I have so much love for the films that comprise John Carpenter’s so-called apocalypse trilogy, but I am in the minority for loving In the Mouth of Madness the most of the three. In fact, I would posit that the entries in the series get progressively better due to increasingly complex and intriguing concepts. All three films feature Lovecraftian concepts to some degree. All three are also obsessed with the dissolution of personal identity. And all three films challenge popular notions of reality.
(Beware of spoilers ahead.)
The first of the trilogy, The Thing, was full of fantastic special effects, but was still grounded in conventional science. Most people who are reading this blog already know that the Carpenter film was a remake of a 1951 film The Thing from Another World, which was in turn adapted from the John Campbell story Who Goes There?. In The Thing, an alien life form is able to “take over” our terrestrial life forms, replacing their cells with its own cells, and perfectly imitating the original life forms’ appearance, memories, and personality. Aside from mind-bending special effects, the creepy thing about this movie is that your friends may not be your friends. Even creepier, you yourself may be a Thing and not even know it yet. Creepiest yet, if the Thing were able to replace all life on the planet, there would be one species constantly hunting and eating itself in its many forms, making life on earth a sort of grotesque biological recycling facility.
There are aspects of the Thing’s physiology and behavior that the characters can’t explain, but it’s clear that these things eventually could be explained by science. At the end, science and good-old-fashioned masculinity save the world from this stealthy form of alien takeover. Even though it’s implied that the two surviving characters will meet a bad end, it’s reassuring that the world is safe and order is restored.