Madness and misogyny: John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness 28 Years Later

John Carpenter’s 1994 film In the Mouth of Madness is not a very good horror film. The plot is dragging and filled with contrived coincidence, the performances are stilted and awkward and it rarely evokes any true fear outside of a few predictable jumpscares. As a comedy, though, it shines like fake blood on a steel axehead. From rubber monsters to naked old men getting butchered in handcuffs, In the Mouth of Madness provides the perfect centrepiece to a late night movie binge with a few friends — and might even have a few things to say about the nature of fiction and the problematic power of authors.

The film follows freelance insurance investigator and certified guy-who-calls-women-broads, John Trent (Sam Neil) as he looks into the disappearance of renowned author Sutter Cane (Jurgen Proschnow), an off-brand Steven King. When the investigation leads Trend and Cane’s editor Linda (Julie Carmen) to the small town of Hobbs End, the two begin to realise that the horrors Cane writes about may be closer to reality than they believed.

In the Mouth of Madness is, true to John Carpenter form, filled with impressive practical effects. And while its gory setpieces often fall flat, there are a few legitimately haunting moments sprinkled here and there. Hearing a young boy’s voice come out of the wrinkled mouth of the midnight cyclist early in the film sends a shiver through me despite the cornyness of the dialogue that surrounds it.

This dialogue is by no means a weakness. It provides perfect fare for Sam Neil to do what he does best: Be a total weirdo. It says a lot about his performance in this movie that John Trent’s unhinged ranting in an insane asylum is one of his more relatable moments.

Trent, while hilarious, is not the most interesting character. His nominal love interest, Linda, brings up a fascinating criticism of male writers and their treatment of female characters as accessories for their protagonists.

Despite her general disdain for Trent from the moment they meet, Linda ends up literally throwing herself at him towards the end of the film.

“Cane’s writing me. He wants me to kiss you,” she says as she leans in towards Sam Neil’s slimy lips. “It’s good for the book. It’s what the readers want to read.”

With this, writer Micheal De Luca creates an interesting paradox: he is both satirising and participating in the objectification of women in film, as well as drawing attention to the fact that authors don’t write this way simply because they want to. Sex and sexism is what sells, so this is what they write.

Movies like this are rare. Don’t get me wrong, camp is in no short supply in horror, but it’s not often one can laugh at rubber masks in one scene before being engaged in questions of morality and misogyny in fiction in the next.

No, In the Mouth of Madness is not a great classic horror film. But I would challenge anyone to not have a great time while watching it.

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