I, MADMAN (1989) Blu-ray
Director: Tibor Takács
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

Tibor Takács followed up THE GATE with the sadly underrated I, MADMAN which hopes to build a new cult following on Blu-ray in a neat special edition courtesy of Scream Factory.

Aspiring actress Virginia (Jenny Wright, NEAR DARK) works in a bookstore to indulge her guilty pleasure of reading lurid pulp fiction. After finishing the particularly engrossing "Much of Madness, More of Sin" by Malcolm Brand that she found in the lot of a recent estate sale, Virginia goes searching for Brand's sole follow-up novel "I, Madman" only to discover it on her doorstep one evening. The book's story of a tormented poet/medical student who sliced away his facial features and started grafting more desirable ones from unfortunate victims to win the love of a young actress proves particularly vivid for Virginia when Malcolm Brand (the film's visual effects creator Randall William Cook) shows up in real life believing her to be his lost love. At first, Virginia believes she is hallucinating until her acting class rival (Michelle Jordan) is brutally murdered and Brand shows up wearing her flayed scalp. When she witnesses Brand murder a piano-playing security guard for his ears, her description of the killer and explanation of his origins provides no small amount of embarrassment for her detective boyfriend Richard (Clayton Rohner, APRIL FOOL'S DAY). The police, however, soon begin to believe that the culprit is some copycat killer when another murder seems to have been ripped from the pages of Brand's pulp novel. Virginia is convinced that Brand has literally stepped out of his own work which she discovers was marketed as "non-fiction" and learns from his publisher (Murray Rubin, GHOSTBUSTERS) just how much of "I, Madman" mirrored his reality. As the murders continue, Virginia worries that she will suffer the same fate as the actress in the book ("I'll have your heart one way or another").

A unique twist on both the slasher and nightmare logic works of the eighties, I, MADMAN – written by A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART II's David Chaskin – is neither a typical body count film or a Freddy Krueger knock-off. The film exists in a noir Los Angeles that is able meld the period setting of the pulp novels and a modern day still populated by hardboiled cops, gum-smacking shop girls (like comedian Stephanie Hodge's lovelorn bookseller), and fast-talking flimflamming publishers without actually inhabiting some alternate reality, which allows for a more seamless transition between Virginia's waking reality and the way she impinges on the world of the book and vice versa. The film is not a total success as the middle drags a little as one does indeed realize the underlying body count aspect and realizing who the next victims are long before Virginia (which is detrimental to the entire section devoted to the police stakeout), but the film's style is singular and leads Wright and Rohner likable. Cook, who had worked on the visual effects for Takacs' THE GATE, also animated the stop-motion finale which fans of old-fashioned effects may enjoy but may have had the same impact as the Harryhausen-esque Freddy skeleton at the end of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3 for some viewers. Producer Rafael Eisenman produced this film and TEEN WITCH for Trans World before becoming involved with Mark Damon and Zalman King for whom he would produce WILD ORCHID II and RED SHOE DIARIES (as well as directing several episodes for that series).

Given minimal theatrical play by Trans World Entertainment before its video and laser release by Media Home Entertainment, I, MADMAN hit DVD from MGM with a ho-hum fullscreen transfer and the film's trailer as the sole extra. Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer cannot help but best previous versions with a new transfer with a sharp image that nicely reproduces the film's color palette (in which the color noir-ish look is more a matter of Bryan England's (FRIDAY THE 13TH VII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN) lighting and design choices rather than the extensive muted color correction we are accustomed to seeing these days). Night scenes are well-detailed and the grain is generally fine (there may be some noise in the shadows during the sequence in which Virginia witnesses Brand dispatching his "nose" victim) but the dark library interiors during the stakeout have a nice added depth to the shadows over the old DVD (which now looks more like it might be the master used for the tape and laserdisc rather than a fullscreen transfer struck later by MGM themselves for other use). The Ultra Stereo track is offered in both DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and a 5.1 upmix that gives the already playful sound design a bit more spread (although one would never mistake it for a modern 5.1 mix). Optional English SDH subtitles are also available.

Extras start off with an audio commentary by director Tibor Takacs and effects creator Randall William Cook moderated by Icons of Frights' Rob Galluzzo. Takacs recalls how after THE GATE he kept getting scripts and offers for films that were either variations on that film or standard slasher fare. When he received the script of I, MADMAN (as HARDCOVER), it fell in with his love of pulp fiction and their lurid covers. Takacs discusses the casting process and the push to cast a name actress (he does not recall who here, but in the featurette he mentions that TWE wanted Andie MacDowell) and they both recall working with Wright and her career choices (all three are obviously quite infatuated with the memory of her from this and NEAR DARK). Cook discusses acting and making himself up – with some assistance from Craig Reardon (THE UNSEEN) – and the difficulties of animating the stop-motion effects and matching them to some of the low-light shots. Cook also recalls how all of the locations smelled like cat piss, which he would then realize that it was the smell of the prosthetic appliances (he expands on the anecdote in one of the extras). Takacs also discusses how TWE was against his choice of Michael Hoenig (THE BLOB) – who also scored THE GATE – as composer in favor of a bigger name. The director felt the delivered score was too big for the film and TWE consented to his using Hoenig.

"Ripped from the Pages: The Making of I, MADMAN" (33:23) features contributions from director Takacs, actor/effects artist Cook, writer Chaskin, and actors Rohner and Hodge. Takacs and Cook do overlap with the commentary in some aspects like a discussion of how they became involved in the production but Chaskin provides detail on the origins of the project. He had been contacted by Deran Serafian (THE FALLING) who was directing an adaptation of "The Colour Out of Space" for Trans World (which would eventually be helmed by actor David Keith with input from Lucio Fulci and producer Ovidio G. Assonitis as THE CURSE) when he was contacted by TWE's Moshe Diamant who had the idea of a monster that comes out of a book. Takacs discusses the film's critical and audience reception with Roger Ebert loving the film and it finding most of its fans in Europe (as well as Russia which Takacs suggests had been so deprived of horror films that they screamed at every over familiar false scare). Cook makes some self-deprecating remarks about having to make himself up to be ugly as Brand, and how he got on with his cast mates while Rohner and Hodge recall working with Wright and Cook and offer contrasting opinions on the title change from HARDCOVER to I, MADMAN.

Cook also provides commentary to the Behind the Scenes Footage (11:07) – some of which is seen in the above featurette – in which he describes how he had to block the climactic fight in front of and behind the camera to make sure it all lined up for stop-motion (which was filmed against a projection screen of the live action rather than a bluescreen composite). Cook also narrates a stills gallery (6:45) on an alternate track (the default track features music from the film) further describing some of the effects, production anecdotes, and memories of the film. The film's theatrical trailer (2:11) is presented here with the HARDCOVER title while the video trailer (1:16) features the I, MADMAN title. Both the front cover and the reversible cover are superior to the Media VHS/laser artwork. (Eric Cotenas)