Oct 9: In the Mouth of Madness (1994)


We go back-to-back today with John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. Considered by Carpenter to be the final piece of the apocalyptic trilogy preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness, In the Mouth of Madness is told as a patient history. Dr. Wrenn performs a psychiatric evaluation on John Trent who discloses his history of present illness (HPI) that culminates with admission to an inpatient psychiatric hospital (where the movie begins).


John Trent is an insurance investigator who was recently hired by Arcane Publishing to investigate the disappearance of Sutter Cane, an author whose novels are purported to cause acute onset of disorientation, memory loss, and paranoia in their readers. The effects fit a diagnosis of delirium, specifically disturbances in cognition (including attention, orientation, and memory) that develop over a short period of time. The disturbance is a direct physiological effect of a medical condition or a substance. Since we see through the perspective of Trent, a closer investigation may reveal the etiology of his delirium (did he give a urine drug screen upon admission to the hospital?).

Trent’s investigation leads him to Hobbs End, the fictional town in Cane’s novels. There, he finds Cane who reveals that they are all characters playing a part in a larger story, the last “chapter” of which is captured in his new novel aptly named In The Mouth of Madness. Cane also informs Trent that his fans’ belief in his stories have freed an ancient monstrous race that will overrun the earth (i.e. the end of the novel and therefore, their ultimate fate).

In viewing the film, one must consider that Trent used cocaine upon being hired while reading Cane’s novel “to research” his new client (the “altered” eyes and nosebleed of the reader killed by Trent are symbolic of cocaine’s intoxication effects). His intoxication “got him caught up” in the novel, where he was unable to differentiate fiction from reality. The cognitive deficits and perceptual disturbances that are pervasive throughout the film are the result of cocaine-induced delirium. Trent’s feelings of derealization and loss of time query the use of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Along with cocaine, LSD has a sympathomimetic effect, so their concurrent use risks sudden cardiac death. Perhaps Carpenter’s theme of the apocalypse is a metaphor for the public health crisis and economic burden of drug use and heart disease in the US.

Oct 8: The Thing (1982)


At the Amundsen’Scott South Pole Station, most personnel leave by the middle of February, leaving a few dozen “winter-overs” (mostly support staff plus a few scientists) who keep the station functional through the months of Antarctic night. The winter personnel are isolated between mid-February and late October. After the last flight has left for the winter, an annual tradition is a double feature viewing of The Thing and The Shining.

So, following yesterday’s blog on The Shining, its only right to examine John Carpenter’s The Thing next. Based on John W. Campbell, Jr.’s novella, Who Goes There?, the movie is about a parasitic , extraterrestrial lifeform that assimilates organisms at the molecular level, thus allowing it to mimic the host phenotypically.

Set in Antarctica, The Thing begins with a Norwegian helicopter pursuing an Alaskan malamute to an American research station. When the last surviving Norwegian is shot and killed, the Americans go to the Norwegian base only to find it burned to the ground. MacReady and the crew learn that the Malamute was alien, and before they could kill it, the thing begins to assimilate the other dogs and members of the research team.

Considered by Carpenter to be the first part of an apocalyptic trilogy along with Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness, The Thing pays homage to Dracula, depicting the trials of MacReady (modern day Van Helsing), who leads the team as they try to capture and kill the inhuman scourge before it can hibernate and move beyond the continent.


We discover that the thing was trying to freeze itself and hibernate, thus introducing the notion of dyssomnias; sleep abnormalities in the amount, quality, or timing of sleep involving abnormalities in mechanisms generating sleep-wake states (as opposed to parasomnias which are abnormal behaviors occurring in association with/around the time of sleep such as sleep walking). One dyssomnia, Non-24 Hour Sleep-Wake Type (a Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorder), is characterized by abnormal synchronization between the 24-h light-dark cycle and the endogenous circadian rhythm. Given that a) the setting of the film is the Antarctic night, b) the alien’s circadian rhythm is longer than 24 hours, c) the alien needs to hibernate, The Thing may be viewed as an exercise in the Sleep-Wake Disorders.

The Thing can also be interpreted as a case study of “mass paranoia;” with imminent danger behind every familiar face, the film oscillates between hypervigilance and Shared Psychotic Disorder. For example, Blair becomes increasingly paranoid, calculating that if the alien escapes Antarctica, all life on earth will be assimilated within a few years.
In the final scene, MacReady and Childs watch the camp burn and acknowledge the futility of their distrust and share a bottle of scotch. The ambiguous ending is clarified 30 years later by Joss Whedon; in The Cabin in the Woods, the scene revealing the “Fail” in Sweden most likely reveals the cataclysmic outcome of The Thing.