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DVD SAVANT

I, Madman


I, Madman
MGM Home Entertainment
1989 / Color / 1:37 flat full frame / 89 min. / Hardcover / Street Date August 26, 2003 / 14.95
Starring Jenny Wright, Clayton Rohner, Randall William Cook, Stephanie Hodge, Michelle Jordan
Cinematography Bryan England
Production Designer Matthew C. Jacobs, Ron Wilson
Visual Effects Jim Aupperle, Randall William Cook
Film Editor Marcus Manton
Original Music Michael Hoenig
Written by David Chaskin
Produced by Rafael Eisenman
Directed by Tibor Takács

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.

Synopsis:

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. Although technical 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 maniacal voice.

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:
Movie: Good
Video: Very Good
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 25, 2003





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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