30 for 30: I, Madman

Richard Petro

twitter @ThePetroProject

October 27th, 2019

"Do you like the hair?"

     I did genuinely try hard to keep my horror choices to a slight minimum here, as I probably would have easily been able to fill the whole list with horror films I love. Still, I have a specific place in my ehart for 80's horror, finding it my go to at times when I need to relax or just have something playing in the background. They're generally fun and you don't have to pay too much attention to detail, so I felt it'd be remiss not to choose something from the vast list of ones that are in my rotation. But which one to go with? It didn't take me too long to decide on I, Madman, especially since I feel it's an unfortunately relatively forgotten and very underrated horror film of its time.

     When Virginia (Near Dark's Jenny Wright), a clerk at a secondhand bookstore, comes across the pulp-horror work of an author by the name of Malcolm Brand, she quickly falls into the eerie and mysterious world he creates in the book of his she's reading. His second novel, I, Madman, is about a deformed doctor obsessed with an actress who murders and then steals different parts of his victim's faces to sew to his own in an attempt to impress her. Virginia hunts for the book until it appears by her door, and enjoys it until she begins to be stalked by who may be Malcolm Brand, performing the exact same tasks as the deranged doctor in his story. As fiction and reality blur, and she learns more and more about the mysterious and possibly psychotic author, she tries desperately to convince her cop boyfriend of what is happening before it's too late.

     While I, Madman may cross territories that we may have seen plenty of times (primarily the blurring of ficiton and reality), it does so wonderfully, with the tone and feel of the film coming off as pulpy as the novels that Malcolm Brand himself wrote. It also does a great job at actually blending its reality with the fiction, as Virginia is so seemingly haunted by the writing of Brand that it's like she's in a living nightmare. Her stalker is there one moment but has disappeared the next, vanishing into thin air, yet his victims are very much dead. There's always a slight fantasy air to it at moments, with narration and creeping fog perfectly setting its atmosphere.

     Jenny Wright is great here in as Virginia, slowly seeming to edge more and more towards a nervous breakdown with all that is happening around her. She's incredibly sweet and kind hearted, and her curiosity wonderfully leads her on her own little detective journey. She's at once innocent, vulnerable, and strong headed and independent. Jenny Wright is able to make it all come off naturally and seems like she is a driving force between making her character feel more fully fleshed out than you'd expect, or may have ended up being. I wish she had received more prominent roles in works, because she has had a lasting impressionable impact on me from both this and Near Dark.

     Of course, a horror film is only as great as its villain. The effects for the film were made by Randall William Cook, a special effects artist that would go on to be one of the Academy Award winning effects artists for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. His work here on Malcolm Brand/Dr. Kessler is fantastic, an unnerving Frankenstein's monster stitch-up of facial features. Because the preliminary work of facial features being used was so specific to make-up and effects, Cook himself ended up portraying the author himself, and his acting work is marvelous. With piercing eyes and stitched up face, he is incredibly intimidating looking, but it's Cook's voice that truly seals the deal. He doesn't speak much, but when he does his low, ominous timbre is spine chilling. Every phrase he speaks makes him more threatening from his voice alone. It's a prefectly realized performance, creating a villain that is amongst my favourites in horror films.

     I, Madman isn't revolutionary and genre changing when it comes to what it's doing, but everything it does do it executes perfectly, creating a wonderful little movie that is absolutely perfect for the spooky holiday season.