In the Mouth of Madness

In the Mouth of Madness is a 1994 American horror film directed and scored by John Carpenter and written by Michael De Luca. It stars Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jürgen Prochnow, David Warner and Charlton Heston. Neill stars as John Trent, an insurance investigator who visits a small town while looking into the disappearance of a successful author of horror novels, and begins to question his sanity as the lines between reality and fiction seem to blur. Informally, the film is the third installment in what Carpenter refers to as his "Apocalypse Trilogy", preceded by The Thing (1982) and Prince of Darkness (1987).[2]

In the Mouth of Madness
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Carpenter
Written byMichael De Luca
Produced bySandy King
CinematographyGary B. Kibbe
Edited byEdward A. Warschilka
Music by
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Release date
  • December 10, 1994 (1994-12-10) (Italy)
  • February 3, 1995 (1995-02-03) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$8 million[1]
Box office$8.9 million (domestic)[1]

In the Mouth of Madness pays tribute to the works of author H. P. Lovecraft in its exploration of insanity and its title, the latter being derived from the Lovecraft novella At the Mountains of Madness. Distributed by New Line Cinema, In the Mouth of Madness received mixed reviews upon release, but has since garnered a cult following.


In the midst of an unspecified disaster, Dr. Wrenn visits John Trent, a patient in a psychiatric hospital, and Trent recounts his story:

Trent, a freelance insurance investigator, has lunch with a colleague, the owner of an insurance company, who asks Trent to work with his largest client investigating a claim by New York-based Arcane Publishing. During their conversation, Trent is attacked by a man wielding an axe who, after asking him if he reads popular horror novelist Sutter Cane, is shot dead by police. The man was Cane's agent, who went insane and killed his family after reading one of Cane's books.

Trent meets with Arcane Publishing director, Jackson Harglow, who tasks him with investigating the disappearance of Cane and recovering the manuscript for his final novel. He assigns Cane's editor, Linda Styles, to accompany him. Linda explains that Cane's stories have been known to cause disorientation, memory loss and paranoia in "less stable readers". Trent is skeptical, convinced the disappearance is a publicity stunt. Trent notices red lines on the covers of Cane's books, which, when aligned properly, form the outline of New Hampshire and mark a location alluded to be Hobb's End, the fictional setting for many of Cane's works.

They set out to find the town. Linda experiences bizarre phenomena during the late night drive, and they inexplicably arrive at Hobb's End in daylight. Trent and Linda search the small town, encountering people and landmarks described as fictional in Cane's novels. Trent believes it all to be staged, but Linda disagrees. She admits to Trent that Arcane Publishing's claim was a stunt to promote Cane's book, but the time distortion and exact replica of Hobb's End were not part of the plan.

Linda enters a church to confront Cane, who exposes her to his final novel, In the Mouth of Madness, which drives her insane; she begins embracing and kissing Cane passionately. A man approaches Trent in a bar and warns him to leave, then commits suicide. Outside the bar, a mob of monstrous-looking townspeople descend upon him. Trent drives away from Hobb's End, but is repeatedly teleported back to the center of town. After crashing his car, Trent awakens inside the church with Linda, where Cane explains that the public's belief in his stories freed an ancient race of monstrous beings which will reclaim the Earth. Cane reveals that Trent is merely one of his characters, who must follow Cane's plot and return the manuscript of In The Mouth of Madness to Arcane Publishing, furthering the end of humanity.

After giving Trent the manuscript, Cane tears a giant photograph of his face open, creating a portal to the dimension of Cane's monstrous masters. Trent sees a long tunnel that Cane said would take him back to his world, and urges Linda to come with him. She tells him she can't, because she has already read the entire book. Trent races down the hall, with Cane's monsters close on his heels. He trips and falls, then suddenly finds himself lying on a country road, apparently back in reality. During his return to New York, Trent destroys the manuscript. Back at Arcane Publishing, Trent relates his experience to Harglow. Harglow claims ignorance of Linda; Trent was sent alone to find Cane, and the manuscript was delivered months earlier. In the Mouth of Madness has been on sale for weeks, with a film adaptation in post production. Trent encounters a reader of the newly released novel, who is bleeding from his altered eyes, and murders him with an axe, being arrested for murder and sent to the asylum.

After Trent finishes telling his story, Dr. Wrenn judges it a meaningless hallucination. Trent wakes the following day to find the asylum abandoned. He departs as a radio announces that the world has been overrun with monstrous creatures, including mutating humans, and that outbreaks of suicide and mass murder are commonplace. Trent goes to see the In the Mouth of Madness film and discovers that he is the main character. As he watches his previous actions play out on screen, including a scene where he insisted to Linda "This is reality!" Trent begins laughing hysterically before breaking down crying; finally realizing he was a character in the book all along.



Michael De Luca wrote the script in the late 1980s and one of the first directors he offered it to was John Carpenter,[3] who initially passed on the project. New Line Cinema later announced production in 1989 with director Tony Randel attached to direct.[3] Later Mary Lambert was also attached to direct.[3] A few years later, Carpenter signed on as director in December 1992 and filming took place from August to October 1993.[3]

The town scenes in Hobb's End were filmed on Main Street Unionville, and the exterior of the Black Church is actually the Cathedral of the Transfiguration. Both are located in Markham, Ontario.[4]


In the Mouth of Madness pays tribute to the work of seminal horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, with many references to his stories and themes. Its title is a play on Lovecraft's novella, At the Mountains of Madness, and insanity plays as great a role in the film as it does in Lovecraft's fiction. The opening scene depicts Trent's confinement to an asylum, with the bulk of the story told in flashback, a common technique of Lovecraft. Reference is made to Lovecraftian settings and details (such as a character that shares the name of Lovecraft's Pickman family). Sutter Cane's novels have similar titles to H.P. Lovecraft stories: The Whisperer of the Dark (The Whisperer in Darkness), The Thing in the Basement (The Thing on the Doorstep), Haunter out of Time (The Haunter of the Dark/The Shadow Out of Time), and The Hobbs End Horror (The Dunwich Horror), the latter also referencing Hobbs End underground station from Nigel Kneale's Quatermass and the Pit.

The film can also be seen as referencing Stephen King, who, like Lovecraft, writes horror fiction set in New England hamlets. In fact, the characters even directly compare King (unfavourably) to Sutter Kane within the film itself.[5][6]


Box officeEdit

In the Mouth of Madness premiered at Italy's Noir in Festival in December 1994 and was then released on February 3rd, 1995 in the United States. For its worldwide release, the film opened at the #4 spot and grossed $3,441,807 on 1,510 theaters in its first weekend. It fell to #7 in its second week before leaving the top 10 in week three. The film ended up grossing $8,924,549 on a budget ranging from $8-$14 million, making it a box office failure.[1]

Critical receptionEdit

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, In the Mouth of Madness holds an approval rating of 58% based on 45 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 5.8/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "If it fails to make the most of its intriguing premise, In the Mouth of Madness remains a decent enough diversion for horror fans and John Carpenter completists."[7] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 53 out of 100, based on 17 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[8]

Critics generally commended the film on its technical aspects, particularly its special effects, acting, and directing, but perceived it as suffering from being too complicated, confusing, pretentious, and underwhelming. Roger Ebert gave the film a mixed two-out-of-four stars, complimenting Neill's acting and Carpenter's work as a director, but ultimately said the film fell flat due to its screenplay, saying " wonders how In the Mouth of Madness might have turned out if the script had contained even just a little more wit and ambition". Gene Siskel gave the film the same rating, as did James Berardinelli, who said the film "comes close to doing something interesting but gets cold feet" and is "confusing, weird, and not very involving", comparing the film to buying an exotic sports car owned only to be driven slowly. Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C+ rating.

In negative reviews, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said the film was "cheesy horror celebrating the power of cheesy horror, while pretending to be appalled" and gave the film a one-out-of-four star rating. Fred Topel of said the film was "too confusing" and "hard to follow", giving the film a one-out-of-five rating. In fully positive reviews from the time period, the Los Angeles Times gave it an "A", calling it "a thinking person's horror picture that dares to be as cerebral as it is visceral", later listing the film as one of the best of 1995.[citation needed] Seattle Times also gave the film a very positive review, saying "in a horror scene oversatured with flashy surface-floating images that only serve to briefly shock, Carpenter has the audacity to create a genuinely horrifying concept that dives beneath the surface and brings back a story that will stick with its audiences like a bloody adhesive."[citation needed] In a later review, Chris Stuckmann also awarded the film with an "A", noting its ambition, creativity, and originality alongside Carpenter's direction.[citation needed] Reel Film Reviews gave the film a three-out-of-four star rating.[citation needed]

As with most of Carpenter's work, In the Mouth of Madness has received a cult following and has gained more positive reviews in the years following its initial release. Stuckmann wrote that he believes the film would've done significantly better if released today, saying "it fits right in with most indie horror films of the last five years" and also noted this film's influence on modern horror. Director Ari Aster said In the Mouth of Madness was one of the most influential films to his style and one of his favorite films.[citation needed]

French magazine Cahiers du Cinéma listed the film as #10 on their 1995 Top 10 List.[9]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
22nd Saturn Awards Best Horror Film In the Mouth of Madness Nominated
Best Make-Up (K.N.B. EFX Group Inc.) Nominated
Fantasporto Critics' Award John Carpenter Won
Best Film Nominated

Home mediaEdit

Following the early VHS releases, a Blu-ray version of the film by New Line Cinema was released in 2013.[10] In 2016, the film was re-released on DVD by Warner Archive Collection.[11] In 2018, Shout! Factory re-released the film in the form of a Collector's Edition Blu-ray, under their Scream Factory sub-label.[12]


  1. ^ a b c "In the Mouth of Madness (1995) – Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 2010-01-03.
  2. ^ Topolsky, Joshua (2012-09-02). "The Classics: John Carpenter's 'Apocalypse Trilogy'". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  3. ^ a b c d Wilson, William S. (2015-02-03). "Newsploitation: In the Mouth of Box Office Sadness". Video Junkie. Retrieved 2015-02-03.
  4. ^ "In the Mouth of Madness production still". Archived from the original on 2009-10-16. Retrieved 2010-08-06.
  5. ^ Chris Hicks (1995-02-07). "Deseret News: In the Mouth of Madness Review". Deseret News. Archived from the original on 2012-12-17. Retrieved 2010-01-03.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2009-07-26.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ "In the Mouth of Madness (1995) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Fandango Media. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  8. ^ "In the Mouth of Madness Reviews - Metacritic". Metacritic. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  9. ^ "Top lists Cahiers du cinéma". Archived from the original on 27 March 2012. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  10. ^ "High-Def Disc News → 'In the Mouth of Madness' Dated for Blu-ray". High-Def Digest. 2013-06-13. Retrieved 2013-08-03.
  11. ^ "In the Mouth of Madness (1995) (MOD)". Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  12. ^ "In The Mouth Of Madness [Collector's Edition] - Blu-ray - Shout! Factory". Retrieved 8 September 2018.

External linksEdit