Hired to help locate a missing author, an insurance investigator discovers to his terror that the nightmarish events depicted in the writer's best-selling horror novels are coming true. Wishing to be both a horror film and a parody of the genre, John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness combines supernatural thrills with winking references.
For instance, the vanished author, Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow), is modeled on writers like Stephen King and Howard Phillips Lovecraft, from his great popularity to his obsession with small-town New England.
Indeed, it is to one such hamlet that investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) and Cane's female editor (Julie Carmen) travel, discovering a town filled with terrifying scenes right out of Cane's books, from random axe murders to far worse.
Have Cane's fans gone psychotic and begun imitating his writings, or are Cane's stories of an otherworldly evil invading the earth actually true? In the Mouth of Madness's mix of self-referential satire and real frights anticipates the later Scream (1996).