Ken W. Hanley
For hardcore horror fans, it’s easy to understand the appeal and fascination with pulp horror. The vivid colors, the over-the-top villains, the sardonic twists on morality plays; they were Grimm Fairy Tales but with a flamboyant sense of humor for a very repressed generation. And yet these tales often stand the test of time as their surreal, kitschy stories tap into a part of our imagination that is underserved, giving way to such memorably macabre movies as CREEPSHOW, TALES FROM THE CRYPT and I, MADMAN.
I, MADMAN is the least known of the bunch, but undeservedly so: the film operates in a post-NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET slasher mold but with a perfect balance between cartoonish fun and savage, FX-friendly violence. The film follows a young woman (played by NEAR DARK’s Jenny Wright) who is enthralled with golden age pulp horror novels, drawn to the creatures and images she creates in her own head. However, upon becoming affixed on one novel in particular entitled “I, MADMAN” about a mad doctor turned serial killer, the woman begins having vivid visions of the killer targeting her own friends, and believes she may have unleashed the fictional killer into her reality.
While the aesthetics are very familiar to horror filmmakers of its era, particularly Joe Dante, Dario Argento and Wes Craven, I, MADMAN is a very fun film, dripping with EC Comics influence and a ghoulish creation in Dr. Kessler. But perhaps what makes the film really stand out among its peers is how confident the film is with its fantasy elements, whether its the introduction of a wall-bound monster from stop-motion animation or the frenetic camerawork that creates a larger than life atmosphere. Furthermore, by giving Dr. Kessler insane, obsessive monologues, the character feels much more alive than the slasher villains of the times, even if his methods are much more visceral and macabre than the standard mad doctor character.
In a lot of ways, I, MADMAN is even evocative of psychological horror: if the film’s final twist was to reveal Jenny Wright’s character as a schizophrenic killer, it wouldn’t feel out of place whatsoever. In fact, part of the fun of I, MADMAN is weaving through the paranoia on display, whether it be through the young woman, her detective boyfriend or the cops at large who are investigating these murders. Factor in the vintage horror elements, including much of the art direction and the gorgeous, heightened cinematography, and I, MADMAN is a film that feels like it belongs on a much stronger nostalgia trip than its current state as an obscure horror offering.
The film, directed by THE GATE’s Tibor Takacs, reeks of imaginative gusto even if it doesn’t quite reek of originality; in fact, with slight adjustments, I, MADMAN could exist in the universe of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? just as well as it could TALES FROM THE CRYPT. Part of this might come from some of the more Amblin-esque technical aspects, whether it’s the rousing score from Michael Hoenig to Bryan England’s perpetually curious cinematography even to the impressive effects from Frank Ceglia. But even the performances feel devoted to the colorful material, including Wright and co-stars Clayton Rohner and a very sinister Randall William Cook.
After viewing I, MADMAN, it’s still a mystery how this film didn’t become a word-of-mouth cult success upon its release, although the use of a high concept narrative and a lack of star power could have something to do with it. Had the film waited a year or two until after the HBO series of TALES FROM THE CRYPT instead of angling for a slasher appeal after the subgenre had waned, perhaps we’d be talking about I, MADMAN in a completely different light. However, the film’s status among horror aficianados has certainly grown over the years, and with the film recently getting the Scream Factory Blu-ray treatment, there’s no better time than now to discover this demented fright flick.
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