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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

I, Madman Tibor Takacs 1989

I. Fagfan

There are a lot of horror movies out there, folks. A lot. And when you take up the cross like I do, strapping yourself to the duty of exhaustively plugging through absolutely every one you can find and then pausing to cough up a critical hairball or two up here for you goons to laugh at (or with, if I get lucky), you sadly just don’t have the luxury of taking the time to watch all of them over and over. It’s just not temporally feasible – time spent compulsively rewatching the blonde girl from I Saw What You Did say “I mean, kooky!” over and over between Goldschlager shots is time that could be spent watching something completely new (again, between Goldschlager shots) and review-worthy. So when there is a film out there – particularly a film made since, say, 1985 – that I’ve seen a dozen times and would gladly pop in right now just to prove a point and avoid having to sit through another Rob Zombie movie, that’s something real special. Like, “special”, even.

Such a film is the woefully overlooked and underappreciated supernatural slasher I, Madman. An odd post-slasher belch in the genre wasteland that was the late 80s, Madman was fresh, weird, and more than a little Canadian – enough to ensure that it would be ignored at the box office and beloved by me, as I still cling to my tattered VHS copy with its fabulous original artwork of two figures grappling on a giant open book (the DVD cover art is utter poop). Written by Freddy’s Revenge scribe David Chaskin (hmmm….?) and directed by Tibor Takacs (who had a few years earlier brought us the wonderfully inventive tween horror flick The Gate, and has since unleashed Sabrina, the Teenage Witch on an undeserving public), I, Madman is rich with atmosphere, filled with unexpected humor, and deliciously inventive – and indeed far more interesting than someone showing up to the teen horror party about 5 years too late has any right to be.

Madman begins in a wonderfully decrepit hotel in the 1930s, 1920s, I don’t know – whatever, their lamps are funny-looking. Apparently a deranged scientist of some sort has been stinking up his room and making weird noises, and the concierge goes to investigate, finding a disgusting laboratory and some kind of creature locked in a box. In the suite next door, a lovely young woman languishes in her bedclothes, reading. She hears a struggle next door, and suddenly the wall implodes and a truly bizarre-looking Harryhousen knockoff comes bounding through the hole.

Suddenly, we cut to a boho but cute apartment on a rainy night, where bookish Virginia (Jenny Wright, best known as Mae, the troubled trailer trash vampire who got to get all fangly with smokin’ hot Adrian Pasdar in Near Dark) is sitting alone, reading a lurid pulp novel called Much of Madness, More of Sin. Allow me to pause for a moment to point out that this is quite possibly the best book title EVER. Read it again and let it fester: Much of Madness, More of Sin. Most of Hotness, even.

Virginia is bugged out by the book, but the sounds of the security guard tickling ivories at the nearby piano factory (nice touch, boys!) calms her. Soon enough Ginnie’s man-candy Richard (80s standby Clayton Rohner, from April Fool’s Day and Just One of the Guys), a police detective, shows up, and before he can say, “Yeah – and I’m Cindy Lauper”, the two get down to some nasty, which calms her down a bit. It’s interesting to see characters who are outwardly totally not sexy – he’s a tired mid-level cop, she’s a bookworm – have a sex scene, particularly one so early in the movie. It’s kind of hot, but not in a porny way – more in a “huh, these people really love each other” way. Which, now that I think about it, is kind of icky. Bring on some carnage!

Fortunately, there is carnage to be had – and it’s delicious. It seems that the anti-hero of the book, Doctor Kessler, is madly in love with beautiful actress Anna Templer. But he’s totally fug and she wants nothing to do with him, so he cuts off all his facial features and begins killing people with prettier ones, which he lops off and stitches onto his own face. Hot, right?! It’s like The Texas Chainsaw Makeover. Virginia is really into this book – I mean, really INTO this book: whenever she reads about this creepy Doctor Kessler stalking beautiful actress Anna Templer, she feels like she herself is Anna, and loses track of real time (note the steaming kettle trick, done a good 14 years before Hide and Seek). And to make matters creepier, a series of murders start occurring around her urban Canadian neighborhood that seem to correlate directly to the murders in the book. So when Gin-Gin reads about some flame-haired floozy getting scalped in her flophouse hotel, one of her fellow acting students loses her locks (and her life) in the exact same way.

Even more disconcerting is the fact that Doctor Potatohead has been popping up and accosting Ginnie in order to show off his new features. There’s a totally hot moment at a bus stop where he slaps Gin on the back hard enough to knock her over (ooh, you romantic schemer, you!), and when she turns around he’s holding a scarf over his missing face and twirling his fingers through his newly-acquired hair most coquettishly (he even belches, “DO YOU LIKE THE COLOR?”). It’s totally awesome. Virginia becomes increasingly disturbed by these visitations and starts investigating the book and its author, Malcolm Brand – who, it turns out, recently had his estate seized and sold off. Much of his library ended up in her bookstore, which is how she came across his writing. Only thing is, the books are classified as “nonfiction” – could this Brand guy really have done this shit?

Virginia tracks down Brand’s publisher, finds his old trunk in the bookstore attic, and even goes undercover as a librarian in a sting operation designed to catch the killer (she bases her theory on Brand’s book, which suggests that the next victim will be between the quiet “cats”, which Virginia interprets as the lions at the library). It’s a very rare occasion that a police procedural blends in seamlessly with a slasher, but the fact that Richard is a detective and the whole investigation is decidedly clumsy makes it work. Things get increasingly closer-to-home for Ginny, with her acting partner dying horribly, not to mention her friend and the security guard who plays the piano in the warehouse behind her apartment (this is my favorite scene, actually – it’s got a delicious Rear Window feel to it that’s very well executed). Will Gin-Gin and Richard catch Brand before he gets to Anna?

All the while, the insanely catchy “Chanson D’Amour” plays on the soundtrack (“Rah-ta-da-ta-da…”), the blood flows freely, and kitchy set decorations pile up like so many pipe-bombed vintage stores. Seriously, the look of this film (aside from being a bit cheap and Canadian-looking, like all the best go-go-boys) is completely unique, and the jumps back and forth from 1989 to the deco period are just wonderful. As in the underappreciated The Gate, Takacs’ inventive visual style is on full display (and yes, I’m including the woefully dated stop-motion Jackal Boy, which I think is perfectly charming, given the subject matter and time period at hand), not to mention a sick sense of irony and humor. For my money, this is one of the best high-concept slashers out there, and definitely worth a look. And I don’t mind if you think me crazy for saying so. DO YOU LIKE THE COLOR?!?.

Rating (out of 5):