Sunday, September 30, 2012

I, Mad Reviewer: "I, Madman" (1989)

Jenny Wright is Virginia, a mousy bookstore worker/wannabe actress who gets caught up in a horror novel by an author named Malcolm Brand. The books are so vivid that Virginia often pictures herself in the books. Takacs' reworking of this familiar theme fails due to his reliance on some very old horror film conventions.

Virginia searches for Brand's second novel, "I, Madman," after finishing the first, which involved a demonic creature who takes its revenge on its creator. In the second story, the madman of the title has razored off his own facial features in order to please the woman he loves. He then tracks down better features, using the woman's friends as his own personal parts store.

In Virginia's world, a competing actress is killed and scalped. The madman shows himself to Virginia wearing the other actress' red hair, and Virginia is troubled. Luckily, she has a cop beauhunk who likes to come over without knocking and scaring the living daylights out of her (and supposedly the audience). Soon, the piano repair guy across the street has his ears removed, and Virginia goes to the police, who poo poo her story and send her packing.

Now, here is where the film lost me. Virginia reads in the book where the next victim is a swarthy Mediterranean type with one heck of a schnoz. She does a little stakeout of her own where the murder will take place, and bam, her swarthy Mediterranean type friend from acting class with one heck of a schnoz sits down next to her and they have a chat. He leaves and she still looks for, everybody now, the swarthy Mediterranean type with one heck of a schnoz. Of course, Virginia realizes her dumb mistake too late and runs after Mr. Swarthy in time to see him killed and...denosed?

Now cop beauhunk and his lieutenant are all ears (so to speak), and Virginia reads in the book that the next victim will be a librarian watched over by cats. Virginia, not learning her lesson, decides the killer will strike next at a library. Now, every victim so far has had a connection to Virginia, except this one. And Virginia has completely forgotten her sassy coworker at the bookstore who recently acquired a stray cat...and is working alone that same night.

The director then gives us a convoluted scene at the library, where we know the killer IS NOT, and even a shadowy figure who turns out to be some poor janitor who finds himself looking down the barrels of some dozen and a half police issue firearms. How he snuck through the dragnet thrown up around the library by the cops is never explained. The finale, involving Virginia and the madman, is not bad, until the old "whew, the killer is dead, we can relax...look out behind you, he's alive!" ploy comes into play.

The villain, who turns out to be the author himself (no spoiler, this is easier to figure out than "Blue's Clues"), is very good. Lots of shadowy and backlit shots really make him effective, as does the bizarre facial reconstruction he decides to attempt. The gore here is very convincing, but the stop motion animation Takacs used to better effect in "The Gate" is not. No one ever explains why Malcolm Brand came back to haunt Virginia, and no one else.

I coasted along with "I, Madman" on its good intentions for long enough, but eventually the whole thing strayed into familiar territory, and then tried to convince me they were up to something completely new and different. In the end, I cannot get too manic about "I, Madman." (* *) out of five stars.