(This is the next in a series of reviews of movies from the 70s and 80s, part of a small collection of horror and science fiction movies on videotape that I bought at a flea market before Christmas, some of which I haven’t seen since they first came out)
This is a movie about a woman who discovers an old horror book from an obscure, forgotten writer. I kind of felt the same way as the woman, as I dug through my newly-doscovered treasure trove of VHS tapes and found this. The title for the UK tape I have, HARDCOVER, triggered no memories in me, nor did anyone listed on the back. However, a quick check uncovered its original title, I, MADMAN.
And that made some neural connections in my brain, going back to an issue of Fangoria that I had in 1988, Issue 80 to be precise, and I remember it acutely because I was in the Air Force at the time, and had to explain to my Commanding Officer, who had done a tour of the dorms and had seen it, what it was all about. and that no, I wasn’t some ghoulish Norman Bates type.
I think I convinced him.
Anyway, I, MADMAN was directed by Tibor Takacs, a Hungarian with a solid career going back to another memorable 80s horror, THE GATE (1987). He’s made quite a few genre works, including episodes of SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH and THE OUTER LIMITS, and SyFy fodder with titles like ICE SPIDERS, MANSQUITO and MEGA SNAKE. I, MADMAN is his second effort, and though I haven’t seen any of his later efforts, I hope that he was able to indulge his artistic flairs with them as he had with this flawed but interesting movie.
In downtown LA, used bookshop clerk Virginia Clayton (Jenny Wright, later to get all hot and sweaty with Jeff Fahey in THE LAWNMOWER MAN) has a handsome young detective boyfriend named Richard (Clayton Rohner, THE RELIC and TV’s short-lived GOOD VS EVIL), but in fact, she much prefers to go to bed on her own with a little personal something that gives her great satisfaction… yes, of course I mean a good book.
Virginia’s into trashy pulp fiction with lurid covers and titles and stories of helpless damsels menaced by disfigured crazies. In particular, she’s obsessed with the works of Malcolm Brand (Randall William Cook, better known in Hollywood for his extensive special effects work, starting with movies like Q and leading up to Oscar wins for the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy), author of such salacious fare as Much of Madness, More of Sin, all detailing the notorious adventures of Doctor Alan Kessler (also played by Cook in recreations of passages from the books).
Doctor Kessler is an amateur scientist who wasn’t satisfied with making a Jackal Boy (and really, who would be?), he decides to outdo Van Gogh and cut off his ears, nose, hair and other facial features and collect bits from more handsome men in order to impress a girl (thankfully he must be confident enough in the trouser department not to include The Little Madman in his list of body parts to be replaced).
Virginia is caught up with the stories, much to the amusement of her friend and fellow worker, sassy Mona (played by actress and comedian Stephanie Hodge), so much so that, when Virginia somehow comes across I, Madman, the last of Malcolm Brand’s books, and begins reading it, she begins to imagine seeing the lead character peering around corners or stepping into elevators and declaring his love for her.
And then people start dying in her neighbourhood, losing body parts just as described in I, Madman. When Virginia witnesses one, she goes to her boyfriend and the other cops and tries to describe him, but waits until after the sketch artist has done his job before mentioning that he is actually a character coming to life from a book she’s reading (something I thought might have come up sooner in a conversation with the police, but what do I know?).
Now labelled by the LAPD as a nutbar, Virginia takes a page from Nancy Drew and do her own sleuthing, and in talking with the sleazy publisher (Murray Rubin) of the books, learns that Malcolm Brand had demanded the books be labelled ‘non-fiction’, and that he ended up in an insane asylum before leaving one day and dying of exposure in the surrounding wilderness, which I suppose beats dying on the toilet with a cheeseburger stuffed in your mouth or a Doctor Zaius doll stuck up your nethers. But soon, Virginia realises that she’s the object of the fiend’s desires in the real world, but how can she defeat a creature that no one else seems to see, and doesn’t operate under the laws of reality?
I, MADMAN shares themes with a number of movies made at the time – JAKE SPEED, THE NEVERENDING STORY, LABYRINTH – where the worlds of fiction and reality begin to intermingle, and then there’s the later John Carpenter movie IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, but I, MADMAN predates this by a decade or so. Takacs aims for a film noir feel even in the modern LA scenes – her boyfriend goes around broad daylight in a trench coat, and Virginia dresses in a non-Eighties style, without a legging or headband in sight, though this may also play into her love for the old-fashioned. It’s heavy on atmosphere and style, and its story is a cut above the summer camp slashers and nightmare monsters prevalent at the time. The killer’s look and motivations are reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera.
However, it’s not without its flaws. The attempt at film noir is less than successful when everything is in colour and the daytime scenes are brighter than bright, and the dialogue is cheesy (it would have been better to show a deeper contrast between the real and fictional worlds), and feels very dated regardless. And the scenes involving the Jackal Boy are stop-motion, and unfortunately feel like something out of another movie entirely (think one of the Hell Hounds from GHOSTBUSTERS and starve it for six months).
But the movie doesn’t set out to be anything more than an interesting B-movie, and in this, it succeeds well. If you get a chance to catch it sometime, do so. The trailer is below.
Director: Tibor Takacs
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. The D is silent. Like Chaplin. Or Andie McDowell with her throat ripped out by wolves. Which would be cool to see.