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I, Madman
(1989)

Director: Tibor Takacs   
Cast:
Jenny Wright, Clayton Rohner, Randall William Cook


Way back when I reviewed the teenspoitation movie The Zoo Gang, I commented on how isolated I was from other people before I was a teenager, and that when my city finally got a bus system and I could freely travel to town, I found that there were few places in town where people my age would hang out. There were a couple of small video arcades, but that was about it. I found that when I would escape from the isolation of my home into town, I would have to find my own places to hang out, places that the average teenager elsewhere would probably not think of going to. One place I would hang out would be the public library. They had a selection of interesting movie-related books that this budding movie lover would read over and over. Another kind of place that I would hang out would be a used book store. We had several in our town, each interesting in their own way. There was one used book store that had plastered on its wall tantalizing movie posters that would captivate me and make me determined to find and watch them some time in my lifetime (I still have to see Nazi Love Camp, but I've seen A*P*E and Mansion Of The Doomed - unfortunately.) Then there was another used book store. It was named Backstreet Books, and curiously kept their name even when they moved from one of my town's back streets to the main street of town. They also happened to have a copy of Naked Came The Stranger when I saw a news story on TV detailing that notorious book that made me want to check out the book myself. (Very interesting, especially for a teenaged mind.)

Then there was the time that a friend of mine (who was friends with the owner of Backstreet Books) told me that the owner was lamenting that he had bought dozens of Don Pendelton's The Executioner action series books from some shifty character who claimed they were very popular, but hadn't sold one copy. Feeling sorry for the guy, I went there and bought one copy, subsequently read it and discovered why I had stopped reading this series years earlier. Anyway, this memory, plus the other book-related memories I have typed out for you have probably illustrated that I have read a wide variety of books in my lifetime. My main love may be movies, but my love for books isn't far behind. Fiction, non-fiction, you name the genre, I've probably read at least several examples of it. That also includes horror fiction. I have experienced horror fiction from my earliest days. When I was young, I thought that the most frightening children's author was Richard Scarry. (Get it? Get it? Ah, isn't my wit superb?) Seriously, my first experience with what may be considered to be horror fiction was with Roald Dahl and his book The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar And Six More. It was a book clearly marketed to kids, yet it contained stories that even adults might find disturbing. I remember one story about a kid held at gunpoint by some other kids as they slaughtered a swan and threatened the kid with being run over by a train. I found out from my sister-in-law years later that she had been awarded the book as a school prize for citizenship (!), and she found it disturbing at a young age as well.

As I grew older, my tastes in horror fiction grew more mature with each passing year. I was into old EC comics (when I could find them) for a while, then eventually I moved into actual horror novels. It probably I, Madmancomes as no surprise that I read a number of novels by Stephen King as an adolescent, some I still reread today, though I stopped reading new ones after I found Needful Things to be so bad that it seemed like a parody of King. I read other horror novelists as the years progressed, like Dean Koontz and John Saul. I haven't read any new horror novels for quite some time, and I haven't been to a used book store for ages, but fond memories of both those things came up when I watched I, Madman, which deals with what horror you just might find in a used book store. Here's the plot description on the back of the video box: "Have you ever been completely enthralled by a thrilling novel? Aspiring actress Virginia Caldwell knows that feeling. Her latest favorite is I, Madman, the grisly story of a psychotic who slices off his facial features in a bizarre attempt to prove his love to a beautiful actress. Horribly deformed, completely mad, he murders his beloved's friends and mutilates their corpses for replacement body parts. To Virginia, it all seems so real. Especially when her own friends are stalked, murdered and mutilated, one by one... Only two people know what will happen next: Virginia. And a bloodsoaked madman who's somehow leapt from the printed page to real life... and death."

Writing out that plot description found on the back of the VHS edition of the movie, some of you are probably thinking that it's not much of one, and maybe I should have got off my lazy butt and written more detail. (Or tracked down the DVD edition of the movie to see if it had a longer and more detailed plot description.) I very well could have, but I decided to keep this thin description so I could make readers feel how I did during the first thirty or so minutes of I, Madman. During that first half hour, I eventually started thinking, "Just what is the horror in this movie?" I am not saying that this first half hour was without merit (merit which I will report later in the review), but that it didn't seem very concerned about informing the audience (or even the movie's characters) what kind of horrific threat that concerned this movie. Some of the setup in this first half hour does pay off eventually (mostly when the last third of the movie starts playing out), but a great deal of the first 30 minutes is devoted to abrupt stops like when female protagonist Virginia (played by Jenny Wright) and her cop boyfriend (Clayton Rohner, Good Vs. Evil) do a little fooling around, footage of some unknown gentleman at night playing a piano at the store across from the protagonist's apartment, and when a fearful Virginia at her used book store job opens a trunk that came from a recent estate sale. (As you may have guessed, nothing dangerous pops out of the trunk.) As I said, some of this setup does pay off eventually, but I think that if the filmmakers had introduced and started to hint about the danger in the movie in this first third of the movie, it would have kept viewers alert instead of squirming in their seats and badly wanting some horror, even if it was gratuitous.

Actually, recalling more of this movie's first half hour, I do remember some gratuitous horror. The movie delivers this in the first few minutes, and what makes these first great few minutes even greater is the clever way (which I will not reveal) that the filmmakers pull the rug out from under the audience not once, but twice. It's a great opening, with some nice old school special effects, and it's too bad the next instance of horror or feeling of a threat doesn't happen until much later. Still, though I did squirm a few times waiting for true danger to rear its head, there were a few other pleasures along the way that I did appreciate. Although there may not be that much horror in the beginning, there is definitely a great effort on the part of the filmmakers in giving this movie a dark, moody feel. There is very little footage here (or later in the movie) that features scenes filmed outdoors during the daytime - almost all of the movie takes place at night, with even the indoor locations dimly lit, and these interiors feel cramped and without an available quick exit handy should something horrible come in. There are all sorts of little touches here and there; although you may wonder for a long time why that man playing the piano is focused on, those slow, somber tunes he plays sure add to an already creepy feeling. Clearly, Tibor Takacs (Sabotage) was on the ball here, taking a somewhat undercooked script and flavoring it up with a taste of horror throughout most of the movie. I'm not saying all the screenplay is badly done, though. There are some moments where characters do the logical thing that we would do in the same basic situation, like when Virginian does research on the author of the two books central to the ongoing horror. These are not only logical actions to attempt, they play out in a way that seems pretty realistic.

However, it seems that for every smart moment in the screenplay for I, Madman, there is at least one really stupid and/or unbelievable moment. Take the scene where Virginia, having seen the face of the homicidal madman that's butchering people all over town, tries to describe the face to the police. This madman is apparently supernatural in nature and has features like having no nose. Any sane person would realize that describing this individual as having come back from the dead and having odd facial features in a normal fashion would have the police thinking you're crazy. Couldn't have the screenwriter given Virginian some smarts and at least attempted to describe and report the murderous individual in a way that sounds more sane? The movie's murderous figure, by the way, is involved in more bad screenwriting. Apart from knowing he was an author who thirty years earlier wrote a pair of lurid books, we learn next to nothing else about him. Even stranger is the screenwriter's decision to not only never explain how this horror writer returned from the dead, but why this undead figure focused on Virginia to be the centerpiece of his plans, instead of choosing another reader of his books.  I should point out that the screenwriter, at least with the boost of director Tackas, didn't make the movie boring. The movie may have an underwritten first third, a lot of unanswered questions and some ridiculous/unbelievable moments, but my interest never at any point started to wane (though there were some close calls.) I guess I'm giving the movie a recommendation, though a mild one. It's up to you to determine if this movie still interests you despite my somewhat lack of enthusiasm.

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See also: Deadline, The Resurrected, Voodoo

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