Once again, it’s time to throw open the video tape vaults here at the Lair and delve into another diabolical selection from the world of VHS. That’s right; it’s time for another thrilling installment of It Came From Video Tape. Today’s selection, I, Madman, is one that I recall staring at me from the racks of my local video emporium, and now that I got my hands on a copy, I cold not resist firing up the old VCR and giving it a whirl. Plus, I love things that start with I and a Comma, I, Robot (Asimov’s book not Will Smith’s travesty), Christopher Lee’s I, Monster, and the British mini-series I, Claudius come to mind. So with a name like I, Madman and the director of The Gate at the helm, it’s time to press play and see if I‘ll be a happy Bugg or if it ends up with me being I, Mad Man.
Virginia (Jenny Wright) just can’t get enough of Malcolm Brand’s books. After reading his first novel, Much of Madness, More of Sin, she scours the used bookstore she works in to find his other tome, I, Madman. She can’t find it, but when she comes home from acting class, she finds a package containing the book on her doorstep. Virginia can’t put the book down much to the chagrin of her boyfriend Richard (Clayton Rohner). She is deeply disturbed by the book, but can’t get enough of the story of the demented Doctor Kessler. In the book, Kessler is harvesting facial features to make himself more attractive to a girl who says he is ugly. As Virginia gets deeper into the book, the book gets deeper into her world. Murders that are eerily similar to the ones Virginia reads about begin to happen around her, and Virginia begins to be stalked by a man she believes to be Dr Kessler.
Apart from a few supporting players that stumble in their roles, I found I, Madmanto be a highly entertaining film. While it doesn’t ever rise too far above the average, it contains an entertaining mystery, some bloody murders, and a trio of solid performances from the lead actors. I, Madman was the follow up to director Tibor Takács’ demons in suburbia film, The Gate. I saw The Gate years ago, and I can’t quite recall what I thought about that one so unfortunately I can’t comment on if this one was better. Takács brought the script by writer David Caskin (Nightmare on Elm Street 2, The Curse) to the screen with exceptional style, and I really liked how it seamlessly moved from 1989 Los Angeles to the noir world of the book. The film has a quality that felt like what might have happened if Dashiell Hammett and Steven King had a baby and it wrote a book. Sure, it would be ugly as hell, but the book it could write would combine horror, suspense, and paranoia with a helping of detective fiction.
While Takács directed the film with a steady hand and it has its share of cinematic tricks that kept me wondering what would happen next, the film really shines when it comes to the acting. Jenny Wright’s Virginia is a fascinating heroine, and she never comes off as weak or corny. While everyone else thinks she’s off her rocker, she continues her amateur investigation without pause. She also looks pretty good doing it, and her first appearance in a nightie and lace panties instantly grabbed my attention. Wright is probably best known for her role as Mae in the excellent 1987 neo-vampire flick Near Dark, but she also starred in such cult gems as 1989’s Twister with Crispin Glover, the Michael Caine thriller A Shock to the System, and, less impressively, The Lawnmower Man. While Near Dark has all right to be her best known film, I, Madman deserves a special spot on her résumé.
It took me some time to place her co-star Clayton Rohner. Turns out that my geek knowledge paid off, and I realized that he had played an Admiral that aged backwards on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Meanwhile, my wife who was watching this with me pulled out even more geek knowledge when she pegged him as appearing on an episode of Joss Whedon’s Doll House. Rohner was very good in the film, but I would have to say that playing a cop is not his strong suit. The scenes where he was less cop and more boyfriend were much better overall. He also has a seriously hair sprayed coif in parts of this film, and at one point, I feel certain it extended four inches straight from the front of his head.
Really putting on a show was Randall William Cook, a man usually known more for doing effects than being them. A couple of years back Cook picked up an Oscar for his special effects work on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, but someone should have given him some kind of award for his intensely creepy role as the psycho from literature. Cook also headed up the make-up department, and he did a hell of a job with the Kessler makeup that goes from a featureless gruesomeness to an even freakier look later in the film. I’m glad they held off on the reveal of the character in full until the climatic scene as it added to the mystique. While Kessler is not a character that could or should have returned for sequels (even though the cover of Fangoriafeaturing this film read “Move Over Freddy”), he is a character I will not soon forget. I also have to mention that Cook provided some really cool looking stop animation for this film, and it made me happy seeing practical effects done with such style.
At one point in the film, Virginia describes Malcolm Brand’s book by saying it “makes Steven King read like Mother Goose. It’s horrific, but passionate like Poe.” While the film never reaches such a horrific height as she describes, it surely stands out among a sea of mediocre films from the same era. For a night of literary horrors, may I suggest throwing on Tenebre, I, Madman, and In the Mouth of Madness for a triple features of books exacting horror on real life. While I, Madman may be the lesser of the three films, I think you’ll find it an entertaining and all but forgotten film. So check it out. It just goes to show again that you never know what you’ll get when It Came From Video Tape.