I love little surprises. As a hardcore horror fan, there are very few American entries in the genre that I haven't seen, and that number is scaled back even further when it comes to the eighties. You see, I'm a child of the "me decade", and I made it my business to borrow, buy, or rent pretty much anything that came out during that period. Of course, there were a few that slipped under my radar here and there, and I,Madman was one of them. Now, I think I may be able to explain how this one alluded me. Originally, the film was released as Hardcover, did little-to-no business, and was promptly sent off to video stores under its current title. Just the same, I'm actually glad I'm just discovering it now, because it's proof that there are still some treasures from the decade of decadence I've yet to discover.
Virginia (the yummy Jenny Wright) is an aspiring actress who spends her days working in an antique bookstore, and her evenings curled up with a good scary read. When the bookstore receives the contents of an estate sale, among them are a pair of novels by an obscure author named Malcolm Brand (Cook). Virginia becomes obsessed with his Lovecraftian style and seeks out his only other book, I, Madman. When the book shows up on her doorstep, she assumes her co-worker Mona had delivered it for her, and digs right in. The novel tells the story of a lovelorn doctor who removes his own facial features in a fit of hopeless rage after being turned away by the object of his affection, Anna. Virginia begins seeing a strange man following her around the city, and as she gets deeper into the book, the crimes from its pages begin to occur in real life, down to the last grisly detail. Virginia realizes that the madman from the book is now flesh and blood, and thinks she's Anna. Now he's now come to claim her heart, one way or another!
I, Madman is a really fun little horror flick that wears it's pulp novel influences proudly on its sleeve. I can understand how this film didn't really prosper in the waning days of the slasher fueled 80's, seeing that it's a somewhat tongue-in-cheek affair that has more in common with the old EC Comics style chillers of the fifties and sixties, but it's a shame that it didn't catch on in its video afterlife. Director Tibor Takacs certainly showed a flair for fright, with lots of wonderfully staged suspense sequences and a clever execution of Virginia's fantasy world and reality intertwining. Jenny Wright, whose apparently fallen off the face of the Earth since 1992's Lawnmower Man, is perfect as the bookishly sexy Virginia, as is Special Effects Wizard Randall William Cook (an Oscar winner for his creature design in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy) as the tragic "madman", Malcolm Brand. Cook had designed the make-up appliances and convinced director Takacs that he was the man for the role, resulting in a wonderfully realized antagonist that seems straight out of the golden age of Hollywood horror. Even the film's dated effects work plays to its strengths in that it somehow enhances the cheerily low-budget pulp feel.
The DVD from MGM features a very solid transfer, but, sadly, it's fullscreen. I did a little digging and found that the film was released on laser disc several years ago, and was also fullscreen, so this may be the only useable print available.
I was very pleased with this one. It's always nice to throw in a movie with zero expectations and find yourself grinning with satisfaction upon its conclusion, and that is the case with I, Madman. Good, solid fun!