in his self-proclaimed “Apocalypse Trilogy”, preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness. One can certainly see similarities between the three films. Multiple realities, world-ending cataclysms, otherworldly creatures, and tentacles... lots of tentacles. In the Mouth of Madness is the more sophisticated of the three films, relying more on dialogue and creepy visuals than monsters and gore. The monsters that are present in the film are kept mostly in the shadows and are more effective because of it. And Trent’s descent into Cane’s world comes with skepticism at every turn, but ultimately, it leads him down a dark and sinister path filled with memorable imagery.
In the Mouth of Madness also has one of Carpenter’s most impressive casts, which includes the aforementioned Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Charlton Heston, and Jürgen Prochnow, but also David Warner, John Glover, Bernie Casey, Peter Jason, Frances Bay, Wilhelm von Homburg, and even a young Hayden Christensen in a small part. Most of the performances are quite good, although there are a couple of questionable pieces of delivery from both Neill and Carmen... thankfully very few of them.
In the Mouth of Madness is also considered by many to be one of the last truly great John Carpenter films. Unfortunately, its subtlety was lost on U.S. audiences when it was initially released, whereas in Europe it was received positively. Despite the film being a creation of Michael De Luca, Carpenter’s wit and imagination somehow manage to seep through. Over the years, along with several other Carpenter films from this period, In the Mouth of Madness has grown in the estimation of both critics and fans. It’s not an entirely solid piece of work, but it’s still quite inventive.
Scream Factory’s latest Warner Bros. acquisition features a “new 2018 high definition transfer that was created in 4K resolution at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging on the Lasergraphics Director scanner from the original camera negative.” It even opens with the vintage New Line Cinema logo from the late 1980s/early 1990s for good measure. Warner Bros.’ previous Blu-ray release of the film wasn’t bad at all, but this new scan is a marked improvement. It looks wonderful in motion, with more clarity and fine detail in the image, as well as solid grain levels. In the scene were Trent speaks to Cane in a church confessional, the top of the set can now be seen much more clearly, meaning there’s less crush and more natural black levels. There’s also slightly more information along the edges of the frame, particularly along the bottom. The color grading has also improved. The walls of the asylum are now white, as opposed to somewhat green in the previous transfer. The interiors of Cane’s church have more apparent shades of red and brown, grays look grayer, and shades of blue (Cane’s favorite color) are much richer. Skin tones are also pinker, looking less tan than before. Everything is also brighter than the previous transfer, but not overly bright. Contrast isn’t dialed quite so high now. It’s also virtually spotless and completely stable throughout. The audio is provided in English 5.1 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. It seems to be the same track from the previous Blu-ray release, which includes plenty of ambient and surround activity, frequent deliberate sound placement and panning, clear and discernible dialogue, and occasional low end activity. To my eyes and ears, it’s the best the film has ever looked and sounded.
The extras on this release carry over everything from the film’s previous Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray releases. It includes a new audio commentary with John Carpenter and producer Sandy King Carpenter, which is mostly them watching the movie and commenting on the experience of making it, with Sandy occasionally popping in with some real juicy bits of behind-the-scenes information; the previously-released audio commentary with director John Carpenter and cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe, an infamously boring commentary; a new episode of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds from Sean Clark, which takes a look at some of the film’s shooting locations; The Whisperer of the Dark, a new 10-minute an interview with actress Julie Carmen in which she talks about working with John Carpenter, as well as her remembrance of filming a couple of things that were ultimately deleted; Greg Nicotero’s Things in the Basement: The Monsters, Make-Up, and Mayhem of In the Mouth of Madness, a new 17-minute interview with the KNB EFX artist about his and his company’s work in the film; Home Movies from Hobb’s End, a new 12-minute collection of behind the scenes footage, provided by Nicotero; a vintage 5-minute EPK featurette on the film; the original theatrical trailer; and a collection of 15 TV spots.
When I revisit In the Mouth of Madness, I always seem to like it a little bit more each time I see it. It’s one of those films, like Prince of Darkness, that just grows on you with each viewing as you keep finding that there’s more baked into it than what you initially realized. It may also be that, as you get older, you look for more sophisticated qualities in horror films. There are some genuinely unnerving moments that are quite effective and you never forget them, but as a story about an eventual apocalyptic world told from the cell of a seemingly crazy man, it’s worth re-watching multiple times. Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release is loaded for bear and up for just such a task, as well as some newfound reappraisal. Highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons