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Director: Tibor Takács
Writers: David Chaskin
Cast: Jenny Wright, Clayton Rohner, Randall William Cook
Length: 89 min
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: July 21, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
- Audio Commentary with Tibor Takács and Randall William Cook
- Ripped from the Pages: Interviews with Cast and the Crew
- Original theatrical trailer
- Photo Gallery
In 1987, Hungarian-born director Tibor Takács would make his name in the genre with the stop-motion horror film The Gate. Grossing almost twice its budget in the opening weekend, The Gate was a surprise success for Takács, and one that, in the end, would go on to gross over 13 million from its modest budget of 2.5. The film showed great promise for the filmmaker but, strangely enough, Takács’ next project would prove to be a fatal step backwards for the filmmaker’s career. Teaming with A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge writer David Chaskin, Takács directed the pulp fiction-meets-slasher hybrid I, Madman. Unlike The Gate, I, Madman was a massive box office failure, grossing only 150k in its US release. Thanks to home video, however, the film remained on the periphery through various VHS and DVD releases. Last week, I, Madman entered a new stage in its distribution cycle, with the first ever Blu-Ray release courtesy of Scream Factory.
Virginia Clayton spends her days and nights in and out of the pages of books, both professionally and recreationally. As a horror novel buff, her job at a independent used book store would seem ideal, that is until a novel called I, Madman mysteriously shows up for her. Taken by the pulpy cover, Clayton begins obsessively tearing through the book’s pages. Written by an unknown author named Malcolm Brand, the book follows the exploits of the obsessive Dr. Kessler, who rebuilds his disfigured face with pieces from his victims’ bodies. Kessler does so in order to win the affection of an actress he has fallen in love with. Clayton is enthralled with the book but begins to worry when she starts seeing images of Kessler invade her life. At first, it’s as if Kessler is speaking to her in her dreams but these fantasies quickly evolve into real-life homicides mimicking those in the book.Now, nearly thirty years removed from the film’s debut, it’s hard to see where the film went wrong. Perhaps its was bankrolled on the idea that it would be more in tone with The Gate, but in reality it is more of a perfect blend between Takács and Chaskin’s sensibilities. The film borrows a lot from the Elm Street style, blending an otherworldliness with everyday reality to create a menacing villain that is equal parts lifelike as he is ethereal. Backed by a rather strong visual aesthetic from Takács, the film beautifully mixes elements of 50s pulp with the 80s contemporary style. There are fragments of stop motion at play, but they are not used as frequently as in The Gate, with Takács focusing more on traditional slasher motifs than anything else.
One thing that should be noted is that the film seems to get a lot of its influence from 60s and 70s horror, deeply indebted to the Phibes series. In that vein, the kills are rather tame for its time. Most of the action is implied; we see a shadow, blood splatter, etc., but usually not the full act itself. This is not a black mark on the film, in fact, it works better than had the film featured more gore, typical of the time period in which it was made. Like Phibes — or Phantom of the Opera and to an extent, even King Kong —, the film’s heart lies essentially in the story of a monster in love, but without the sympathy usually given to the monster. In that respect, I, Madman hits the right notes. It feels authentic to the kind of literature in which it features, while still honoring horror cinema history.
Across the board, performances are solid. Jenny Wright was a strong choice for the lead. Her performance isn’t revelatory but is convincing enough to ground what could otherwise be a ludicrous role. The biggest misstep in casting may, unfortunately, be with the Kessler role. Visually speaking, Randall William Cook was a fine choice, but he really doesn’t have the acting chops the role requires. Principally a Visual Effects artist (to which he was on this film), Cook puts forth a competent effort but leaves a lot to be desired.
The 1.85:1 1080p HD transfer for I, Madman is a rather nice looking print. While far from being one of the catalog’s most impressive transfers, there is still a clear and appreciated avoidance of digital enhancement of the picture. This leaves an image that is at times dark and soft, but one that has a fine level of color and contrast. The palate is bright and faithful and there is a finely intact film grain. Certainly a modest attention and respect for the original filmic elements.
For this release, Scream Factory have provided both a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 audio track, each faithfully projecting the film’s aural components. With no damage present, the mix is strong and respectfully presented by Scream Factory offers more pros than cons.
While the disc is not packed with features, it does offer surprisingly more than would be expected. There is a nice audio commentary with Takács and Cook that will be a treat for those who enjoy technical discussion. While the track is heavy of tech-speak, it does offer a nice balance of discussion topics, so as to not bore those interested more in history/story analysis. Additionally, the 30-minute featurette, Ripped from the Pages, offers a spread of newly commissioned interviews tracking the production of the film. Finally, there is a 11-minute behind-the-scenes video (with commentary from Cook) often looking at the special effects, a photo gallery, and a trailer.
I, Madman may not be as spectacular as The Gate. It may have been a bit too much of a throwback for producers in 1989, who were still trying to capitalize on the slasher craze as much as possible (although it was dwindling). But I, Madman is a beautifully crafted, solid entry into the horror genre. With strong performances, a unique concept/script by Chaskin, and vivid photography led by Takács, I, Madman is more than a throwaway bit of 80s horror. With a nice little set of special features and a good digital print, this Blu-Ray from Scream Factory won’t land on many people’s end of the year lists, but is also sure not to disappoint.