Jan 11, 2020

I, MADMAN (1989)

To throw an overused cliché your way, I, Madman is the kind of film no one makes anymore. Not a huge-budget project, not cast-driven, and not based on a franchise or pre-existing material (a big deal for an '80s horror film), I, Madman is, simply put, a movie. It's harmless, charming, inventive, clever, and quite silly, and it's the kind of film that horror audiences hardly ever get to see anymore. Though obviously a product of its times, its use of practical effects and even stop-motion animation, cheesy though they may look nearly thirty years later, pleasantly reek of that old-school filmmaker's mindset of how best to bring the story to life.

The idea of reality and fiction blurring in the eyes of the lead character has proven to service all kinds of genres: I, Madman for horror, The Purple Rose of Cairo for whimsical comedy, and Adaptation for abstract art. The idea of the art on which we depend for mini slices of escapism soon taking over and encompassing our reality not only makes for a clever conceptual hook, but it also satirizes the human experience, which every so often it desperately needs. The inclusion of a sequence in which Virginia is walking down Hollywood Boulevard - more specifically, down the Walk of Fame, housing the stars of many Hollywood elite - only to stop when she sees a newspaper headline about an actress being found murdered, was by purposeful design. It is reality slamming heads with fiction. What I, Madman posits is that, simply, it's okay to escape the mundanity of our lives every so often, but if we fail to confront our realities as presented to us, our fantasies will soon corrupt them, forcing us to act - AND run from claymation mutants.

Director Tibor Takacs is likely better known for the mid-'80s, Steven Dorf-having, backwards-demonic-record-spinning monster mash The Gate, which also featured a healthy dose of his fondness for extravagant practical effects and stop-motion animation. (He's also responsible for the too-weird sequel Gate 2: The Trespassers.) Having disclosed that, I, Madman is the filmmaker's superior effort. The script by David Chaskin (Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge) features reasonably believable characters, given the rather fantastic circumstances in which they exist, existing in their small and somewhat stunted lives. No one's a doctor or a lawyer or some high-falootin' big deal. The lead and the supporting characters are regular everydayers. Chaskin's small touches are the most appreciated, such as the night security guard of the piano repair shop across the street who plays melancholy melodies into the night. Such additions contribute to the uniqueness of our lead heroine's home, so when that home becomes slowly infected by the living nightmares of mysterious pulp writer Malcolm Brand, it allows alternate and unexpected means to make that infestation more disturbing. The fact that the man is a security guard is obviously representative of Virginia's life, which begins losing stability as her razor-wielding threat becomes more and more real. These are the kinds of inclusions that make the script stand out and reinforce the notion it was written with good and artistic intentions, rather than simply counting bodies to drop.

Jenny Wright (with whom many audience members, mostly male, fell in love following her role of Mae in Near Dark) plays a likable lead. Tasked with performing double duty as also playing Anna, the hunted "fictional" heroine of Brand's novels, she's equal parts frumpy and attractive, vulnerable and resourceful, helpless and strong. Alternately, William Randall Cook (also responsible for the film's visual effects) plays the creepy and unnerving antagonist Malcolm Brand. He scalps women, so you know he's a creep. Both actors play well off each other and preserve that essential horror dynamic of strong female versus maniacal male.

In keeping with certain horror expectations, I, Madman presents an engaging and sympathetic lead, an intriguing and psychotic antagonist, inventive special effects, and a healthy dose of the red stuff. Stylistically, it boasts somewhat of a giallo look, consisting of some pretty heavy and unsubtle primary colors, and the gothic and mood-setting score by Michael Hoenig (The Blob) is suitably rich and heavy. A film that manages to be fun, thrilling, philosophical, and creepy all at once, it's a wonder that I, Madman didn't land harder with audiences during its release in 1989. 

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