John Carpenter's Apocalypse: Part 3 'In The Mouth Of Madness'

Updated: Oct 18

This is the final part in our series of articles looking at John Carpenter's unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy. Before you read on please check out Part 1 and Part 2.


Ever since his father handed him a copy of 'Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural' as a child, John Carpenter began a dark journey into the world of horror. The book itself featured the works of Edgar Allan Poe and M.R. James but the one author that stood out to him was H.P. Lovecraft. His stories of ancient cosmic beings, indifferent to humanity fascinated and terrified him in equal measure. The influence of Lovecraft on his work in the genre (particularly in his first two parts of his Apocalypse trilogy) is clear but it is all too prevalent in

the concluding chapter of this trilogy with 'In the Mouth of Madness'




As with the other two films in the Apocalypse trilogy, Carpenter does a terrific job at establishing and building a tone of dread. Although his score is less memorable and more subtle (excluding the Metallica infused piece played over the opening credits) it is effective at maintaining mystery and planting the audience in Trent's shoes unsure of where the next step will take them. From a story point of view, the film is overlaid with news reports of fanatical Cane fans who engage in escalating acts of hysteria and violence in relation to his work. They are infected by Cane's words, becoming brain dead puppets to their horror master creating the perfect environment for an impending evil. Now joined by Cane's editor Linda Styles (played by Julie Carmen), Trent's investigation leads him to Hobb's End, a place of fiction, thought to have only existed in Cane's work. The whole town is like a greatest hits of his novels as it features locations and events lifted straight from the page of Cane's books. Styles tries to explain to Trent that Cane's latest book is about the end of the world and that parts of the book are starting to play out in reality. Trent is still sceptical but Styles (rightly) suspects that something much more sinister is at work. Not long after Trent's sense of reality distorts further with his discovery of the now monstrous hotel owner and the townsperson who proclaims that "reality is not what it used to be" before committing suicide against their will. Terrified and at his wits end he tries to cling to any semblance of reality despite the world falling apart around him. What follows confirms to Trent (no matter how hard he fights it) that everything that is happening is inevitable and beyond his control. He and Styles try to escape Hobb's End but no matter how hard they try to flee town they end up returning to the same place as before (echoing the words of the creepy cyclist they encountered on their way into town who "can't get out"). This leads to Trent's encounter with Cane in a confessional where he explains to him that he is a conduit for an ancient evil whom he gives life to through his pen with a calm sense of self satisfaction in the face of Trent's cynicism. This revelation plants the terrifying idea in our minds that fate is entirely out of our hands. If the world is going to end, it will end and there is nothing we can do about it.



Unlike the two previous two entries in Carpenter's Apocalypse trilogy, 'In the Mouth of Madness' follows mainly one character rather than a group of characters in the face of the end. Trent is introduced with a brashness and self assured cockiness believing that he can solve any case of insurance fraud. He is the embodiment of the cynic in all of us. From the get go he believes that Sutter Cane's disappearance is nothing more than an elaborate publicity stunt (even after being attacked by a crazed fanatic of the author's work). He agrees to take the case but it proves to be the biggest mistake of his life. Seeping into his own subconscious, Cane's work begins to infect Trent's mind just as it has done to a worldwide audience as Trent begins to suffer from the effects of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. Cane's novel titles are found on coffee mugs, banners of his work feature on the sides of buses and posters of his upcoming novel are plastered all over the city. He is inescapably omnipotent. This shift in his reality coupled with an exploration of Cane's work induces nightmarish visions of violence and horror but continues to convince himself that there is a reasonable explanation to it all. It can be easily dismissed as Trent being too immersed in his investigation or it could be a warning of darker things to come. It is a slow build to the end of the world that people are willingly marching to one page at a time.




As with the other two films in the Apocalypse trilogy, Carpenter does a terrific job at establishing and building a tone of dread. Although his score is less memorable and more subtle (excluding the Metallica infused piece played over the opening credits) it is effective at maintaining mystery and planting the audience in Trent's shoes unsure of where the next step will take them. From a story point of view, the film is overlaid with news reports of fanatical Cane fans who engage in escalating acts of hysteria and violence in relation to his work. They are infected by Cane's words, becoming brain dead puppets to their horror master creating the perfect environment for an impending evil. Now joined by Cane's editor Linda Styles (played by Julie Carmen), Trent's investigation leads him to Hobb's End, a place of fiction, thought to have only existed in Canes work. The whole town is like a greatest hits of his novels as it features locations and events lifted straight from the page of Cane's books. Styles tries to explain to Trent that Cane's latest book is about the end of the world and that parts of the book are starting to play out in reality. Trent is still sceptical but Styles (rightly) suspects that something much more sinister is at work. Not long after Trent's sense of reality distorts further with his discovery of the now monstrous hotel owner and the townsperson who proclaims that "reality is not what it used to be" before committing suicide against their will. Terrified and at his wits end he tries to cling to any semblance of reality despite the world falling apart around him. What follows confirms to Trent (no matter how hard he fights it) that everything that is happening is inevitable and beyond his control. He and Styles try to escape Hobb's End but no matter how hard they try to flee town they end up returning to the same place as before (echoing the words of the creepy cyclist they encountered on their way into town who "can't get out"). This leads to Trent's encounter with Cane in a confessional where he explains to him that he is a conduit for an ancient evil whom he gives life to through his pen with a calm sense of self satisfaction in the face of Trent's cynicism. This revelation plants the terrifying idea in our minds that fate is entirely out of our hands. If the world is going to end, it will end and there is nothing we can do about it.




Carpenter has stated on numerous occasions that his biggest fear is loss of control and this idea is prevalent throughout the latter half of the film. Cane entrusts his novel to Trent to deliver to humanity (against his will) as he opens the door to another world to invite the Old Ones into ours. As before Trent tries in vain to deviate from this plan, burning the manuscript but it always comes back to him. He has no control. Relishing his malevolent power, Cane taunts Trent by distorting his reality by making everything turn blue to prove a point. He is now God and his will be done.


Despite his efforts Trent's attempts at stopping the apocalypse are in vain as the book is released to fanatic anticipation from the public. The popularity of the book is tied to a global epidemic of sporadic violence, much to the glee of the Old Ones making their way into our world. Their journey is fuelled by our hysteria allowing us to play a role in our own undoing. Trent succumbs to this madness by embedding an axe to an infected reader taking the audience back to the cell from the beginning. The doctor dismisses his story as being merely a hallucination but judging by the doctor's expression Trent is convinced that the madness is growing in the outside world and that the story of a madman is a last roll of the dice to stop the inevitable.



Whilst the previous two entries in Carpenter's Apocalypse trilogy carry some ambiguity over whether or not the end of the world is going to happen, 'In the Mouth of Madness' confirms it as the film ends with Trent leaving the mental institution after the Old Ones have wreaked havoc in our world. He makes his way to a cinema which is showing the film version of In the Mouth of Madness. Taking a seat with a big box of popcorn in hand he watches the film which replays the events of the film itself. He laughs hysterically at the screen but soon the laughter transforms into cries of despair as he comes to terms with the fact that his perception of reality is a lie, merely a myth created by a "hack" horror writer. His life was never his own.




RELATED: 8 Film Scores That Inspired The Work Of John Carpenter


'In the Mouth of Madness' is one of those films that demands repeated viewings. On first watch it can be viewed as a solid horror mystery but the more you watch it, the more rewarding the experience. At the time of it's release horror was in a transitional period as the slasher sub genre which had dominated the genre for so long was dead in it's tracks.


Carpenter's attempt to try something bold and new was met by the same indifference as the Old Ones. Ahead of it's time in a pre-Scream era, audiences weren't ready for the metatextual aspects of the film but now they are at the fore further enhancing the Apocalyptic ideas of the film through Trent's journey and his lack of control over his fate. Sitting in our chairs watching the film in the comfort of our homes, there is a slight itch at the back of our heads playing around with our sense of control over our reality. A seed of doubt that makes 'In the Mouth of Madness' the perfect end to all endings.


- Joseph McElroy

16 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All