- Alan Wake 2 was a highly anticipated video game release that attracted a large fan base and drew inspiration from horror legends like Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft.
- Alan Wake and In the Mouth of Madness share similar themes and storylines, exploring the blurred lines between reality and fiction and the relationship between creator and creation.
- Both works of art delve into cosmic horror, using unpredictability and a descent into the unknown to drive their characters to the brink of madness.
Alan Wake 2 was one of the biggest video game releases of 2023, building an even larger fan base around the horror game franchise. The first game follows the titular best-selling horror writer investigating the disappearance of his wife, witnessing his own frightening creations coming into life along the way.
Alan Wake fans like to point out the many references the game makes to Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmic horror, and even the surrealist TV show Twin Peaks. However, most of them would be eager to know that there’s also an underrated John Carpenter film that not only perfectly evokes the atmosphere of the game, but also shares plenty of similarities with Alan Wake‘s main storyline. While fans wait for the game’s upcoming TV adaptation, currently in the works by AMC, Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness should be a must-watch.
Reality and Fiction Clashing into One
Meta-narratives, where reality and fiction intertwine, shouldn’t be a new thing in a genre as self-aware as horror, regardless of the medium. The question of what exactly makes a horror story has always been the target of debate, and both Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness and Alan Wake offer stories determined to reach a conclusion, delivering an incisive genre study while playing with its structure and the relationship between creator and creation. Unsurprisingly, both works of art do that by referencing some major names of the genre, such as H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Edgar Allan Poe.
The first major parallel that can be traced between Alan Wake and In the Mouth of Madness is their base storylines. The video game follows a writer of horror fiction, Alan Wake, who recently arrives in a small town called Brighton Falls for a peaceful getaway. When his wife suddenly disappears, and some of his most horrific creations come to life, Alan’s grip on reality begins to blur. Alternatively, Carpenter’s movie kicks off from the perspective of John Trent (played by Sam Neill), an insurance investigator determined to uncover the whereabouts of Sutter Cane, a horror writer whose disappearance is followed by strange occurrences that seem to mirror events from his novels.
Such a similar setup takes an interchangeable direction while experimenting with drastically different ideas. Either way, mixing the two works of art together, both stories have the potential to complement one another. Alan Wake explores the despair of an author’s block, using horror to bring these frustrations to life. While the video game has always been praised for its clever story and immersive ambiance, one recurring objection is the repetitive nature of the combat and the opponents Alan encounters on the way. What many fans seem to overlook is how this approach is directly linked to Alan’s inability to come up with something new for years; in this context, leftovers of a fruitful idea emerge to come after him.
There’s no such thing as writer’s block in In the Mouth of Madness. Here, fate has already been written and Trent’s attempts to get rid of it will repeatedly get him back to the initial point. It’s curious how the movie plays out like a game, especially when comparing it to Alan Wake‘s well-crafted narrative and steady motion, which, in contrast, would perfectly work as a movie. In Carpenter’s movie, the series of increasingly maddening obstacles that Trent stumbles upon, as well as the many instances in which he returns to the same place, feel like the reaching of a checkpoint. In addition, both Alan Wake and In the Mouth of Madness not only feature fictional creations coming to life, but also people and places from these characters’ lives turning into something wicked — the unknown and the ordinary clashing in terrifying fashion.
For two stories that heavily rely on the role of the author, it’s ironic yet fascinating how they share an unreliable narrator. Perhaps the biggest similarity between the two stories isn’t even the setting and atmosphere but the way both the main character of Alan Wake and In the Mouth of Madness end up as pawns in a story where they supposedly play the lead role. Both John Trent and Alan Wake find themselves on the brink of madness upon learning they are merely creations of an evil force, and any attempt to outrun fate is useless since their stories have already been written.
Both Alan Wake and In the Mouth of Madness Are Cosmic Horror Feasts
The unknown has always been the pivotal element of the horror genre, and the whole idea of cosmic horror, idealized by the genius H.P. Lovecraft, is centered around something so beyond human comprehension that it is enough to drive anyone insane. It’s an approach directly tied to unpredictability and disorientation, first perfected on the big screen by Carpenter himself. His 1982 masterpiece, The Thing, is considered the prime entry to cosmic horror cinema, pioneering artistic choices that would prevail in the horror genre for decades to come and reappear in In the Mouth of Madness 12 years later.
Both Alan Wake and Carpenter’s film explore a descent into the unknown, with each terrifying episode of their odyssey taking a good chunk of the characters’ sanity. While recurring themes in cosmic horror include creatures with mind-bending shapes and entities that threaten to take over the world, perhaps the subject that ties all these stories together is madness. Both Alan Wake and John Trent are forced to witness unimaginable things, and ultimately reach the edge of the physical realm in the face of other terrifying dimensions. A hopeless mood assumes control of both narratives and, ironically enough, all these mind-boggling threats take shape in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere.
Beyond the many similarities in theme and story, the most distinctive feature that unites Alan Wake and In the Mouth of Madness is their love and devotion to the horror genre. From the tentacled creatures in Carpenter’s movie that seem to come out of a Lovecraftian tale to Alan Wake‘s inanimate objects coming to life in an homage to Stephen King’s most unhinged stories, both works of art take fans on a voyage across the many facets of the horror genre, inviting them to welcome the insatiable taste of fiction into their uneventful reality.
Rent In the Mouth of Madness on AppleTV or Prime Video