Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Reader Recommendation: I, Madman (1989)

As recommended by Franco at The Film Connoisseur

I've got to say I've never been much of a hardcore horror fan. The types of horror movies I do enjoy either have to have elaborate special effects or some clever story-telling hook. Thankfully I, Madman has a little of both these things but what really got me interested in it was that it was the sophomore effort by director Tibor Takacs. Takacs had made a minor splash in 1987 when he directed The Gate, a great little twisted variation on ET, Critters and Gremlins and all those other films about kids getting into supernatural trouble in the suburbs. If you haven't seen it, go see it now. Young Stephen Dorff finds a portal to hell in his backyard. 'Nuff said. Anyway, I had always gotten the impression that Takac's directing career had gone down the drain after he made that movie, reduced to directing the odd episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Syfy original films like Mansquito, but luckily he'd managed to make this little gem before that happened.

I Madman sees Jenny Wright play Virginia, a clerk at a large second hand bookshop who loves nothing more than losing herself in a good book. Her current read is 'I, Madman' a lurid horror novel about a deranged doctor who kills people, cuts off various parts - noses, hair, ears - and stitches them onto his own face in order to impress an actress. However the more she reads the more she starts hallucinating that the doctor is real and is actually stalking her. Surely, her mind is playing tricks on her or is it? Meanwhile her cop boyfriend is getting called to grisly murder scenes night after night that seem to replicate exactly how people die in the book. Has the killer escaped the pages of the novel or is it the work of a psychopathic copycat fan?

What's great about I, Madman is that it's just a wonderful self referential concept for a horror film - what if you became so engrossed in a story that is started to seep into the real world? John Carpenter played with a similar concept a few years later with In the Mouth of Madness. On the one hand, this is a far tighter film than Carpenter's (which fired off in too many directions) but on the other hand it's also less ambitious. It's a smaller, neater story and probably all the better for it. Takacs gives the film a slightly dreamy, timeless feel; caught somewhere between 1980s and 1950s. I've also got to commend him for using grown-up characters when every other horror film of the period was using teenagers.

Another film that this reminded me of a little is A Nightmare on Elm Street, which also had a killer who was brought back to life by people's subconscious. Interestingly, the screenwriter of this, David Chaskin, also wrote the first Nightmare sequel - remember the one with gay undertones where Freddy Kruger actually breaks into the real world. Like I said it's a nice compact story with appropriately creepy bits and some nice twists. It's maybe too self-aware and campy to be genuinely scary. It's more the movie equivalent of a fairground 'ghost train'. There's some nice set pieces, one in particular lifts directly from Rear Window with Virginia trying to warn her piano playing neighbour across the street that the killer is in his house. Jenny Wright is pretty good as Virginia, she makes for an appealing and vulnerable lead without ever seeming stupid and there's good support from the rest of the cast too.
The central villain in I Madman is a pretty cool creation with a clever hook. He's played by Randall William Cook, who was actually the lead special effects man on the movie. He convinced the Takacs that he should play the role to save time. He doesn't get much dialogue but he cuts an imposing figure (I hope he got double pay for doing two jobs). In fact the special effects in the whole film are top notch. It's not an especially gory film, in fact it's probably quite restrained by contemporary standards. Takacs reuses one of the stop motion demons from The Gate in a couple of places. I've got to say although it looks very fake and takes you out of the film a little it really adds to the pulpy atmosphere so I'm glad he kept it in.

In terms of bad points, the film has one or two. There's a couple of scenes where the dialogue and suspense fall flat - in particular one scene where the killer corners Virginia in an elevator. It's just such a confined setting that instead of seeming intimidating it seems faintly ridiculous and the actors are clearly unsure how to play it. Also, the film really needed a few more twists, a couple of times as a viewer you're way ahead of the protagonist and it's a bit of a bore while they catch up with you. That said, I like how neatly Chaskin ties up the movie with a fun little fight scene.

I can't call I, Madman a full five star movie but it's very solid entertainment - the perfect movie to curl up with late at night. Takacs showed some real talent with this film and The Gate. It's a shame he disappeared into directing faceless TV movies because he had quite a tangible style and sense of humour that is quite rare in the horror genre.


To read Franco's original review click here


  1. Thanks for the kind words dude, glad you enjoyed I, Madman, it's a cool b-movie, and I love it for it. It's obviously made by people who love slashers, b-movies, and pulpy thrashy novels.

    It makes sense that it was written by the same guy that wrote Freddy's Revenge, they both play with similar themes, about a boogy man that exists mostly within peoples subconscious crossing over to the real world.

    Totally agree, this is a far simpler film than Carpenters In the Mouth of Madness, but I like the fact that it's a more personal horror film, a smaller scale story with a simpler tale, that works wonders sometimes on a film, I think it worked on this one.

    Cool review Jack! And thanks for the link!

  2. Hey Franco, no thank you for recommending me the film. It was just a really fun movie.

  3. I like this flick a lot too. Takacs is a very underappreciated director. He also directed Mansquito, a personal favorite.

  4. Damn, I feel bad for dissing Mansquito in the review. Maybe I need to see it again - it does star Parker Lewis so it can't be all bad.

  5. I remember reading Franco's review back when he posted it and this movie sounded pretty interesting. I still have to get around to seeing it but I'm looking forward to it even more now. I liked The Gate too.

  6. Yeah, The Gate was a fun little flick. If you liked that you'll enjoy this.

  7. I can't believe I've never seen this! Where the hell have I been? This came out when I was obsessed with these kinds of movies. I don't even know what to say. Shame on me. I'll have to fix that pronto. Great review man!