In the Mouth of Madness [1994]

The mind-bending worlds of author H.P. Lovecraft have long interested horror directors, but the films have rarely successfully captured his nightmarish mix of madness and mythology. John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness is not directly based on Lovecraft's work, but screenwriter Michael De Luca draws his inspiration from Lovecraft's Cthulu mythology and then adds his own ingenious twists. John Trent (Sam Neill), an insurance investigator recently fitted for a straightjacket, tells his story to a psychiatrist. Hired to track down the missing pop-horror phenomena Sutter Cane, a Stephen King-like author whose fans are literally made for his books, Trent finds the supposedly fictional Hobb's End. He watches the town collapse into madness, murder, and monstrous transformations: the fantastic horrors of Cane's novels played out in front of his eyes. "Reality isn't what it used to be," deadpans one zombielike townsperson. In fact, it is how Cane writes it--but is he Devil, dark oracle, or simply a preacher in the service of an evil that grows stronger with every soul his books convert? The script never quite gets a grip on the blurry relationship between fact and fiction, but those details fade in the face of Carpenter's demented imagery, shiver-inducing twists, and dark wit. It's more eerie mind game than straight-out horror, a portrait of a world gone mad, and Carpenter relishes every hallucinatory moment. --Sean Axmaker

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