In the Mouth of Madness stars Sam Neill as John Trent, an insurance investigator hired to find Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) who is said to be “this century’s most widely read author”. Having disappeared two months earlier, Cane’s publisher wants Trent to retrieve Cane’s book “In the Mouth of Madness” for publication. Parts of this book was sent to Cane’s agent, who went insane after reading it and wandered around Manhattan with an axe until he was shot dead by the police. Trent, with the help of Cane’s editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), not only has to find Cane and the elusive book, but also convince himself that the whole thing isn’t just some elaborate marketing stunt. In any case, Sutter Cane’s latest book is, of course, more than a book; it threatens to rewrite reality itself and make Cane a god. But that’s only half the fun.
What makes In the Mouth of Madness such a delight is how it’s a giant love letter to H.P. Lovecraft, which most specifically plays off of his short story “Pickman’s Model”. In this 1926 story, Richard Upton Pickman is a brilliant painter who paints amazingly detailed images of horrifying scenes, monsters and all. After his recent disappearance, a friend of Pickman shares a tale of the time he visited Pickman in his gallery. After a series of bizarre and unsettling incidents, the friend stumbles upon a photograph which clearly reveals that Pickman isn’t painting from his imagination, but from real life. There’s more to it, of course; such as the implication that Pickman himself may not even be human. Or there’s the metafictional possibility that the story is meant to be about Lovecraft himself.
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