Odds and DEAD Ends: Fiction in John Carpenter’s ‘In The Mouth Of Madness’

John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness was released in 1994, and completes his ‘Apocalypse Trilogy’, along with The Thing and Prince of Darkness. Drawing heavily on H. P. Lovecraft, Mouth of Madness is a unique, self-reflexive film in a similar vein to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (also 1994). The film follows insurance investigator John Trent, as he tracks down missing horror novelist, Sutter Cane. This article will focus on film’s use of fiction and stories to blur previously thought-of binary oppositions, such as fantasy/reality, human/inhuman, and even day/night, to try and disturb and unsettle the viewer.

The idea behind fiction in Mouth of Madness is, if enough people believe in stories, the stories gain power, and through that power the Old Ones can return. Cane explains this to Trent like this:

“It takes its power from new readers and new believers. That’s the point. Belief! When people begin to lose their ability to know the difference between fantasy and reality the old ones can begin their journey back. The more people who believe the faster the journey. And with the way the other books have sold, this one is bound to be very popular.”

In Paul Cobley’s book Narrative, he states that “The most familiar, most primitive, most ancient and seemingly straightforward of stories reveal depths that we might have hitherto failed to anticipate.” (Cobley, 2001, p. 2). Cane, controlled by the Old Ones, uses horror fiction as a universal storytelling medium to connect with readers on a primal level, using common tropes and ideas to make it easier for readers to believe. Cobley’s discussion of signs in literature, or “what humans interpret as signs, therefore stand in for something else in the real world” (p. 9), illuminates why a horror writer is the best medium for the Old Ones to use to prepare humanity for their arrival. Coding themselves with signs they people understand makes them more believable, understandable, acceptable, even.

Fiction, therefore, is an illumination of truth, a coded way to our understanding of knowledge. With this in mind, the filmmakers use the audience’s understanding of this concept (though perhaps the audience isn’t consciously aware of it) to turn truth on its head and destabilise them. Slowly, picking up pace at the finale, the boundary between fantasy and reality erodes away.

This happens in many ways, from Cane’s whispering “Did I ever tell you my favourite colour was blue?” followed by Trent waking up with the world blue, to the constant cyclist returning over and over again. There are also more subtle details which hint the fictional nature of Trent’s story. The room Trent stays in at Pickman’s Hotel is 9, the same cell number that Trent is in at the asylum. Similarly, the number of the motel room Trent stays in after his world has been turned ‘upside down’, is 6. 6 is also the number of novels that Sutter Cane has written before In The Mouth Of Madness.

Note that the world Cane inhabits is malleable, and reflects, is, his fiction. “You are what I write. Like this town. It wasn’t here before I wrote it. And neither were you.” He later writes Trent’s actions perfectly, the passage that Linda reads from the novel. Cane alters what is real and not real because he lives inside his own fiction, an avatar, for his real self. This is made evident when Trent explains to Harglow that the reason he doesn’t remember Linda is “Well, that’s easy, she was written out.” He is a proxy god for the Old Ones.

The breakdown of reality and fantasy is not the only division that collapses. French structuralist Claude Levi-Strauss theorised that stories were, at their core, thematically comprised sets of binary oppositions, such as good and evil, rural and urban, men and women. Carpenter’s film systematically deconstructs this simple division and thereby prove the illusory nature of Trent’s reality and, to an extent, our own, assisting our discomfort.

Reality and fantasy is a clear example; the whole narrative is a deconstruction of its fictional self, but another is the opposition of human and inhuman. Several times we see characters (such as Mrs. Pickman) change to monsters throughout the film, and others such as Linda have the ability to move from human to inhuman. The anthropomorphic qualities attached to monstrous forms unsettles us, we should be allowed to remain clean and whole, but also the monstrous elements given to humans is just as disturbing. Even the painting at the hotel morphs throughout the film. Paintings themselves lie between truth and fiction, a definite image but a representation only, a topic Andre Bazin discusses in The Ontology of the Photographic Image (pdf link below). This distortion brings several oppositions into question in one broad stroke. Carpenter knew what he was doing.

Additionally, that even Cane has a monstrous form on the back of his head, is a startling revelation. When Cane was completely human (though one controlled by other beings), it was still essentially human, and so defeatable. If Carpenter were to show that Cane was an Old One, we would be more comfortable with even this; he would fall on one side of the human vs inhuman opposition. However it is in the middle, a blurred, distorted place we can’t understand, which is more frightening than his being either side.

A smaller example is day and night. Several times throughout the film, such as the arrival at Hobbs’ End, the film jumps straight from night to day. The editing that would usually show a passage of time is inverted, breaking even filmmaking conventions. Here, no time has passed at all. Time is breaking down, the regular cycle of solar bodies that extends beyond this world, is collapsing.

Literary theory states that our understanding of reality is dictated by language, that we experience the world through words and the connections between them. We know a door is a door, in any shape or size, because we associate it with the word ‘door’; the word is what tells us two doors are similar. As Bennett and Royle discuss, “We cannot in any meaningful way, escape the fact that we are subject to language.” (Bennett & Royle, 2009, p. 131). Carpenter’s film is a perfect exploration of the ways in which we are subject to words, to fiction and stories, and the confusion and discomfort if this were to be consciously manipulated by a malevolent force, dissolving oppositions and boundaries we expect and have built into our world, into language itself. The film is not about the destruction of the world, but a destruction of a human perception of the world.


Bazin, A., 2007. The Ontology of the Photographic Image. [Online]
Available at: http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Bazin-Ontology-Photographic-Image.pdf
[Accessed 08 08 2018].

Bennett, A. & Royle, N., 2009. An Introduction to Literature. Criticism and Theory. 4th ed. Harlow: Pearson.

Cobley, P., 2001. Narrative. UK: Routledge.

In the Mouth of Madness. 1994. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. USA: New Line Cinema.

John Carpenter’s The Thing. 1982. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Universal Studios.

Prince of Darkness. 1987. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. USA: Alive Films.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. 1994. [Film] Directed by Wes Craven. USA: New Line Cinema.



Article by Kieran Judge

HorrorAddicts.net 122, Dario Ciriello


Horror Addicts Episode# 122

Horror Hostess: Emerian Rich

Intro Music by: Valentine Wolfe


dario ciriello | glass android | mario bava

Find all articles and interviews at: http://www.horroraddicts.net

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The Ward (2010)

During the 1960’s the act of being in a psychological hospital was possible worse than what put you there to begin with. Hospitals during the period were known for harsh conditions, poor treatment, and the use of shock therapy.  It’s during this period that we find the setting of the John Carpenter Directed film The Ward taking place.

The Ward opens not in a calm opening seen but instead it opens with a murder. A young woman scared for her life is suddenly attacked and killed by an unseen assailant.  Moments after this we find a young woman standing out of a burning farm house, which was thankfully empty. The police arrive and the young woman ends up at the North Bend Psychiatric Hospital.

As the film progresses we find out that this little “fire brand” is known as Kristen (Amanda Beard).  She is put into a room that was previously home to Tammy who was the unlucky victim at the start of the film. Kristen is introduced to others in her wing that all have their own problems and mannerisms. There is Emily (Mammie Gummer), the wild one who loves stirring problems with the other girls. Sarah (Danielle Panabaker) is the snobbish, flirt, within the group who seems to feel better putting others down. Zoey (Laura-Leigh) is traumatized to the point she dresses as a young girl and must always have her stuffed bunny with her. Lastly there is Iris (Lyndsy Fonesca), who loves to draw in her sketchbook and is friendly to all the other girls. It’s possible that her mannerisms are why she may hold the secrets to the questions Kristen eventually starts to ask.

Kristen is put under the care of Doctor Stringer (Jared Harris) who seems to really care about the girls and will do his best to heal Kristen. The good doctor does his best to try and get Kristen to open up about her past but all he does is push her to multiple escape attempts.

The Ward takes into these women’s lives and shows us the struggles each has surviving in this psychiatric hospital. The mystery of the psychiatric hospital begins to grow as a figure starts to appear. Eventually Kristen is attacked and after telling a nurse she receives the dread electroshock therapy. It’s here that she learns of Tammy and the mystery and horror grows even more from this point in the film.

John Carpenter waited nearly ten years after directing Ghosts of Mars to direct another film. It’s fortunate that his unique style was used in this psychological Horror Film. Since films such as The Thing, The Fog, and others Carpenter has become a master at building suspense. The Ward does not let you down as those around Kristen start to disappear, or are they killed by that dark figure?

Amanda Beard helps to sell the character of Kristen to the point you begin to sympathize with her plight. She just wants out of the hospital and attempts to escape many times. You may even begin asking why she is truly trying to escape.  Is it the hospital, being locked up, or her own memories?  This is what Carpenter does well when shooting a film. He’ll take the story and frame it so that you could be on the seat of your pants waiting for the next scare.  So let’s close with this…………………..BOO!!!

British & European Horror News & Events – Episode 71

Reel Music Part VII – The New Blood.


REEL MUSIC is a club night dedicated to music from the movies. It takes place at one of central London’s premiere venues, the BLOOMSBURY BOWLING LANES. The next event happens on Friday October 28th 2011

It’s that time of year again, where the ghosts and ghouls come out to play, and on this occasion they come out to play the finest tracks from your favourite movies! Halloween is here and it’s time to put on your best horror movie inspired costume and join us for what will be London’s ULTIMATE HALLOWEEN PARTY – REEL MUSIC PART VII – THE NEW BLOOD!

FrightFest Halloween All-Nighter.


At the Vue cinema in London’s West End on 29th October. Line up is:

  • Bad Meat
  • Livid
  • The Human Centipede II
  • Faces In The Crowd
  • Cold Sweat
  • The Watermen

Electric Cinema All-Nighter – The Films Of John Carpenter.


Our Horror All-Nighter is dedicated to one of the true fathers of the modern horror film, legendary director John Carpenter. Since the 1970s Carpenter has unleashed onto an unsuspecting public some of the most intense, imaginative, influential and downright terrifying films in American cinema. Our epic programme will pay fitting tribute to the master of the lingering take, the spine tingling score and the ruthless, relentless exploitation of our most primal fears.


Disturbia – BBC Concert Orchestra Halloween Show.


As an alluring alternative to mainstream Halloween entertainment, the BBC Concert Orchestra weaves scintillating tendrils of sound with an unforgettable psycho-dramatic musical tapestry.

Horrorthon Film Festival.


27th – 31st October 2011 at the IFI cinema, Eustace St, Dublin 2

Bram Stoker International Film Festival.


Whitby, England from 28th to 31st October. Featuring a vampire ball, feast of blood and A Vampire Tale.

Village Of The Damned.


Now in its second year Village of the Damned is a horror film festival held in
the sleepy Scottish village of Auchmithie. Our aim is to bring horror shorts to
a new audience and create a new event within the community. The films will be
screened over 4 nights on Halloween weekend along with an exhibition of horror
themed art and craft.

Weekend Of Horrors.

4th to 6th November in Bottrop, Germany.

In the Mouth of Madness (1995)

John Carpenter directs actors Sam Neil, Jürgen Prochnow and even Charlton Heston in the 1995 movie In the Mouth of Madness.  The film opens with every writer’s dream, the act of a book being printed for later sales.  It is after this opening credit scene that we witness an ambulance rushing to what we find out to be a psychiatric hospital.  The man being driven to the asylum is Insurance Investigator John Trent (Neil).

Dr. Wrenn comes to visit Trent to question his story and if possible get him out of the asylum.  Dr. Wrenn is eventually led to the cell that Trent has been held in and as he arrives he finds something quite interesting.  Trent has used a black crayon to cover his cell, his clothing and his skin with hundreds of crosses.  As Dr. Wrenn begins to talk to Trent we get a look what drove this man into the madness he has found himself in.

The story starts off easy enough as we find Trent questioning a man about a warehouse fire.  The man expecting to be paid for his claim on the warehouse is tripped up by the facts Trent has found.  Trent’s abilities continue to impress the insurance company’s owner and the men eventually go out to lunch.  At lunch Trent is offered a full time job with the company, but he prefers to continue to work freelance.  As the two men enjoy their lunch an odd scene develops behind them: a man comes out of a store and begins marching toward the men carrying an ax.  People scream and run to get out of the man’s way as he crosses the street.  The man eventually comes to their window and with a swing of his axe breaks the window.  It appears he is going to kill Trent with the ax, but the man stops to ask him if he reads Sutter Cane.  Cane being the man Trent just heard has gone missing and could cost his insurance company friend millions.  The would be killer is promptly shot to death before he can deliver a blow.

Trent eventually finds himself in the offices of Arcane Publishing who’s director, Jackson Harglow (Heston) wants him to go and find the disappeared horror writer Sutter Can.  As Harglow begins to discuss Cane with Trent, we find that the man has an appeal far reaching any modern writer.  One could almost compare Cane’s works with those of H. P. Lovecraft.

Trent eventually takes the job and he and a representative of Arcane head out to find the missing Sutter Cane (Prochnow).  The problem as the pieces start to get put together regarding where Cane maybe Trent begins to find himself have disturbing dreams and unfortunately for him, this is only the beginning.  In the Mouth of Madness is more of a psychological horror film but does have some elements of straight horror within the film.  We also follow along as Trent has to answer a major question; the question being is he part of the book?

Carpenter again shows why he has fascinated horror fans for decades.  The setting of this film along with the way Carpenter is able to get a story told comes alive in this film.  You will enjoy following along as the mythical town of Hobbs End is searched for and shocked as items from the new book may start to come true Carpenter is at his best in these type of films and draws upon a great cast to tell a story that many have not seen.  In the Mouth of Madness along with the pre-reviewed, The Thing, are part of Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy with Prince of Darkness being the final film.  Fans of Carpenter’s films will thoroughly enjoy this movie and the cast turns in performances that shine.

The Thing (1982)

The Thing came out in 1982, and unfortunately for the film, it came out just weeks after one of the most beloved exterrestrial films of all time, ET.  What makes this fact unique to The Thing is that unlike ET, this film portrays aliens in a much different light.   Due to this difference, The Thing did not get the warmest reception at the box office, some could say it was about as warm as the artic setting of the film.

The Thing starts in a manner that may upset some viewers as we find a sled dog being shot at from a helicopter.  The dog continues to be chased through the snow as those in the copter do all they can to kill the animal.  The animal eventually runs close enough to a US outpost that the sounds of the chase draw the attention to those inside and they rush out to see what is happening.  After a few tense moments there is an explosion and both those chasing the animal are now dead.

This is where the mystery of the film begins as those within the camp begin to try and piece together just what has happened.  The puzzle eventually leads to helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russel) and outpost Dr. Copper (Richard Dystart) to risk a flight to the camp of origin, for the men chasing the dog.  They land the copter to find themselves at a burned out Norwegian Outpost, and after a search come across a human corpse, or at least looks human.  They grab all that they can, including the corpse, and head back to their outpost.  They the odd corpse is given an autopsy by Dr. Brair (Wilford Brimley) and he finds nothing conclusive just that there are some odd internal organs.

Up to this point in the film the dog has been allowed to roam around the outpost and even spends the night in a bunk with one of the crew.  It isn’t until the dog gets in the way that Clark (Richard Masur) is ordered to finally kennel the animal with the others.  This is where we get somewhat of an introduction to what the men are going to face in their artic isolation.  The dog begins to change into something that eventually attacks the other dogs and due to the noise members of the outpost come running and are shocked by what they find.  They use a flamethrower to kill the creature, but the question is was this the only one?

As the film progresses we begin to learn more about the creature and what it is capable of doing.  The tests that Dr. Brair does even shows us the extent of what would happen if the creature was allowed to leave this artic wasteland and get to higher populations.  We get to watch as the men of the outpost begin to distrust each other and more and more layers of fear envelope the team.  They begin to turn on each other and at times this may even turn deadly.

The Thing is John Carpenter at his best.  The film takes a great cast, puts them in an isolated location giving them a simple option of life or death.  You get to watch as those in the film try to determine who the creature maybe.  Simple tricks such as fire to blood can help yield the creatures location, but is it something they want to find at that moment.  The cast itself is eclectic and the men offer a great balance to the story as each one offers a different character type to the film.  The Thing is simply a fun and exciting film to watch.  You cannot help but find yourself relating to at least one of the characters.  You will find yourself guessing throughout the film, who is next, do they survive, and where is it?

Now, if you are a fan of The Thing and wonder what really happened at the other outpost, well I have good news for you.  There is a film called The Thing being released in 2011 which is a prequel to this film.  The upcoming film shows us what happened to those first impacted by the creature and how they brought it into camp.

August/September Events

August 31st / Fetish At The Museum /Montreal Canada / This is an international fashion exhibition devoted to Jean Paul Gaultier. The exhibit is located at the Museum of Fine Arts and is part of the Montreal Fetish Weekend. “In public” fetish wear is suggested. For more information go to: www.mbam.qc.ca/en/expositions/exposition_153.html

September 3rd / Expo Kink / Montreal Canada / This is part of the Montreal Fetish Weekend and a free event. It includes workshops, art presentations, demos and vendors. Some of the workshops include mask making, fetish yoga and self bondage. For more information go to: fetishweekend.com.

September 16th – 18th / Horror Realm Festival / Pittsburgh Pa /  This is a festival taking place in the self proclaimed zombie capitol of the world. It includes a dealer’s room and appearances by Ken Foree, Jack Ketchum, Eduardo Sanchez and many more. For more information go to horrorrealmcon.com.

September 16th -18th / Monster Mania con / Hunt Valley Maryland / This convention includes appearances from Tony Todd, John Carpenter, Jeffrey Combs and many more. There will also be a dealers room and a Walking Dead Reunion. For more information go to monstermania.net.

September 22-25th / Killer Con / Las Vegas Nevada / This event was mentioned on the Horror Addicts Facebook page by Laura Hickman. This four day convention started by Wrath James White includes appearances by John Mayberry, Ray Garton, Edward Lee, Monica Kuebler who is the managing editor at Rue Morgue magazine. and several others.  There will also be a Forensics seminar, a blood spatter demonstration, an erotic horror story contest, a gross out contest, several writing panels and a strip crawl. For more information go to killercon.com.