Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
There are so many miserable attempts at horror movies, that when one comes along with some
spirit and a good idea or two, it's hard not to find favor. I, Madman is no classic,
but it's directed with verve, nicely acted (well, at least in a couple of roles) and actually
creates an atmosphere of surprise before turning predictable.
Adventurous reader Virginia (Jenny Wright) takes an interest in the bizarre novels
of Malcolm Brand, a spiritualist who wrote horror novels but claimed they were real. The trouble
is, every time she reads a new chapter, it's as if Brand were alive and re-enacting the grisly
murders - on her friends and acquaintences. Soon, a gravel-voiced man with a horrible face (Randall
William Cook) appears, not just in her dreams but in real life ... claiming that he's
assembling a new face from stolen pieces of his victims, just to please her!
Curled up with on her couch with one of Malcomb Brand's books, Virgina can't tear herself away from
the tales of horror within. Brand's story takes place
in 1959, and the scene shifts to that date, to witness another woman threatened by a caped maniac.
We then leap back to the present, where Virginia shivers in fright.
It sounds pretty basic, but in I, Madman it works. Jenny Wright (Twister) is
engagingly intelligent as the curious and haunted Virginia, a bookstore clerk. She catches a brief peek at the
mysterious stranger in a mirror, and finds out that the deceased Malcom Brand's collection of books
has come into the store as an estate consignment. Brand's old publisher tells her that the author
was a crazoid who mutilated himself in a demented attempt to get the attention of a woman he loved.
Virginia is stalked by what might be the same man, irrationally survived.
The creepy structure capitalizes on the sensations of a vivid reading experience, especially the
kind where one feels the book is 'coming to life'. The idea is just good enough to surprise us
with many of its story twists, reworking ideas from Phantom of the Opera and other
Gothic horrors. The plot has the obligatory cop boyfriend, but even if the
actor playing him looks too young to be a seasoned detective, the police procedure schtick adds
to the story instead of padding it out.
The film was made by a skilled low-budget feature outfit, in the last years before films like this
were consigned to the purgatory of straight-to-video. The lighting and camerawork are excellent,
bringing new life to ideas familiar from Alfred Hitchcock movies, and perhaps some Argento films.
values are modest, the picture is handsomely designed, and director Takács manages
some cute stylistic tricks, like changing from 1989 to 1959 in one shot without a cut.
The horror and special effects aspects of the film are handled by Randall William Cook, who also
plays the role of Malcolm Brand. Some of the role requires him to skulk around in the night in a cape
and broad-brimmed hat like The Shadow, but whenever Brand gets close to the camera, he's downright
creepy. This Brand is almost a phantom 'Freddy' character, as his appearances frequently defy
logic. The makeup
work to give him a horror-face - stitched from pieces razor-slashed from his
victims - is far more effective than it ought to be, mainly because of Brand's piercing eyes and
Bursting onto the scene at several chosen moments are grotesque homunculi monsters, little mongoloid
demons that cause a jolt even though their exact source is a little vague. They're stop-motion
animated, also by Randall William Cook. I, Madman may be the only horror feature where
a single talent
animated a monster in addition to playing a Lon Chaney-type monster role under heavy makeup. This
whole end of the production gets a solid 'A'.
The movie is bright, clever, and works all the way to its violent end. It becomes predictable as
the final acts are winding to a close, only to spring more shocks on us at the conclusion.
It's an assured, superior little piece
of work - the choice of victims always comes as a surprise, and each jeopardy situation is different.
Even the use of 'Chanson d'Amour' under the titles is refreshing.
I, Madman got a reasonable initial release, but didn't take off at the theaters. I personally
blame the kill-joy
trailer, which made the film look cheap and was booed off the screen when I saw it in a theater. This
is the kind of film Albert and Charles Band tried to make so many times and failed; I, Madman
actually has ambitions, and is very pleasing for a lower-end horror offering.
MGM's DVD of I, Madman is a fine transfer that unfortunately is not 16:9 enhanced. It crops
off well to 1:78, indicating that it's probably been left full-frame and not reformatted or
re-framed on the fly during telecine. The marketers must have reasons for choosing this flat,
television-intended version over a more appropriate 16:9 transfer. The colors are rich, showing
off the economical art
direction, and the soundtrack is lush. An original trailer is included - I'm not sure it's the
one I saw back in '89. The buzz line on the back of the package says, 'Lose Yourself in a Good Book',
a very apt slogan that indicates taht someone among the MGM copywriters was engaged by I, Madman
and responded positively to its premise.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
I, Madman rates:
Video: Very Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 25, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson