I love a good horror book. And, even more than that, I love a good horror story. Regardless of medium. And I really take to stories about stories, either being created or consumed. 1989’s I, Madman is basically that: a story about a story, or maybe even a story within a story. One of my favorite, and one of the more unfortunately underrated, horror films of the 90s is John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness and I, Madman is very, very similar to that. But, where Carpenter’s film focuses almost entirely on the psychosis of the writer, I, Madman is concerned with the reader and that is far more relatable.
I, Madman has an interesting pedigree to it. It’s from the director of one of my favorite 80s flicks, The Gate, Tibor Takacs and is written by David Chaskin who gave us the batshit Nightmare On Elm St 2: Freddy’s Revenge. And the lead actress is Jenny Wright who most will immediately recognize from Near Dark, released just two years prior. Effects, including some fun stop motion work, are courtesy of Randall William Cook who also worked with Takacs on The Gate and helped bring things to life in Fright Night, Q: The Winged Serpent, and most recently worked with WETA on The Lord of the Rings films. It’s a strange, yet qualified group of people working to bring something fairly unique to screen. And it sort of works. Sort of.
What’s most strange about I, Madman initially is how unclassifiable it is. It tends to get labeled as a slasher flick pretty often, but it really doesn’t follow the conventions of the genre. For my money, it works as an eccentric adaptation of Phantom of the Opera, with the “madman” being a doctor who shrouds his face and collects pieces of victim’s faces in order to re-design his own for the purposes of appealing to a woman he desires. Yet, outside of the fairly high gore quotient, fans of practical effects won’t be disappointed here, and the stop motion fueled climax, it almost lacks any real horror. Takacs has never made a truly scary film as most of his genre work relies on humor as much as terror, this is the guy who gave us the Sabrina the Teenage Witch movie, after all, and I, Madman is no different. It has a strong streak of black humor running throughout and it falls into the conventions of a pulpy mystery more often than what we’d expect from 80s horror. Still, it’s a fun film albeit an uneven one and if you can go in expecting a gruesome mash-up of In the Mouth of Madness and The Gate, you should find enough to be entertained by and maybe even admire.
Scream Factory have brought I, Madman to HD and the results are pretty solid. It was previously available on DVD from MGM and it looked passable at best, so what we have here is certainly an improvement. The source is in generally good shape overall, with some minor specks and scratches appearing but nothing overly detrimental. Grain is present throughout yet is uneven, with some compression artifacts showing up sporadically. Colors and blacks are solid throughout though and it definitely looks the best it ever has on home video. It’s not perfect, but it’ll please fans. Audio is in 5.1 and 2.0 DTS HD options, with 2.0 being ideal as it is faithful to the source. I didn’t notice any glaring issues with either track and fans will be happy to have both.
Supplements are strong, starting with a commentary by Takacs and Cook. It’s very informative with a lot of technical talk about the effects thanks to Cook’s presence, he also plays the villain in the film, and it gets fairly anecdotal at times too. It’s absolutely worth a listen for fans. Following that, there’s a half hour long “making of” which contains a lot of new interview footage and is a nice addition to the commentary. It’s polished and informative and no way EPK fluff. After that, we get some “behind the scenes footage” which is rough on-set material that also contains commentary by Takacs which allows for some necessary context. There’s also a couple trailers and still galleries.
I, Madman is a fun, strange film that seems to be in search of a genre and an audience. It certainly isn’t as well known as it should be but also won’t appeal to many due to how esoteric it can be at times. Fans of Takacs’ brand of comedy tinged horror filled with practical effects will likely have a great time with it and those on the fence should give it a rent. Scream Factory’s presentation is solid and includes a hefty batch of quality supplements that should please fans. Recommended.