Wednesday, July 25, 2018

IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1995) (Scream Factory Collector's Edition Blu-ray review)


Label: Scream Factory

Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 95 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Director: John Carpenter 
Cast: Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jürgen Prochnow, John Glover, Charlton Heston, David Warner, Bernie Casey, Peter Jason, Frances Bay, Wilhelm von Homburg

John Carpenter's In The Mouth of Madness (1995) is probably one of the most Lovecraftian non-Lovecraft movies you will ever watch, a reality-bending slice of 90's horror that for a long time was over-looked as the near masterpiece that I think it is, but I think it's standing in Carpenter catalog has risen considerably these past few years. It opens with insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neil, Possession) being forcibly incarcerated at an asylum for reasons unknown, he's received by Dr. Saperstein (John Glover, Gremlins 2) and placed in a padded room, but not before kicking one of the orderlies right in the balls, which he jokes about later. He's later visited by Dr. Wrenn (David Warner, Waxworks) who while interviewing him  makes references to something awful happening outside the walls of asylum, and we learn of Trent's back story, narrated by Trent in true Lovecraftian fashion, working us back through the mind-bending tale that brought him to insanity. 

The tale begins to unfold with a scene of Trent interrogating a Mr. Paul (Peter Jason, Assault of Precinct 13) whom his insurer suspects of fraud, it sets Trent up as a crafty private eye and also a bit of an asshole, from here it moves on to dinner with the head of the insurance company, played by Bernie Casey (Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde) who asks Trent to take on a case for a large policy holder, Arcane Publishing. While having lunch a man with an axe and a peculiar set of eyes attacks Trent, smashing through a window and asking him "Do you read Sutter Cane?", before he's shot dead by the police. 

Trent meets with the head of Arcane Publishing (Charlton Heston, The Planet of the Apes) and Cane's editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen, Fright Night 2) who tell him of how their star horror writer Sutter Cane has gone missing along with his new manuscript, oh, and the guy with the ax who attacked him earlier was Cane's manager who read his latest book and went crazy, killing his entire family prior to going after Trent. The publisher want him to find the writer and bring back his new novel, and while Trent feels the whole thing is a PR stunt, he reluctantly agrees to take on the case. The first clue comes when Trent somehow figures out that the various covers to the author's book can be cut-up to form a map of New Hampshire, leading to a road trip with editor Styles that leads them to a small village straight out the author's books, Hobb's End, a town that shouldn't exist but somehow does.

They check into a creepy bed and breakfast run by an old lady named Mrs. Pickman (Frances Bay, Wild At Heart) and almost immediately encounter Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow, Dune) who is holed up at a strange black church located in town, and things gets really strange from the get-go, with reality and fiction beginning to breakdown and meld, leaving the investigator and the editor doubting their own sanity. As the film plays out the reality game is both horrific and psychologically mind-bending, with our once doubtful investigator questioning his own existence by the very end, in a story peppered with grotesque Lovecraftian terrors and John Carpenter's wonderful directorial flourishes. Carpenter's use of the scope framing combines wonderfully with the visually cool-looking locations, the asylum and the black church are framed to perfection, using the full scope of the frame to capture all the madness.

The special effects done by KNB are awesome, there's lots of tendril sand gooey tentacled Lovecraftian creatures, hideously deformed locals, and more subtle touches like the strange-looking dual-pupils seen throughout. The monster stuff is kept to a minimum, they didn't get a lot of screen time, but what we do get is mighty sweet, I wanted more but we get enough without over doing it. 

This has such a great cast as well, highlighted by Sam Neill who is perfectly cast as the cynical private investigator, he's wry and sarcastic ,and he plays demented well, the scenes of him losing his grip at the cinema at the end always makes me smile, he's got such a peculiar way about him, I love it. Julie Carmen feels a bit stiff to me, she's a cold fish by design, in the extras she says Carpenter had her watch Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday (1940) as inspiration for the character, which I've never seen, but I didn't love her performance, but I did like it when she begins loses her mind, telling Trent that she's "Losing myself!", that scene worked for me. The rest of the cast is a weird combo of notables, we have Bernie Casey from Revenge of the Nerds, Charlton Heston, Carpenter's good luck charm Peter Jason, plus Wilhelm von Homburg (Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters 2!), Carpenter really cast this one with some odd but satisfying choices. 

Audio/Video: In The Mouth of Madness (1995) arrives on Blu-ray from Scream Factory, sourced from a brand new 4K scan of the original camera negative, presented in 1080p HD and framed in Carpenter-vision widescreen (2.35:1). The previous Warner Bros. Blu-ray from 2016 looked fine to my eyes, but this new transfer looks fantastic, grain is uniformly finely managed, colors are rich and nicely saturated, black levels are deep and inky and fine detail is abundant throughout with really nice shadow detail. Scream did really good work with this new transfer. 

The lone audio option is an English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with optional English subtitles, everything is well-balanced and clean, the Carpenter score and creepy sound design seep into the surrounds giving this a nice immersive presentation. This is one of those underrated Carpenter scores, if you ever get the chance to listen to the soundtrack away from the film give it a listen, like the movie it's only gotten better with age. 

Onto he extras we get the vintage EPK and original John Carpenter commentary with cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe from the previous U.S. releases, it's a very technical track and not one of the best Carpenter commentaries you will ever listen to, but Scream Factory come through with a brand new commentary from Carpenter and his wife/producer Sandy King Carpenter, it's a much looser and more enjoyable listen as the two wax nostalgic on making the film, covering the production, the cast and reception of the film. Sandy King several times takes jabs at New Line's Bob Shay, she definitely was not a fan of the man, also saying that Charlton Heston hated her, he even kicked her out of her office so he could take a nap! 

More extras come by way of an episode of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds with Sean Clark exploring some of the locations used in the film, I love these things, I wish there were more of them on Scream's releases, it's been a while since I saw one. There's also new interviews with actress Julie Carmen and special effects artist Greg Nicotero, both are good interviews, with Carmen speaking about her notable genre roles in film, a cool deleted ending to the film, and what it was like working with everyone on set. Nicotero speaks about the notable special effects with some cool behind-the-scenes video that gives us a much better look at some of the creatures designed for the film that are only really glimpsed in the final film, plus scenes of the special effects from the deleted scene referenced by Carmen in her interview. The disc s buttoned-up with some Nicotero home movies, a trailer and a whopping nine-minute of TV spots. 

The single-disc release is a Collector's Edition, it comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, the a-side is a new illustration from frequent Scream collaborator Joel Robinson (Black Christmas), the reverse side being the original one-sheet which was used on previous home video versions. This release comes with a limited edition slipcover also featuring the Joel Robinson artwork, the disc also features the same Robinson artwork.

Special Features:
- NEW 4K scan of the original film elements
- NEW Audio Commentary with director John Carpenter and producer Sandy King Carpenter 
- NEW Horror’s Hallowed Grounds – a look at the film’s locations today (12 min) 
- NEW The Whisperer of the Dark - an interview with actress Julie Carman (10 min) HD 
- NEW Greg Nicotero’s Things in the Basement – a new interview with special effects artist Greg Nicotero including behind-the-scenes footage (17 min) HD 
- NEW Home Movies from Hobb’s End – Behind the Scenes footage from Greg Nicotero (12 min) 
- Audio Commentary with director John Carpenter and cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe
- Vintage Featurette – The Making of In the Mouth of Madness (5 min) 
- Theatrical Trailer (2 min) HD
- TV Spots (9 min) 

If you're in a Lovecraft frame of mind and looking for something to watch I say check out In The Mouth of Madness, one of the best of the Lovecraft influenced movies out there that isn't a direct adaptation. Carpenter explored Lovecraftian themes in both of the preceding Apocalypse Trilogy entries with both The Thing (1982) and Prince of Darkness (1987), but never more overtly than with this one, it's littered with Lovecraft references and Easter eggs, plus oodles of atmosphere. The new 4K transfer by Scream Factory looks gorgeous, and the new extras are all pretty great, well-worth the upgrade! Scream usually do good work for their John Carpenter titles, here's hoping they get their hands on more of 'em, I'd even be down for some of the later not-so-great stuff like Ghosts of Mars (2001) Escape from L.A. (1996) and Vampires (1998), and his sci-fi film Starman (1984) is already on tap for a Collector's edition in 2019. 

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