Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?


Into The Mouth Of John Carpenter’s Madness

In the Mouth of Madness is a movie from 1994, straight out of the tortuous mind of John Carpenter, the man that brought you Escape From New York and They Live, but mostly known for sweet, creepy, SF like The Thing or Dark Star and big names of the horror genre such as Halloween, The Fog or Christine.

In The Mouth of Madness seems to be only known by Lovecraft amateurs and patented fans of Carpenter. It’s not aimed at an elite of some kind, but I rarely hear people talk about it when Carpenter’s work comes into a discussion. Sadly, the movie has a pitiful 47% on Rotten Tomatoes, but a nice 7.2/10 on IMDB.


Before we open the discussions about the movie itself, let’s talk about those directors who tried to adapt or transcript Howard Philips Lovecraft’s work to the big screen, or as some might call it: Lovecraftian Horror. Few people tried to strictly adapt a novel or a short story from Lovecraft’s repertoire, but on the other hand, many directors were inspired by the atmosphere of the world he created. It’s the same kind of fascination with Clive Barker.

If Lovecraft is a god to some when we speak of fantastic literature, it’s far from being the same with movies. Most of them are mediocre at best, and garbage at worst, incapable of catching the beholder’s interest like a book would. It’s fairly logical though – Lovecraft’s books were written between 1910 and the mid-30’s, and I suppose that back then you would get scared by far less than what it takes to get a cringe from a teenager today. Imagination was basically the main source of one’s shivering. Just look at the best horror pictures from that era – The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari, M, Häxän – they were all based on ambiance and suggestions of horror to create fear and anxiety.

Good movies that adapted his work are rare (Dagon, The Call of Cthulhu, The Resurrected, The Dunwich Horror) but we can see inspiration in directors like Sam Raimi, Stuart Gordon and obviously Carpenter. As for other movies, here are a list of some films that might have been influenced by Cthulhu’s father: Alien (and HR Giger’s designs), The Thing, Evil Dead, sketch film Necronomicon, some episodes of Masters of Horror and more recently The Cabin in the Woods by Federico Alvarez.


Now here’s my full spoiler review of this film –if you want to watch it first, it’s at the end of the article (in poor quality, though…).

In the Mouth of Madness is one of the first horror movies that really made me uncomfortable, and legitimately scared me the first time I watched it. The story is a giant flashback told by John Trent, a detective for insurance companies who is now institutionalized in a mental hospital (he seems to have crazy hallucinations). A few months earlier, he was asked to find Sutter Cane, a popular fantasy writer that disappeared before the release of his final book and who is suspected of insurance fraud (if he doesn’t make you think of Stephen King, I don’t know who will). This writer is basically a cult all to himself, and his disappearance makes people go insane.

Trent decides to read some of Sutter Cane’s material and begins to experience strange visions, like distortions of reality, as if Cane’s work was really “changing people.” He also finds out as quickly as Sherlock Holmes that Cane might be hiding in a fictional town called Hobbs End. He then decides to go there with Linda, portrayed by Julie Carmen – Cane’s editor and also a philosopher from time to time: “It’s not real from your point of view, and right now reality shares your point of view, but what scares me about Cane’s work is what might happen if reality shared his point of view” / “a reality is just what we tell each other it is, sane and insane can easily switch places if the insane were to become the majority.”

They manage to get into the city after what I consider to be the darkest, most unsettling scene in the movie.

After realizing that they might literally be inside Sutter Cane’s last book, the insane writer reveals that The Great Old Ones are changing the course of reality through his pen. John Trent falls into madness and refuses to believe that reality is falling apart like that, and so on until he becomes the institutionalized man we saw in the beginning. I tried to stay vague so you could still enjoy the movie and be terrified of it even if you read this, but the next paragraph is going to spoil the shit out of the end of the movie…

Trent manages to escape the hospital and realizes that world population is ether crazy or just gone. He enters a movie theatre where the movie “In the Mouth of Madness” is showing, the adaptation of Cane’s last book. He sits down with popcorn and sees that what he’s been through in Hobbs End was actually the movie In the Mouth of Madness. It ends between the laughs and cries of Sam Neill realizing that reality and fiction traded places. What he thought was fiction, the apocalypse, became reality, and what he thought was real, his investigation, became fiction.


A lot of interesting theories were made about this film, from the obvious rational one saying that it’s all a John Trent dementia, to the metaphorical one with every monster being the real face of human souls (the old woman that beheads her husband, the weird thing grafted behind Cane’s head), the “all of it is promotion by the editor,” and I even saw someone talk about a critique of censorship.

The movie talks about the frontier between reality and fiction: at what point does a story become real? This question can easily be paralleled with religion and the idea of a deity –those things exist because we’ve created them and choose to believe in them. It hurts my ass to quote the Clash of Titans remake, but that was what this movie was about – gods losing powers because nobody believed in them anymore. Sutter Cane says at one point that more people believe in his books than in the Bible.

What’s interesting, though, it’s that for a good half of the movie (until everybody starts bleeding from their eyes) we don’t know what’s up, and we’re not sure of anything. Every strange event that happened was seen by one person at a time, giving us a distorted vision. On the road to Hobbs End, for example, only Linda is awake during the weird biker part and the “entering the portal” part, and she stated that she believed in Cane’s writing. How could we trust her? It’s only later that we understand what was what, like the biker who was trapped between reality and fiction in an endless loop (we see him young and then very old in the same scene).

The fact is, it was totally possible that everything was a work of the imagination, coincidences or even actors pulling a prank on John Trent just for the sake of publicity. Then came the revelation that the city existed solely because Cane imagined it, inhabitants were practically NPC with scripted actions, and John Trent probably didn’t even exist before Cane wrote him. He is the sceptic, the moral and psychological compass only because he is the main character of a book, and has to be kind of “neutral.” The first time I thought characters might be acting through a novel script was when Linda kissed John in the hotel room: nothing justified that scene, except if you were trying to sell a book with a romance.

The apocalypse of the end of the movie occurs when there are more people believing in Cane’s work than not, and that’s thanks to the movie adaptation. Those who read the books bleed from their eyes and become crazy because their brain can’t take the prediction of their own future. Trent is convinced that he has control over things and only walks to the beat of his own drum, because that’s how he was written – he was created as a character sure of himself and sure that his fate was in his own hands.

The end of the movie is a major mindfuck, because the book we’ve been chasing became the movie we were watching, and as John Trent is in the theatre he is watching the movie we’re watching (mise en abyme much?). In the end, we don’t really care for the great old ones and what they do through Cane, because even if they stand behind a creepy ass door (which looks like something off of Cronenberg’s Videodrome), they’re just here to give Cane’s messiah complex a mystical justification. And also to give kick-ass hallucinations.

This movie is the final entry of the unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy by Carpenter (next to The Thing and Prince of Darkness). Despite its quality, the movie barely made its money back (8 million budget for less than 9 million gained), and I find that really sad, but that’s just my opinion.

“Human interaction was monitored by the Inter Planetary Psychiatric Association. The body count was high, the casualties are heavy.”


Written By

Passion driven french redactor ready to talk about anything regarding music, cinema, literature, esotericism or any type of worthy subjects. Also part of the TCPC organization in France.



  1. John Mosley

    June 13, 2015 at 5:11 am

    One of my favorite horror films. Carpenter + Lovecraft = feargasm.

  2. Kevin Gregory Maurer

    June 13, 2015 at 4:56 am

    i watched this and event horizon for the first time in the same night.

  3. John Kelley

    June 13, 2015 at 12:37 am

    Kristen Evie Beckmann Hallie S. Wenz

  4. Matthew Dale

    June 12, 2015 at 10:35 pm

    Good build up in it but it wasn’t as good as it should’ve been

  5. Katja K.

    June 12, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    He looks like he passed out at a party and his friends took a Sharpie to him.

  6. Jay Negro

    June 12, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    This is a forgotten John Carpenter classic. He had his heyday from about 1978-1989, but his work in the early to mid-90s also excelled.

  7. Ghonnery Phyillis

    June 12, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    Ron Miller

  8. Alexandre Killeen Raffray

    June 12, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    Lomaho Kretzmann viewing party

  9. Warner Scroggins

    June 12, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    Still easily one of the best truly Lovecraftian horror films ever made.

  10. Michael McGrath

    June 12, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    One of my favorites.Also They Live and Big Trouble in little China.

  11. Kyle Bond

    June 12, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    This is probably the one film that really affected my thought process longer than it should have. Even when I think about it, the uncomfortable feeling comes back. Job well done.

  12. Ferdy van der Stam

    June 12, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    And again a lot of statements that are so untrue. Yes this is a classic movie that is actually really appreciated by a lot of people. Not when you look at metasites because most reviews tend to come from a time when horror was this shamefull secret. Same as Event Horizon, it got more support over the years but a lot of people focussed on details like who directed it ( so it must suck) or whatever. Same as all those people that complain that they don’t make stuff like this anymore. Well, they actually do and I enough great stuff to claim that although the times change you still get great horrormovies that you might not get at the moment but you will in a few years. And this one? Yeah, one of the better Lovecraftian nightmares on film.

  13. Joey Ryan

    June 12, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    Kari Ann FilardoLoren James lets watch this

  14. Time Voyager

    June 12, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    My like is number 666

  15. Patrick Cockrell

    June 12, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    Be Sure and Read the Sutter Cane Books…………….

  16. Sean Duggan

    June 12, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    Great movie!

  17. Zak Kiernan

    June 12, 2015 at 11:21 am

    love this movie

  18. Alex Bogunov

    June 12, 2015 at 11:10 am

    One of my most favorite movies ever. The Atmosphere is ingenious…

  19. Aj RisCassi

    June 12, 2015 at 10:39 am

    I love this movie and Sam Neil.

  20. Justin McClain

    June 12, 2015 at 10:35 am

    I haven’t seen this since I was a kid and rented it from the video store… I remember liking it and need to go back and see it again.

  21. Stuart Kennedy

    June 12, 2015 at 10:20 am

    Kevin Kennedy

  22. Kenneth Boone

    June 12, 2015 at 10:12 am

    Lindsey Boone

  23. Nick Castro

    June 12, 2015 at 9:33 am

    “Its only just begunnn….”

  24. Tariq Sheikh

    June 12, 2015 at 9:12 am

    This was one of the few John Carpenter films I hadn’t seen, finally watched it last year, one of his best!

  25. Chris Tyson

    June 12, 2015 at 8:58 am

    In my top 10 most disturbing movies. Up there with open grave and triangle

  26. Martín Mora Piñeiro

    June 12, 2015 at 8:33 am

    with lots of beautiful location from Ontario 🙂

  27. Carlo Erik Niño

    June 12, 2015 at 8:20 am

    His greatest movie……………….

  28. Melinda Sebastian

    June 12, 2015 at 7:50 am

    Chris Stryker remember this? Where he gets up that old lady and we cracked up?

  29. Rodneuy Jam Hickss

    June 12, 2015 at 7:18 am

    The first time I watched it, I was at a person’s house I’d never been to before and it was in very rural area that I wasn’t very familiar with. After watching it I left and was driving for a bit not really knowing where I was, and well, I passed a bike going down the road in the dead of night. Those reflectors on the bike pedals man. Freaked out for sure.

  30. Dan Harrington

    June 12, 2015 at 6:49 am

    David Szulkin Corey Bing

  31. Bearach Coughlin

    June 12, 2015 at 6:39 am

    It was good, the dark haired co-star could not act her way out of a paper bag though.

  32. Raven Sparks

    June 12, 2015 at 6:15 am

    This movie scared the crap out of me. Event Horizon was a close second

  33. Luke Poetryburns

    June 12, 2015 at 6:06 am

    Saw it for the first time when i was 11. Was interesting.

  34. Anonymous

    June 12, 2015 at 5:53 am

    One of the best!

  35. Igor Olech

    June 12, 2015 at 5:48 am

    one of the best

  36. Paul Johnson

    June 12, 2015 at 5:33 am

    Ah shit i remember this film. Ace!

  37. Against All Odds Productions

    June 12, 2015 at 5:23 am

    By far one of my top five films, so many awesome aspects of horror in this one.

  38. David Kennedy

    June 12, 2015 at 5:21 am

    Event horizon was pretty fucked up as well.


  39. Kaiser Von Reimond

    June 12, 2015 at 5:09 am

    awesome film!!!

  40. Michael Gillard

    June 12, 2015 at 5:00 am

    Melissa Krakana watch this 3spooky5m3

  41. Benny E Canning

    June 12, 2015 at 5:00 am

    Great film nearly soiled myself first time I watched it!

  42. Pher Sandström

    June 12, 2015 at 4:50 am

    Awesome flick!

  43. Tobaeus Tapetrve

    June 12, 2015 at 4:44 am

    Sure helped that Sam Neill had enough experience with madness from his role in Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession, which is a similarly glorious mindfuck of a film.

  44. Hana Butler

    June 12, 2015 at 4:37 am

    Adamn NesGod

  45. Douglas MacDouglas

    June 12, 2015 at 4:32 am

    Oh man, rememeber the old lady at the hotel? Or the “kid” on the bike? So creepy but so good…

  46. Jenny Link

    June 12, 2015 at 4:25 am

    Great movie!

  47. Paul March

    June 12, 2015 at 4:20 am

    My band actually sampled the spoken word part when Julie Carmen is reading from Sutter Kane’s book. love this film 🙂

  48. Tom Newell

    June 12, 2015 at 4:17 am

    the last thing to really freak me out was ep 5 of penny dreadful! will check this one out, ive not seen it

  49. Milos Lilic

    June 12, 2015 at 4:12 am

    Sam Neil at his best!!!!

  50. Jarno Piispanen

    June 12, 2015 at 4:12 am

    Really miss when horror was like this. Nowadays horror is only measured by the amount of blood spilled.

    • Jonas Irritum Deo Kupe

      June 12, 2015 at 5:39 am

      check out ‘it follows’ . really something different from all the jumpscare flicks nowadays

    • Boris Uloznik

      June 12, 2015 at 6:06 am

      And the amount of people doing stupid things that get them killed. Carpenter really knew how to scare people.

    • Alejandro De La Cruz

      June 12, 2015 at 11:29 am

      Or counting on too many jump scares. No atmosphere, no set up, just “BLAH!” repeatedly until the movie’s over.

    • Caitlin Mitchell

      June 12, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      these days it’s all identifiable pain and torture porn.

    • Jarno Piispanen

      June 13, 2015 at 2:17 am

      Under The Skin was good tho. Best horror I’ve seen in a long time. Such a unique twisted feeling in that one.

    • Resident Poltergeist

      June 14, 2015 at 12:46 pm

      there’s a (surprising) lot of truly scary flicks out there, many of them contemporary. really surprisingly so as better films in general and especially better horror movies are scarce and always were. lovecraftian features like the one above have been a rarity in there days as they are in ours. and nostalgia never helped anyone. appreciate and move on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Relapse Monolord
Sentient 112217

You May Also Like


In our age of constant stimulation and unending stress, where each of us is born into the capitalist march toward death, where direct messaging...


In recent years, goth is more well known as a fashion hashtag on Instagram than the umbrella for the musical celebration of darkness. This...


Check out our new feature called Inspiration is the Vibration where we talk to creative humans that inspire us. This is a space where they can...


Originally published in 2011 / artwork updated 2022 I have been looking forward to this interview for a while, ever since Dan Harding agreed...