8 Things from "In the Mouth of Madness" Worth Making a List Over

September 15, 2011 – Halloween is usually celebrated Edgar Allan Poe style—black cats, tombs, haunted mansions, sometimes an orangutan. But every once in a while it’s okay go H.P. Lovecraft with the holiday, theming it with elder gods, ancient cults, and fish people. One way to do the latter is to watch John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (1994), a Lovecraft (and Stephen King) homage about an insurance fraud investigator played by Sam Neil who looks into the disappearance of Sutter Cane, the world’s most popular horror author, and finds ultimate horror staring back with double irises and tentacles.

Living in New England as my family and I do, we pay automatic attention to stories set in the region. That’s why when my wife, fresh from Netflix’s home page, recently asked me, “Have you ever seen In the Mouth of Madness? It takes place in New England,” I immediately thought we should watch it together. It had been over a decade since I’d last seen it, after all. I think my exact answer was, “Yeah, you’ll love it. It’s heartwarming and has lots of covered bridges.”

Watching it this time, I was astounded about how many things in the movie I’d either forgotten about it or didn’t know in the first place. I’m not talking plot details or anything like that…just random stuff worth pointing out in the middle of the movie to whoever you’re watching it with despite how many times they tell you to shut up and watch the movie.

1. Charlton Heston: I don’t know if Heston just accidentally stumbled onto the set and starting acting or if Carpenter threatened to remake Soylent Green, but somehow one of cinema’s legendary actors ended up in this movie. Thinking over it, I imagine him putting his arm around Carpenter at a party and saying, “You know what I’ve always wanted to do, Johnny? Play the head of a publishing house in a horror movie. Big dream of mine. Let me know if you ever have anything like that. I’d do it for scale.”

2. The Omen Connection: In the Mouth of Madness basically starts with Sam Neill’s character scribbling crosses all over his face, clothes, and the padded cell in which he’s incarcerated until he’s interrupted by a psychiatrist played by David Warner, to whom Neill’s character tells the story of the movie.

Here’s where it gets Omen-y. David Warner played a photographer in the original The Omen (1976) who helps investigate the Devil’s honest truth about Damien the child Anti-Christ before meeting the business end of a plate of glass in one of the best decapitation scenes in cinema. At one point, he even discovers a room crazily decorated with crosses. Of course, the real Omen connection is that Sam Neill played the adult Damien in the third Omen film in 1981. The apocalypse is a small world.

3. Hobb’s End, NH: I already mentioned that a New England movie setting will get our attention, but our eyelids absolutely pull-shade open over the mention of our current home state, which I have at times called the “least-referenced state in the nation.” Here, Neill’s character tracks down Sutter Cane’s hiding place by piecing together his book covers, revealing an outline of the state of New Hampshire, with a red dot marking the spot of Hobb’s End, a not-on-the-map, supposedly fictional town where Cane sets his stories.

The dot is somewhere northeast of Concord. In fact, by my best half-assed judgment, I’m going to say the outskirts of Canterbury, where the historic Shaker Village is. Sounds like an excuse for a day trip. Incidentally, here’s a link to those covers. The red lines are what Sam Neill puzzles together to form New Hampshire.

4. The Black Church: Before CGI, movie makers had to scour the planet to find unique-looking locations that hadn’t been overused in other films. John Carpenter and crew certainly found one for this flick. In the movie, the protagonists end up at a spooky Eastern European-looking cathedral out in the middle of nowhere referenced in Cane’s books as the “Black Church.” Above its door is a too-cool-for-church stained glass window depicting a battle between a demon and an angel. Turns out, not only is this a real church, but the window is no mere artificial set dressing, either.It’s the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, complete with cool-enough-for-church stained glass window. The church is actually a former Slovak Byzantine Rite Roman Catholic church—whatever that is—located in Markham, Ontario. It’s way worth reading about.

Incidentally, although it doesn’t merit its own number, the fortress-like asylum where Sam Neil enjoys some nostalgia for his Omen days and which is run by the guy who played the head of Clamp Industries in Gremlins 2 is actually a water treatment plant in Toronto.

5. David Cronenberg: …is not in this movie. Seems like a strange thing to point out, but for the past decade I actually thought that the famous horror director played Sutter Cane. Instead, it was Jürgen Prochnow, the guy who played Jesus in The Seventh Sign. Make fun of me for that mistake if you want, but it’s not that far-fetched. After all, Cronenberg nailed with Thor’s hammer the serial killer in Clive Barker’s Nightbreed and even went so far as to cameo in Jason X. Jason…X. Like I said, not that far-fetched.

6. Vigo the Carpathian: The late Wilhelm von Homburg plays a Hobb’s End townie who chooses the hot end of a shotgun to the horrors happening around him, uttering some pretty solid final words in the process, “I have to. He wrote me this way.“ However, we will always know him as the creepy guy in the Ghostbusters II painting. You know, Vigo the Cruel, Vigo the Torturer, Vigo the Despised, Vigo the Unholy…Vigo the Butch.

7. Darth Vader: In a brief scene near the end of the film, Sam Neill runs into a paperboy at a crossroads and asks for directions. The paperboy is played by a 12-year-old Hayden Christensen, long before he joined forces with George Lucas to ruin one of cinema’s most intriguing villains and one of its most important sagas. It was Christensen’s first ever movie role, so in some ways we have to blame John Carpenter for helping to kill Star Wars.

8. The Crazy Credit: Eh, I’ll let it speak for itself.