In the Mouth of Madness (1994) – a Maliciously Macabre Meal
Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn
“In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming” – H.P. Lovecraft
Dreaming? Not anymore! According to In the Mouth of Madness, “dead Cthulhu” and his ilk have awoken and are crawling through dimensions to invade the world through that most fertile of fields: a writer’s mind!
The set up is simple: afraid that their best selling horror author has vanished off the face of the earth, a publishing company engages an insurance fraud investigator (Sam Neill) to locate him. What follows is mindf*ckery of note as the very walls of society crumble around us while the population descends into madness after reading the missing writer’s latest work: the book In the Mouth of Madness.
In the Mouth of Madness is a conundrum: It is the fear of creativity wrapped up in something that, itself, is intensely creative. One of the major questions posed by the film is where do authors and other creatives find their inspiration. As an actress, I have, at least once, opened myself up to the human hive-mind to conjure up deep emotion. In this case, the story presents us with what would happen if the energy and creativity a writer calls on comes not from within himself, not from within society, but, rather, from a malign influence lurking outside our world.
Viewing it from a certain angle, the story can be seen as a metaphor for the fear non-creatives have always had against those who bring an invading and pervasive creative influence into our society. Imagine a totalitarian government’s terror that someone, somewhere, might create an idea that sparks a total worldwide revolution! This film gives voice to that fear, and the very fact that this idea is presented to us wrapped up within a very creative package, is, in itself, a paradox.
Deceptively simple, often with only two actors sharing the screen, the story is also disturbingly complex and pushes those who view it to stretch their minds to try and encompass everything that is being relayed. The story is told in broad, bold, strokes, which are supplemented by beautiful and grotesque images, and the characters inhabit a stark, yet mesmerizingly beautiful world that is reminiscent of the Phantasm universe. This is also a very real tale of world domination by an outside force; a force not connected to the human at all…the force that has taken over the missing writer’s mind. The invaders’ nefarious agenda bleeds through the writer’s books, and infects everyone who reads them, which is, incidentally, yet another veiled implication that the appreciation of creativity is bad for the general population. It is usually understood that, through reading and education and the consequent love of creativity, you can set yourself free, yet this story turns that theory on its head as we see that, through pursuing these things, the population actually becomes enslaved.
Another question the story posed and pondered on was “what is reality?”. The nature of reality is, to some degree, different for each and everyone of us, and the story presents us with what would happen if one man’s reality took over the world. The thought that any one person’s reality would become the dominant one is scary enough, but it becomes truly terrifying when that one person is in league with interdimensional horrors whose plans involve the destruction of the human race.
The story is told in a convoluted fashion that involves a film-long flashback. Those who have a history of enjoying HP Lovecraft’s work will recognize almost immediately what’s going on. Old gods – The Great Old Ones – sleeping outside the realm of space and time coming to infiltrate and take over the world is, after all, a familiar concept to Lovecraftian fans. Those who have no knowledge of Lovecraft’s work could, no doubt, find the intricately coiled story and non-obvious plotline somewhat confusing. This is not a slasher film where nubile teenagers get mutilated while masked killers stalk the woods; this is a cerebral tale that will appeal to those who like puzzling things out and putting them together in a different order in order to see the hideous whole.
On a personal note, something that really weirded me out was the fact that the actors seemed to speak with strange, almost robotic, accents. It was almost like their words had been translated from another language, and the ghost of that language was still infecting their everyday speech. This was almost subliminally unnerving to me, and, even if it was not intended, it served to heighten the creep factor dramatically.
There were also some obvious nods to the best-selling horror writer of our world, Stephen King: Playing cards pegged to bicycle wheel spokes clattered as weird characters cycled by, the isolated New England town reigned supreme and an insidiously insane universe existed just one wrong turn away from ours. Then there was the question of what happens if what we write about takes on a physical reality of its own, which was exactly what was addressed in King’s book, The Dark Half where, to our dismay, the sparrows were flying again…
Set in the wondrous world created by one author, and paying subtle homage to another, In the Mouth of Madness is a journey through madness’s yawning mouth into the very depths of the human psyche where all of our festering fears and disturbing doubts are examined far too closely for comfort.
Written by Michael De Luca, directed by John Carpenter and starring the amazing Sam Neill (who I will love forever because of Event Horizon),In the Mouth of Madness is available wherever horror films are found. My copy came in the mail: a DVD from Netflix, but it is also available on Youtube (Youtube Movies Channel).
You can experience the trailer here:
Bonus feature: the artist Russell Dickerson has created some STUNNING ITMOM artworks! You can view them on his Pinterest page, and here’s one of my favorites, and his other works can be found here: www.darkstormcreative.com