I, Madman [VHS]
1989 VHS copy of movie. Virginia works at a used book store. She's really into horror novels and discovers a really good book. It's called "I, Madman" and it's about an insane doctor who cuts off people's noses, ears, and hair and puts them on his face to please a girl he likes. Only Virginia discovers that the book is nonfiction, and every time she picks up the book to read it, she sees him. The insane doctor from the book has escaped the book into our reality. Director:Tibor Takács (as Tibor Takacs) Writer:David Chaskin Stars:Jenny Wright, Clayton Rohner, Randall William Cook
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This movie has a certain amount of style that I appreciated. It does fit in nicely with the slasher genre. The acting is not exceptional but it works. It's that bizarre ending that I really-really love; it's unexpected and yet makes perfect sense.
Wright plays Virginia, a literate, attractive woman and aspiring actress who makes ends meet by working in a used bookstore, and has an affinity for seedy pulp fiction novels from the 50's, particularly ones penned by an author named Malcolm Brand. The trouble begins as Virginia notices that the horrific events in the novel start to translate into real life, as fiction becomes fact, and she's somehow centered in the middle of it...soon she starts seeing the villain from the story, a skulking, darkly garbed killer (Cook) who wears a mask over the lower part of his face (looking much like The Shadow), is a whiz with the straight edge razor, and seems to have the ability to appear from nowhere. The police are baffled by a recent spate of strange and unexplained murders, but Virginia notices the similarities between the events in the book and those in real life, and believes she can predict the killer's next move. She offers this information to her boyfriend Richard (Rohner), who's a police detective, but Richard and his colleagues are a little skeptical (okay, a lot skeptical) and think her like a Snickers bar, you know, a bit nutty. As the police investigation eventually goes nowhere, they become more inclined to listen to Virginia, but it may be already too late, as the killer's motives and intentions are revealed, along with a few interesting facts about the now deceased author Malcolm Brand.
At a time when slasher films were run of the mill, I, Madman presented a clever and interesting story tinged with a bit of the gothic, but I think it ended up getting lost in the shuffle as the genre grew stale, as studios had bled it to the point of anemia (the lame trailer didn't help any). The movie has the slight feel of a Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street) film (the mixing of realities), but director Takács avoids Craven's style as a blueprint. He knows how to set up a scene and creates a level of tension and suspense that kept me drawn into the story throughout. I really liked how he handles the violence in the film, as it wasn't shown very often, but you always knew what was occurring. There is a good deal of violence in the film, but it is rarely shown on screen. An example of this is when Virginia is watching from her apartment window the killer stalking a victim in a building across the way. The killer draws the shades, but the silhouettes of him and his victim are clear, as is the subsequent actions, and the audience is left to fill in the rest in their imagination. There's another scene where a woman is getting attacked in her bathroom, and while we know what is going on, the violence is obscured as the scene is shot from behind the killer, but it's clear what's happening due to the killer's almost exaggerated movements. I really liked the use of color and atmospheric elements throughout the film, as they helped create a feel, a mood that other films in the genre lacked, or tried to develop but failed miserably. Also, his transitioning between time periods (the main character would often imagine herself as part of the stories she read) was flawless. I thought the actors all did very well, most all playing their roles within character, never really hamming it up or going overboard. The makeup on the killer (done by the person who played the role) was exceptional and quite gruesome, giving the character a realistic quality. Were the flaws in the film? There may have been, but I really didn't notice...I feel if the effort is there, and there's enough solid material and decent performances, I find myself willing to overlook certain superficial elements that may work against the movie. I suppose if I were to pick on something it might be the stop motion work. Most parts looked good, but there were one or two moments where it didn't feel entirely lifelike (given the probable limited budget of the film, picking on this would be an easy target). Takács usage of stop motion in his previous film, The Gate (1987), looked much the same as here, but since I liked that story as much as I did this one, it was easy to dismiss any perceived faults.
My only disappointment of this film was in its' lackluster DVD release. Presented is only the fullscreen format. Why MGM couldn't have dug up the original wide screen format and included it also is beyond me. The picture quality is decent, and the vibrant colors come through most of the time. The only extra is the lame theatrical trailer.
Here's what I especially like: an old, ratty, dusty, used book store piled high with old, ratty, dusty, used books that you can spend hours and hours browsing in (they are fast disappearing if not yet totally extinct); the menagerie of characters who frequent same; creepy, lurid trash novels from the 1940s and 1950s; a quite sinister but hammy, Phantom of the Opera/Dr. Frankenstein love-sick (what they used to call, torch-bearing) villain; vivid flashbacks to the 1940s; and of course, Jennifer Wright who acts her fanny off in this little cult charmer.
Will everyone like it? No, but who really cares? Not I! For me this movie is the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. I start smiling every time I push the play button and stay that way all the way through the movie - including the ending credits with the lushly corny, original rendition of the 1950s hit song, "Chanson D'Amour."
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