Virginia is a bookstore clerk and aspiring actress who has just become entranced by a little known pulp author named Malcolm Brand. Brand only wrote two books in his life, and after reading his first story, Virginia wants to track down the second book, an equally sleazy horror tale called I, Madman. When the book suddenly appears on her doorstep one evening, Virginia doesn’t hesitate to dive right into the disturbing story about a crazed doctor who mutilated his own face and then kills people for replacement parts, all in an attempt to woo the object of his affection. But as she reads more of the story, she actually starts seeing the disfigured killer from her book. She starts to think it’s just her imagination, but when the people around her start turning up dead she becomes convinced that the killer has somehow escaped the confines of his book. She tries to convince her detective boyfriend what’s going on, but it’s quickly clear he and the department think she’s nuttier than a friggin’ fruitcake, and Virginia might be on her own when it comes to figuring out what’s going on and how to stop the killer before he inevitably comes for her too.
I really didn’t know what to expect from this very late 80’s horror outing. At this point I’ve seen so many movies that could be considered, hm, shall we say “crap”, that my expectations when it comes to watching more obscure cinema are basically so low you could only trip over them if you wandered down into the sewers. But lo and behold, I, Madman ended up surprising me. It’s not perfect, but it’s a surprisingly fun little B-Movie that seems to have turned out better than the sum of its parts.
Or lack of parts
The movie may have its fair share of hokey-ness, what with the obsessive, faceless villain, and even a claymation monster that pops up in two instances to be a scene stealer (In fairness, the effects were done in part by Randall William Cook, who would go on to win Oscars for his visual work in all three of the Lord of the Rings films. So it’s not that the effects look bad, they just… Looks like cheesy claymation). But what it may have lacked a bit in execution, the film makes up for with story and atmosphere. Because let’s face it, the concept of a psychopathic villain/monster that manages to somehow transcend the pages of a book so that he can torment the person reading said book, is a neat, fun idea (And if you think the concept sounds vaguely familiar, know that several people who worked on this film also worked on A Nightmare on Elm Street 2/3, so there’s your answer). While the story itself doesn’t quite deliver on its premise (though it does make a herculean attempt), it could have been much worse, with the story simply playing out like your typical supernatural slasher flick. But director Tibor Takács (who also directed The Gate) forgoes many of your typical slasher cliches and makes the film feel more unique by not only adding some very striking visual flourishes, but by also making many of the scenes emulate the very pulp works of fiction that the books contained in the movie are conveying. So you’ve got this very dark, very noir-ish, and occasionally even gothic-like vibe going on that helps elevate the film from something that had the potential to be a very bland and forgettable slasher, into a fun film with a distinctive look and themes.
The film also benefits from a very effective cast. Cook not only does fine VFX work, but also doubles as a very competent villain. Clayton Rohner makes for a capable and believable cop boyfriend with a healthy dose of skepticism, who ultimately ends up being likable enough, even though he kinda ends up being pretty useless in the end (he does try though, bless him). But Jenny Wright as Virginia fares the best here as the lovely, and highly competent protagonist who starts out just about as petrified as you’d probably expect, but ultimately ends up growing (and saving herself) by the end of the movie.
The film’s one downside is that it sort of runs out of most of its mojo by the time it gets to the third act. Up until that point it’s doing a great job: the pacing is strong, the tension and violence are increasing, and Virginia is finally getting her boyfriend to believe her cockamamie tale about how the murderer is a character that jumped out of her book. But then the story fumbles the ball, because it decides that Virginia needs to suffer a “setback”, and it does this by, well… Essentially by suddenly giving her a case of “the stupid”. Until the third act rolled around, mousie Virginia had really been doing a bang-up job. Not only had she figured out what was going on, but she’d used the resources at her disposal to track down the relevant background information to figure out who the killer was. And of course she did all this on her own, because her boyfriend rightly thought she’d been reading too many horror books and turned into a kook. But then the final act rolls around and Virginia suddenly turns into a whimpering mess who suddenly loses all her deductive powers and can’t figure out that the killer only seems to be targeting people she knows and not randos on the street. And I feel that I should stress that I don’t think this is Jenny Wright’s fault, because up til that point she had been doing just fine, and the movie ends up redeeming itself in the last 10-or-so minutes and turns her back into the resourceful, clever person she was before. So her sudden incompetence was just a lazy, convenient plot device they used to set up the ending they wanted, instead of one that made more sense. And while I do think the movie manages to pull itself together and right the ship before it was too late, those poor story elements do put a bit of a ding in one’s overall enjoyment of an otherwise fun little film.
But even with that one glaring issue, I still really enjoyed this little-known horror gem. It’s an interesting movie with a fun concept, some very nice visuals and atmosphere, and just enough gore to be considered gruesome, but not grotesque. I just wish the first half of the third act had been a little tighter, so that it could live up to the rest of the film. Not that I’m claiming the story was without fault up until that point, mind you. For instance, they never did adequately explain how the author was pulling off his little trick beyond vague suggestions of alchemy and some not so subtle hand-waving. So the earlier plot of the story is not without its flaws, but at least up until act three they were remaining consistent with the in-story logic and world building. It almost feels like they had the first two-thirds of the movie figured out, along with the ending, but for the life of ‘em, they couldn’t figure out that one section in between, so they plopped something in there and hoped for the best. The result is… Not great, to be honest, and it does bring the film down a pep. But it doesn’t ding it enough to keep it from being fun. So if you’re looking for a new slasher to watch that’s not filled with all the predictable cliches, then I, Madman might be something to look into.
I, Madman is available on a variety of streaming services.
I, Madman is also available on DVD and Bluray.
3 thoughts on “I, Madman (1989)”
I’d watch this!
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I did! And I liked almost all of it!
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