I, Madman Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)
After a spine-tingling paperback catches the imagination of bookstore clerk, Virginia (Jenny Wright), she seeks out the author's second book, ‘I, Madman.’ But, once she opens the cover, its eerie tale of obsessive love comes to life, catapulting a disfigured, scalpel-wielding killer from the world of fiction onto the streets of Hollywood with one demented goal: to win Virginia's love, one murder at a time! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
While not quite a ‘lost classic,’ Tibor Takacs’ I, Madman (1989) is one of many creative, entertaining, medium budget, late ‘80s horror movies that deserve a second look. Before enjoying a long career in television (everything from softcore cable porn series The Red Shoe Diaries to child-friendly sit-com Sabrina, the Teenage Witch), Takács made I, Madman between two kid-centric horror fantasies, The Gate (1987) and The Gate II: Trespassers (1990). Both of these early films are rough in terms of plotting and pacing, but are more visually arresting than the average B-horror release. This stylistic edge really serves the ‘reality vs. nightmare logic’ of David Chaskin’s (Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge  and The Curse ) reasonably clever script. The ‘in-book’ scenes are shot like EC Comics with inky shadows and hyperactive acrylic colours, which then bleed into the more neo-noir ‘real-world’ sequences. It’s not quite as baroque as the Dario Argento movies or as studied as the John Carpenter movies that Takács drawing upon, but the essence of the pulp literature is beautifully represented.
Takács’ visual strengths and the cast’s easy-going, old fashioned likeability don’t quite make up for the fact that Chaskin’s concepts don’t really fit the expectations for a then-modern, post-slasher horror movie. Intriguing metaphysical and metatextual ideas (besides the book leaking into the real world, the main character is a struggling actress) are constantly interrupted with bland exposition, ineffective cop boyfriend subplots, and even an awkward sex scene worthy of the director’s future in made-for-cable pseudo porn. The slasher motifs also seem to be shoe-horned into the story, but are so enjoyably executed in terms of suspense and gore effects that they fit the off-kilter tone (I would’ve preferred more of the fantasy violence that crops up all too briefly at the end, though). It often seems that I, Madman would’ve made a better short subject, where it could stick to Virginia’s interactions with the book and its fictional murderer, rather than wasting time on developing her day-to-day life. At the very least, this good-looking, well-acted, sometimes cleverly-scripted thriller deserves credit for doing the ‘what if horror novels could manifest themselves in the real world’ thing before Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness (1995) – even if Bernard Rose’s Candyman (1992) does a better job romanticizing the strange relationship between its heroine and supernatural killer.
I, Madman was released on DVD via MGM, but with a cropped 1.33:1 image and zero special features. This disc is both the film’s Blu-ray and widescreen home video debuts (assuming you don’t still have the MGMHD premiere sitting on your DVR). This 1080p, 1.85:1 HD image features a slightly better than average MGM scan. Print damage is minimal (there’s some instability and some white flecks) and grain structure appears pretty natural, minus the digital noise effects that mar some of the studio’s rougher efforts. Cinematographer Bryan England’s comic-noir colors are strongly represented and don’t accidentally bleed into each other as they do on some of Scream Factory’s non-remastered discs. The expressionistic shadows are plenty deep and consistent, which helps facilitate tight details during even the darkest sequences. However, this transfer is the victim of over-sharpening, which creates edge-haloes and other digital artifacts throughout the otherwise handsome images.
For whatever reason, Scream Factory has supplied a 5.1 remix option alongside the original stereo soundtrack, which is pretty rare for the label. Both are presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. The remix offers a nicely centered dialogue and incidental effects track, as well as more subtle noise-reduction effects (it seems that many scenes were recorded on noisy sets, because there are some major up-ticks in background sound when characters speak), but has little to offer in terms of directional movement. The stereo track has a slightly tinny quality, but is louder and more full-bodied than its 5.1 counterpart. Michael Hoenig’s classically-tinged synth soundtrack is present to constantly remind the audience of the differences between the more heightened fictional world and the more romantic ‘real-world.’ The richer sound quality of the music is another reason to prefer the original stereo over the 5.1, where the score is spread a little thin.
Commentary with director Tibor Takács and actor/artistic supervisor Randall William Cook – Takács runs out of steam early on in this commentary, but Cook, who was in charge of a lot of the production design and effects, and moderator Rob Galluzzo (of the Icons of Fright website) pick up the slack and keep the discussion moving. Still, the bulk of the information is found in the first 40 minutes, at which point the commentators just sort of react to the on-screen action.
Ripped From The Pages (33:20, HD) – A retrospective featurette that includes interviews with Takács, Cook, screenwriter David Chaskin, and actors Clayton Rohner and Stephanie Hodge.
Raw behind-the-scenes video with audio commentary by Cook (11:10, SD)
Still gallery with optional commentary by Cook
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