Film: In the Mouth of Madness
Ever lost yourself in a good book?
A reality is just what we tell each other it is.
Do you read Sutter Cane?
The third installment of John Carpenter
's "Apocalypse Trilogy"
(preceded by The Thing
and Prince of Darkness
), In the Mouth of Madness
explores reality, fiction, and the thin, horrific line that separates the two.
John Trent (Sam Neill
), an insurance fraud investigator, has just been placed in an insane asylum
. Months earlier, he was hired to find bestselling horror writer Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow). Cane has disappeared under mysterious circumstances, but his publishers think it might just be a stunt to drum up support for his next book, In the Mouth of Madness
When Trent finds that the covers of Cane's books seem to become a map to the supposedly fictional town of Hobb's End, he and Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), who works for the publisher, decide to go there and find Cane. What they find, however, is something much worse.
This film gives examples of:
- The Film of the Book: In-Universe, Cane's publishing company sold the movie rights to Cane's latest novel. Trent watches it in a theater at the very end, and it turns out to be...the very movie we're just finished watching.
- Fingore: In a Nightmare Sequence, a character gets his fingers cut off.
- The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: It is not a coincidence that the title of this film is also the title of Cane's insidious book and of its film adaptation.
- Genre Savvy: Having read Cane's books, the characters know what to expect. Whether they choose to believe that the books correspond to reality is another matter.
- A God Am I: Zig-Zagged with Sutter Cane. In this case, he may very well be, as his writings have granted him the ability to re-cast the entirety of reality through his novels. On the other hand, it's made clear that he is actually in service to a host of Lovecraftion terrors that are slowly invading the world.
- Go Mad from the Revelation: Trent, finally realizing that he was a Sutter Cane character all along. Presumably everyone else driven mad by the book/movie had this same revelation.
- Going in Circles: On the way to Hobbe's End, Styles passes the same boy on a bike multiple times. Later on, Trent tries to drive out of town repeatedly but ends up right where he he started.
- Groin Attack: When he's being taken in at the mental asylum, Trent attacks one of the orderlies this way.
- "Groundhog Day" Loop: When Hobb's End really goes to hell and people start mutating into monsters all around Trent, he decides to get the hell out of dodge and jumps in his car. Each time he tries to leave town, however, the godlike Cane resets Trent to just before he left. The only option left to him is go right through the ax-wielding mob of townspeople.
- Hell Hotel: Mrs. Pickman's hotel.
- How We Got Here: Almost the entire story is told In Medias Res by Trent to a psychiatrist at a mental asylum.
- I Am A Humanitarian: In Trent's nightmare, one of the monster people eats part of a person they just axed to death.
- I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Hobb is an old English word for "devil."
- In Medias Res: The film begins with Trent's commitment to the mental asylum, as he relays How We Got Here to Wren.
- Insurance Fraud: It's Trent's job to investigate cases of this, and it's the first thing (outside the opening scene) we see him doing: A guy burns down his warehouse of fur coats, but it turns out he just stashed them away and gave one to his wife...and another to his mistress. Catching both those ladies in their coats gave the guy away.
- Invincible Villain: Cane is basically God, at least as far as the other characters are concerned.
- Jump Scare: Used extensively.
- Kick the Dog: Quite literally. Our introduction to the terrifying children of Hobb's End shows them running after a dog. The next time we see them, the dog has had one of its legs ripped off and is limping around forlornly.
- Kill It with Fire: Doesn't work.
- Laughing Mad: Trent at the end of the film when he stumbles upon a movie theater playing John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness (yes, the film he is inside of) and promptly snaps.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When Dr. Wren asks what will happen to those who don't read (and therefore won't read Cane's book), Trent answers: "There's a movie!" He's not kidding, and that link is extremely appropriate; the movie happens to be the one you're watching.
- Lovecraft Country: Hobb's End. The film is inspired by, and contains Shout-Out after Shout-Out to HP Lovecraft. Hell, a nightmare sequence even has a Continuity Cameo from Cthulhu.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Have Cane's books triggered a mass delusion that's causing more and more people to think they're being taken over by monstrous demons? Or are monstrous demons really taking over people who have read Sutter Cane?
- Mind Screw: What's the difference between fiction and reality? According to this movie, nothing, up to and including the movie itself.
- The Mistress: An Insurance Fraud scam is found out when a guy claims a warehouse full of fur coats was supposedly destroyed, but he kept the coats, giving some to his wife, who ratted on him when it turned out he gave some to his mistress.
- Monochromatic Eyes: Cane's eyes during the mock-confessional.
- Most Writers Are Writers: Sutter Cane is the most popular (horror) writer who ever lived and he's the villain no less. At its core, the film looks at what the awesome power of writing means to the characters who occupy the novels themselves.
- Name of Cain: Sutter Cane.
- Nightmare Dreams: Trent has an extensive one that takes place in an alleyway at night.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Sutter Cane is an obvious stand-in for Stephen King. Less directly, he also represents director John Carpenter. Since both men were widely influenced by HP Lovecraft, Cane's works seem to strongly resemble Lovecraft's own.
- No Fourth Wall: An in-universe example that breaks through two fourth walls. At the end, Trent views the film you are watching, only disjointed and cut up.
- Nothing Is Scarier: Cane's ultimate reveal is just a black void.
- Noticing The Fourth Wall: At the end of his stay in Hobb's End, Trent meets with Sutter Cane. Cane reveals that Trent is in fact one of his characters. Trent refuses to accept this, exactly how Cane had written him.
- Obfuscating Insanity: Trent is in the insane asylum for killing a Sutter Cane fan with an axe, but David Warner's character seems to think he's only pretending to be insane, perhaps to avoid a criminal trial. It's just as likely he's pretending to be insane in order to stay safe inside the asylum.
- Only Sane Man: Trent insists that he knows what reality is, and to hell with what anyone else says. He gives up the pretense at the end. Although he really is the only sane man, because that's how Cane wrote him. Discussed by Cane: "Always looking for the con...even now you're trying to rationalize."
- Phlegmings: Demonstrated by the Old Ones when they pursue Trent into the portal.
- The Plague / The Virus: People beginning their slide into madness show plague-like symptoms of open sores and wonky eyes.
- Police Brutality: As Trent walks through an alleyway at night, he catches a cop beating up a homeless man. He leaves it alone, but the cop is ready to dish out some more. He later sees a nightmare of the same scene.
- Tears of Blood: On those who read Cane's latest book.
- This Is Reality: Trent insists on this and states it word for word.
- Through the Eyes of Madness: In this movie, you're not just in the mouth of madness; you're being chewed.
- Title Drop: The movie title is that of Sutter Cane's latest novel. It's title dropped by Sutter Cane when he finishes the novel's manuscript for Trent to return it to the real world.
"All done. In the Mouth of Madness."
- Also earlier by a newscaster:
"Police believe the riots began because the stores could not meet the demand for advance orders of Sutter Cane's latest novel, In the Mouth of Madness."
- Torches and Pitchforks: Wielded by the corrupted inhabitants of Hobb's End as Trent is trying to leave with Styles.
- Touched by Vorlons: Or Eldritch Abomination, in this case.
- Town with a Dark Secret: Hobb's End, of course.
- Treasure Map: Trent "discovers" the secret location of (the supposedly fictional) Hobb's End by piecing together a jigsaw map made from secret shapes hidden in the cover art of Cane's novels.
- Unreliable Narrator: Is the entire world the product of an Unreliable Narrator?
- Unnaturally Blue Lighting: See Breaking the Fourth Wall.
- Window Pain:
- Used when Wren visits Trent in the mental asylum.
- Cane's agent bursts into the restaurant Trent is having dinner with an employer by breaking the plate glass window with an ax.
- You Have to Believe Me: First, Linda Styles tries this, only for Trent to not believe her. Eventually, Trent himself gets plenty of moments like this, particularly near the end.