I like when I encounter a movie I once wrote off decades ago only to discover I was wrong about it and that it is indeed a damn fine film. I, Madman (1989) is one such film. Appropriately enough I first came to know this movie through the pages of issue #80 (February ’89) of Fangoria. The madman was even deemed worthy enough to make the cover, but since I’ve never really been a fan of slasher flicks in general, despite owning a select number of them, I wrote the movie off after finding out (the title alone already gave me some idea) it was one of them. It did come to cable, but I never bothered to watch it or even see a trailer. The only noteworthy aspect is who the director was—Tibor Takacs. The Gate (1987) was his first horror film. I have such fond memories of seeing that one in a theater, which was around the time I graduated from high school and thank God the movie itself is just as sweet. To this day I still watch it from time to time. Even his sequel, which he also directed, The Gate II (1990), is also a ‘memory movie.’ The only other Takacs movie I have in my collection is his contribution to the Big Bug movies of the 50s, Spiders 3D (2013).
I didn’t request I, Madman to review and was pretty much indifferent in the first place when Scream Factory announced they were bluing it, but when a random review copy arrived along with Robot Jox, I said, okay, sure, I’ll give it a looksy. I’m glad now it was sent.
The subject matter of ‘literary-nightmares-jumping-out-of-a-book-to-menace-the-world’ is nothing new, and I’ Madman is not alone is this sub-genre, The Dark Half (1993), In The Mouth Of Madness (1995), Cellar Dweller (1988) and even the Monsters (1988 TV series) episode, “The Match Game” and the Clive Barker penned Masters Of Horror episode, “Valerie On The Stairs” make good bedfellows. But if you want to break that sub-genre down even more I’ Madman and The Dark Half would occupy their own sub-category of ‘Fictional-Psychos-That-Come-To-Life.’ Both are about infamous/famous authors who either willingly or unwillingly “activate” their fictional slashers to come forth into reality to kill and kill again.
In Takacs movie, Malcolm Brand is the author, and an infamous one at that, this mentally unstable writer only penned two novels, Much Of Madness, More Of Sin, which was his first book, and his second and final one, you guessed it, I, Madman. The first book chronicles the gruesome exploits of zoologist, Dr. Alan Kessler, who at one point in his “mad scientist” career created a “jackal boy” that escapes and kills, the second book also focuses on a “mad doctor” but this one is obsessed with an actress by the name of Anna Templer. So much so he carves off his ears, nose, lips and shaves his head bald, and then begins to prowl the city in search of women to kill and replace his missing features and hair with. In the end he kills Templer, carves out her heart and wears it around his neck like a necklace. Both of these books were published in the late 50s and take place in the 30s or 40s. What we learn late in the movie is I, Madman is an autobiography!
The movie, I, Madman, centers on a woman named, Virginia (Jenny Wright) , who lives in downtown Los Angeles in the late 80s and works at a used book store. The store acquires select items from the late Malcolm Brand’s estate, all stashed in a trunk, similar to the one described in Much Of Madness, More Of Sin where Kessler kept his jackal boy freak. Virginia’s into these kind of pulp novels and takes Brand’s first book home with her. As she reads it we get to see the scenes from the book played out with Virginia in the role of Anne Templer. In Brand’s first book we see Kessler’s Jackal Boy (an excellent stop-motion monster executed by FX artist Randall William Cook) get loose and make a meal out of a woman who looks an awful lot like Virginia.
Back in the real world Virginia has a boyfriend cop. Richard is his name and he’s played by Clayton Rohner (The Relic, Nightwish, April Fool’s Day). Rich doesn’t like those books she reads. She knows Brand only wrote one other book and eventually she finds it, but odd things begin to happen whenever she reads it. The “mad doctor,” the schizophrenic author, played by FX artist, Cook, and who also appears as Kessler from the first novel, is bleeding into reality, and since Virginia is imagining herself as Templer, connections are being made. Connections between her and Brand and when that happens the murders he commits from the book are replicated in “reality,” which means those closest to her are going to be playing a part they didn’t sign up for.
Cook’s inspiration was Lon Chaney so there’s some of Chaney in Brand, as he constantly shows up in this “burka” type costume, which he uses to shield his mutilated features from Virginia, but isn’t opposed to terrifying her from time to time with them by ripping them off dramatically so we can see how truly fucked up the man is.
Brand needs hair, lips, a nose, and some ears, and he gets all of them from an actress in Virginia’s acting class, her acting buddy and her co-worker at the bookstore before he finally confronts her for her heart in the upstairs of the store. Cook’s stop-motion jackal boy shows up one more time at the very end as Virginia reads him into reality while Rich and Brands fight to the death.
The ending to this movie was unexpectedly upbeat, as in Rich and Virginia live, and reminded me of the final act of George Romero’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, The Dark Half (1993), where psychopath George Stark is pecked apart by a flock of whippoorwills and his remains whisked off out the window. As Jackal Boy leaps at Brand sending both of them through the window they explode into a “flock” of pages the wind blows into the distance.
I, Madman is a very stylish movie and seeing as I never ever saw a trailer for it, my first impressions were through the collage of scenes in the opening menu of the blu-ray. Seeing Cook’s stop-motion critter half reminded me of Fangoria’s article and the mention of the creature. If that wasn’t enough to hook me visually the reproduction of the ‘30s (which I thought the movie solely took place in) in contrast with this stop-motion critter gave me even more confidence I was probably going to like this flick.
Why the hell did I wait so long to see this?
The only movie I own with Jenny Wright is Near Dark (1987), so seeing her in this role, a very different one than the vampire she played in Dark, was “different” and sexy. She’s a very hot looking actress. I already knew that from Near Dark, but she shows off more of her looks in this one. And she’s a very good actor as well.
I’ Madman has been widely available on DVD since 2003, but this past July 21st Scream Factory (Shout! Factory’s horror/scifi sub-label) negotiated the rights and have finally converted it to blu-ray.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen— 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio, 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio—English subtitles only
I didn’t have any problem with the audio or the video, both were excellent.
- Audio Commentary with Tibor Takács and Randall William Cook, moderated by Rob Galluzzo (Icons Of Fright)
- Ripped from the Pages – The Making ofI, Madman (33:23)
- Behind the Scenes Footage with Commentary by Randall William Cook (11:07)
- Theatrical Trailer
- Video Trailer
- Still Gallery with Commentary by Randall William Cook (6:47)
It was fun to learn the original title was Hardcover, and you can see that title tacked onto the included theatrical trailer. The video trailer, however, has the more apt moniker, the one we all know this flick by, I, Madman. In the doc, ‘Ripped From The Pages,’ Clayton Rohner preferred the original title where as Stephanie Hodge (Mona, Virginia’s ill-fated co-worker from the bookstore) likes the I, Madman one.
All the extras were great, especially the Randall Cook narrated behind-the-scenes footage from the actual filming and his narration on the Still Gallery. I’ve heard commentaries with him and Director Takacs before and they always deliver the goods, this one is no different. Entertaining and informative.