The Shadow Over Hobb’s End
by Brody Rossiter
The final chilling entry into John Carpenter’s aptly named “Apocalypse Trilogy” (also including The Thing and Prince of Darkness), In the Mouth of Madness is a mind-boggling creep-fest which journeys into the twisted prose of a decidedly dangerous mind.
John Trent (Sam Neill) is an insurance investigator known for getting results and uncovering the truth behind a scam. Recruited by Arcane Publishing director, Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston), John is tasked with investigating the disappearance of one of the firm’s most mysterious and revered novelists, Sutter Cane, and ordered to recover the valuable manuscript of his final novel.
Notorious due to the strange and violent events which surround their release and readers, Cane’s novels have caused the horrors of fiction to bleed into reality, and perhaps there are more powerful forces at work than one man’s pen. What will John discover as he journeys deeper into Cane’s demented narrative? Will he be able to retain his own sanity?
Carpenter’s apocalyptic trilogy deals with the end of the world in contrasting manners; The Thing‘s spread of an alien entity and the horrific physical trauma it introduces; Prince of Darkness‘ omnipotent sense of evilness and its overrunning of the earth; In the Mouth of Madness elects to explore the unnerving potency of artistic license while once again presenting a corruption and collapse of societal normality.
As John begins his investigation, journeying to the town of Hobb’s End alongside Cane’s editor Linda, his grasp upon what is reality and what is the construct of Sutter’s mind begins to falter with terrifying results. Carpenter’s tale of woe is heavily indebted to the works of seminal horror and science-fiction author, H.P. Lovecraft, utilising the famed writer’s overarching climate of insanity and tendril flailing monster descriptions. Such elements are undoubtedly the picture’s strongest, in what was, and still is, a divisive entry into the director’s canon of frights.
In the Mouth of Madness is widely considered a critical and commercial failure, but ultimately it is a distinctive and often incredibly sinister picture possessing both high-octane scares and an atmosphere full of fear, despair and lunacy. Some stylistic choices on the part of Carpenter – such as his surprisingly mediocre score – do dampen the mood, but not enough to ever categorise the picture as a failure. The performance from Neill is robust, physical and alarming, as he himself is consumed by the madness which surrounds him; his role providing a suitably solid leading man to follow into the Cthulhu branded darkness. I would advise you search out this cult and vastly overlooked finale this Halloween, just make sure you remember your way back into reality when you reach the end.