I’m obsessed with John Carpenter movies. Whether it is Halloween, They Live, or the criminally underseen The Ghosts of Mars, they all have merit and are groundbreaking in their own way. Although a box office failure, The Mouth Of Madness has developed a cult following that allowed this story of insanity and Lovecraftian monsters to find new life. Similar in tone and scope to Pontypool, evil and insanity are contagious.
Starring Julie Carmen and Sam Neil, who starred in the still terrifying 1997 classic Event Horizon and written by Michael De Luca, John Carpenter’s dread-laden chiller got mixed reviews. Most critics were lukewarm, citing good performances by Neil but muddled plot beats and confusing storylines. However, since 1994, both the critics and the masses have better understood Carpenter’s vision, which now enjoys much higher ratings.
De Luca’s heavily influenced Lovecraftian story distorts reality in the OG of all meta movies. Insurance investigator John Trent is hired to find famous horror writer Sutter Cane who has gone missing just days before his latest book will be released. Worse yet, he has the manuscript with him. Along with Cane’s editor Linda Styles, Trent has to decipher the clues on the back jackets of his previous books to find the titular author. Instead, what they find threatens their tenuous hold on reality and all of humanity.
As with most of Carpenter’s films, there are lots of hidden messages, clever nods, and winking inside jokes. Here are all the coolest facts about In The Mouth Of Madness.
1. It was the third in the Apocolypse Trilogy along with The Thing and The Prince Of Darkness.
Carpenter experts know this third in the series concluded with the end of the world as we know it. What was started with The Thing and continued in The Prince Of Darkness gets a fitting and bleak conclusion with Sutter Cane’s story. When evil is released in Hobbs’ End, it unleashes a plague of monstrous weirdness that distorts space and time itself. As in Event Horizon, some things should never be known, and true evil can’t ever be imagined.
2. There are many references to Lovecraftian stories and characters throughout.
The title is a nod to At The Mountains Of Madness which is about a group of explorers who find an ancient race in the Antarctic. The Black Church in Carpenter’s Hobb’s End is from The Haunter of the Dark, and many of the descriptors are pulled directly from that novel. The church is described as “older than time. The seat of an evil older than mankind and wider than the known universe. It’s a place of pain and suffering beyond human understanding.” The innkeeper Mrs. Pickman is from Pickman’s Model, which was adapted into an episode of The Night Gallery, and the Old Ones that Cane refers to are the Elder Gods, one of which is Cthulhu.
All of Cane’s novels are pulled from Lovecraftian stories and novels. Cane’s known novels are: The Thing in the Basement, The Breathing Tunnel, Haunted Out of Time, The Feeding, The Whisperer in the Dark, The Hobb’s End Horror, and In the Mouth of Madness. The Lovecraftian stories they mirror are: The Dunwich Horror, The Whisperer in Darkness, The Thing on the Doorstep, The Haunter of the Dark, and At The Mountains Of Madness.
3. The fictional town of Hobb’s End is in New Hampshire
Hobb’s End, where Cane has been hiding out and where the story takes place, is supposed to be in New Hampshire. According to the map that the book covers create, Hobb’s End would be located at the edge of Loudon, New Hampshire, near the Merrimack/Belknap county line. This is not a real town. In reality, the film was shot in Ontario, Canada.
4. The Black Church is real
The Black church which Cane hides out and is the seat of the ancient evil is the Cathedral of the Transfiguration in Markham, Ontario. Stephen B. Roman donated the church’s land as a bastion of religious freedom. The church was modeled after a Slovakian church Veľký Ruskov. The center tower of the cathedral contains one of the largest peals of three bells in the world. The inscription on the church’s doors in the movie reads: “Let these doors be sealed by our Lord God and let any who dare enter this unholy site be damned forever.” The actual church does not have this inscription, and the church’s doors have been closed since 2011.
5. The insane asylum John Trent is housed is the RC Harris Water Treatment Plant
The plant is in Toronto, Ontario. The facility is nicknamed the Palace of Purification and still operates today. It treats 45% of the after in Ontario, and the grounds are open to the public. The opulent building was completed in 1941 after nearly ten years. It has appeared in many different films and television series, including The Pretender, Robocop, Undercover Brother, Half Baked, and Strange Brew.
6. John Trent stays in room number 9 of the inn at Hobb’s End and in cell number 9 of the insane asylum.
7. Hobs is an ancient word for the Devil
An old Catholic term for Satan conveys an internal wrongness of character and or relationship to the Devil himself. Hobb’s End, the fictional town where Trent and Linda go to find Sutter Cane, is intentionally named after the Judeo-Christain version of evil, combining the Elder Gods and religious iconography.
8. The publishing company that hires John Trent at the beginning of In The Mouth Of Madness is called Arcane Publishing
Although Arcane Publishing exists, it is not the same company that publishes Sutter Cane’s books. The word arcane means understood by few and mysterious. Cane’s true purpose isn’t known until the end when Trent finds himself in a movie theater watching everything that happened to him and Linda earlier in the movie. Unfortunately for him and the rest of the world, his understanding comes too late.
9. Stephen King wrote a short story called Crouch End
The story was printed in New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos in 1980. In the story, a young woman asks a policeman to help her find her husband, lost in a strange town. She claims everything about the neighborhood was now alien and wrong. Eventually, the police officer looks for the man and notices how different things have become. It was adapted into an episode of Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From The Stories Of Stephen King in 2006.
10. The baseball card in the front spokes of the paperboy’s bike in the scene at the end is a 1990 Fleer Brady Anderson (#172).
11. During the credits right at the end, just after the SPCA disclaimer about animals being monitored and unharmed, text reads: Human interactions monitored by the Intergalactic Psychiatric Institute. The body count was high, casualties heavy.
12. There were at least three injuries during the filming of In The Mouth Of Madness
Sam Neill was cut by broken glass during the scene in his cell where the glass window breaks. During the bar scene, Neill throws a glass, and it shatters. John Carpenter got a small piece of glass in his eye as a result, and the special effects contact lenses that many of the actors had to wear caused minor corneal abrasions. During the Doberman attack scene, several stunt actors suffered actual dog bites. Lastly, Greg Nicotero was run over by the wall of monsters and had to be briefly hospitalized for a leg injury.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.