In the Mouth of Madness Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Michael De Luca
1995, 95 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on July 24th, 2018
Sam Neill as John Trent
Julie Carmen as Linda Styles
Jürgen Prochnow as Sutter Cane
David Warner as Dr. Wrenn
John Glover as Saperstein
Bernie Casey as Robinson
Peter Jason as Mr. Paul
Charlton Heston as Jackson Harglow
John Trent is a freelance insurance investigator with a strong record of exposing fraudulent cases. He is hired by a publishing firm to locate their top client, the phenomenally successful author Sutter Cane. The horror writer has disappeared just before his latest book is scheduled to go to the printers and his rabid fan base is growing restless. Trent is unfamiliar with the material, so he takes up reading some of the work at the request of editor Linda Styles. He pieces together a few clues and comes up with an idea of where Cane may be hiding. Styles and Trent journey to the small New England town of Hobb’s End, a place where everything is vaguely familiar but nothing is what it seems. This location appears to be the source of much of Cane’s content, but there is something even darker lurking just around the corner. Fantasy and reality become interchangeable to Trent as his world crumbles into a living nightmare while trying to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Director John Carpenter (Village of the Damned) reaches deep into his bag of tricks and comes up aces with his sixteenth feature, In the Mouth of Madness. Written and produced by former New Line Cinema head Michael De Luca (Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare), the story opens in a mental hospital with a suspected paranoid schizophrenic serving as our unreliable narrator sharing his tale of woe. We must accept his point of view no matter how surreal certain elements become if we are to find out what happened to make his world such a crazy place. Inspired by the works of author H.P. Lovecraft, reality is given a disturbing tilt into the bizarre via the horrors that lurk within small-town USA. In this strange riff on the Twilight Zone, monsters are real, insanity is contagious and evil is coming.
Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) stars as the cynical John Trent, and delivers a fantastic performance as the man who keeps both feet firmly grounded in reality, defiant even when given no choice but to accept the alternative. Trent is a reluctant hero pushed into saving the human race when he has no interest in doing so. In a way, he deserves this mission to fix what is wrong in society, since he is part of the problem. Sam Neill shares great onscreen chemistry with Julie Carmen (Fright Night Part II) as Styles, his fellow Hobb’s End explorer. More often than not she is Trent’s voice of reason as things start to turn sideways on him. Carmen has a haunting quality that really lends itself to the role as Styles is overtaken by Cane’s spell. Jürgen Prochnow (The Seventh Sign) is quite creepy as Sutter Cane, and commands every moment of his limited screen time. His intense gaze and striking features are intimidating and strangely charismatic.
Carpenter populates his supporting cast with familiar faces, including small roles for David Warner (The Island) and John Glover (Gremlins 2) as a pair of doctors at the mental hospital. Bernie Casey (Revenge of the Nerds) is Trent’s boss and Peter Jason (They Live) is a con artist looking to game the system. The real coup here is the legendary Charlton Heston (Planet of the Apes), a man who has saved the world on more than one occasion, appearing here as Jackson Harglow, head of the publishing company that sends Trent on his quest. Heston fills the role with an immediate gravitas that commands authority. Each of these actors is given at least one fine moment to shine and all are up to the challenge.
In the Mouth of Madness is filled with a creeping sense of dread as we are constantly fed unsettling images. Cinematographer Gary Kibbe (Vampires) fills the shadows with menace, with something frequently lurking just out of sight. This atmospheric picture marks the concluding chapter in Carpenter’s “apocalypse trilogy” preceded by The Thing (1982) and Prince of Darkness (1987), in which humanity as a whole is threatened with extinction. The previous films found our hero making an incredible sacrifice to do the right thing, but here things take a darker turn as Trent is either unable or unwilling to do what is necessary. Society is indeed tearing itself apart, but are we worth saving? There are a lot of dark questions at play and Carpenter does not pull any punches when delivering his answers.
John Carpenter has enjoyed a very successful run creating a string of hit movies, particularly in the decade running from 1978 – 1988. He had his share of misfires, just as any filmmaker does, but he really soared during this creative period. In the Mouth of Madness (1995) marks a return to form for the director as he throws everything he’s got into this one and comes up with a win. The film works as a thrilling escape but also contains a great deal of subtext that reveals itself upon repeat viewings. Carpenter works well with darker material and sometimes paints society with a less-than-flattering brush, but always holds out hope that mankind will come to its senses as it races towards the end.
Video and Audio:
Scream Factory has sprung for an all-new 4K remaster of the original film elements and the results are quite satisfying. Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, colors pop and the entire image is sharp and free from blemishes. Black levels are well-saturated and there is plenty of small-object detail.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is full of energy and really comes to life when the shit hits the fan in the third act. There are lots of creepy sounds that are presented here through some solid directional effects that play well throughout. Dialogue levels are free from distortion and are well-balanced with the music and effects tracks.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Scream Factory really delivers with the extra goodies on this release, creating all-new content as well as porting over previously available materials that should make fans really happy.
When In the Mouth of Madness arrived on Laser Disc in 1996, it carried an audio commentary with John Carpenter and cinematographer Gary Kibbe. The track is less than satisfying, as Carpenter pulls teeth getting Kibbe to open up about the lighting of the picture. This is one of the weakest tracks the director has recorded and is a bit of a chore to suffer through. The commentary appears on the subsequent DVD and original Blu-ray releases and is included here for completists.
For this 2018 Collector’s Edition, I am happy to report that Carpenter and his wife/ producer Sandy King recorded an all-new commentary. This is much more lively a discussion that reveals quite a bit about the production. There are plenty of anecdotes and bits of information as the couple reflect on the picture more than two decades after its debut.
Actress Julie Carmen discusses her experience working with Carpenter in the new interview segment Whisperer of the Dark (10 minutes). She is fond of her role in the film and has plenty of nice things to say about the script and her fellow cast members. Her appearance is a welcome addition and it is nice to hear from her.
Greg Nicotero’s Things in the Basement (17 minutes) finds the make-up maestro sitting in the control room in this all-new 2018 interview. He shares a lot of information about the approach he and his team made in creating the numerous creature effects in the picture.
Nicotero’s behind-the-scenes footage takes center stage in Home Movies from Hobb’s End (12 minutes) and provides viewers with a detailed look at the work crafted by the effects team.
Sean Clark returns with another episode of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (12 minutes) with a look at the film’s original shooting locations. He’s a resourceful guy who gets a lot of access to most of these places and is thorough in his research.
The Making of In the Mouth of Madness (5 minutes) is a vintage EPK shot during production to promote the picture and includes clips from the movie, interviews with the cast and crew and a little behind-the-scenes footage added in for good measure.
The original theatrical trailer is included along with a collection of 15 TV spots.
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