Coffin Corner: In the Mouth of Madness

Welcome to The Coffin Corner! Every week, Ian West will be delving into some of the best and latest Blu-ray releases, as well as focusing on the brilliant labels that keep the home video market alive and well! 

“In France, I’m an auteur. In Germany, a filmmaker. In Britain a genre film director, and in the USA, a bum.” — John Carpenter

The man, the myth, the Legend. For over 40 years John Carpenter has been a staple in genre filmmaking, creating some of the most memorable and Influential films of our time. He’s had huge hits, massive failures, underrated gems, and an amazing resurgence with his musical career. As a matter of fact, every few years a different film from his catalogue seems to be re-evaluated, as if original audiences seem to finally “get it”. Growing up I remember my first Halloween without adult supervision… I made a giant bowl of popcorn, sat myself in front of my dad’s TV and searched for something scary that would perfectly complement the cool fall weather, glowing pumpkins with flickering light slightly strobing in the room, and the shadows of falling leaves I could see outside my window. Then I found it, the end credits of some movie were playing and the TV announcer said: “Up next, John Carpenter’s Halloween!”

From the moment the music started I was immediately on edge and totally hooked, but I’ll save the rest of that story for next October. Shortly after that first experience I noticed Mr. Carpenter’s name on other movies at the video store, movies like The Fog, Big Trouble in Little China, and Escape from New York. My father was a huge fan of the latter so we rented it, and so began my lifelong fandom of Kurt Russell and my discovery of The Thing. Growing up I knew the names of three filmmakers — Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, and John Carpenter —  but after The Thing, I knew which one was my favorite.

Amidst the video store searches to crave my need for more horror, I stumbled across In the Mouth of Madness, which begins with a straight-jacketed John Trent (Sam Neill) being dragged into an insane asylum (amidst some signature Carpenter wide shots) trying to tell the orderlies that he’s not insane! Soon after he is visited by Dr. Wren (David Warner), who is trying to help Trent, whose sudden decision to draw crosses all over himself and his cell starts raising questions. When asked how he got to the hospital, Trent tells him about disappearance of Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow), one of the world's most widely read horror authors.


Hired to investigate the insurance claim on the missing author by Cane’s publisher Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston), insurance investigator Trent begins his journey to recover the unreleased manuscript of Cane’s latest novel, In the Mouth of Madness, and discover the whereabouts of the extremely popular missing writer. During his research into the disappearance, Trent becomes haunted by realistically bleak nightmares revolving around Cane’s previous work and the downfall of society, and soon discovers that the covers of Cane’s paperbacks might hold the key to his location. As the investigation continues, Trent is joined by the Cane’s editor Linda (Julie Carmen) as they discover the eerie fictional New Hampshire town featured in Cane’s novels, Hobbs End, actually exists, and the nightmarish truth behind the strange, unstable behavior of Cane’s readers is very real!

Part fiction, part reality, all nightmare. With its slimy tentacled creatures and otherworldly sleepy New England locale, In the Mouth of Madness is pure Lovecraftian horror mixed with subtle hints of Stephen King, and shown to us in a way only Carpenter could put to the screen. I was born in 1985, making me about 10-years-old when this hit the video stores, the perfect age to be scared shitless by this dreamy nightmare fuel, and setting in motion a lifelong obsession with H.P. Lovecraft. It’s also the final entry in Carpenter’s “Apocalypse trilogy” which includes The Thing and Prince of Darkness, and features a great cast (particularly Sam Neill), some primo K.N.B. Effects, a cool Carpenter soundtrack (naturally), and an bleakly unforgettable ending. This is one of the top genre films of the 1990s and one of my many favorites among the vast treasure of the Horror Master's filmography!