Horror Movie A Day: Quint on I, MADMAN (1989) I’ll have your heart... one way or the other!
Published at: Oct. 28, 2008, 6:43 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[The regular A Movie A Day list has been frozen in order for me to do an all-horror line-up for October. I’ve pulled many horror titles from my regular “to see” stack and have ordered many more horror and thriller titles to make sure we have some good stuff. Like the regular AMAD column all the movies I’m covering are films I have never seen, but unlike the regular AMAD column I will not connect each film to the one before it. Instead I will pull a title at random every day and watch whatever the movie Gods determine for me.]
Wow, who would have thought that Randy Cook was so fucking scary?
If you’ve watched the behind the scenes docs on the LORD OF THE RINGS DVDs you’ve probably seen Randy. He’s a very talented special effects man who moved into second unit directing for Peter Jackson on KING KONG and is moving toward that goal still to this day.
I met Randy when I was down in New Zealand during the filming of LOTR and at that time I was groveling at his feet for his amazing stop-motion work on one of my favorite ‘80s flicks: THE GATE. He did all those evil little demon fuckers.
The reason I’m dropping his name pretty hardcore is that today’s film deals very much with metafiction… a woman reads a couple of books that start interacting with her life and reality isn’t as it should be.
To make the meta even more fucked up is one of the biggest AMAD fans out there is one Randall William Cook, who sends constant emails and Facebook messages to me about the films I’m covering.
So, how much does that add to the weirdness of this movie? I’m watching a film with a scary-ass heavily-made-up Randy Cook who comes out of a book torturing the reader in real life so I can write about it for an audience that includes Randy Cook!
I just hope I don’t finish writing this up, take a gander left and see him standing in my hallway.
So, yeah. This is a pretty nifty little flick, atypical of its type. It is not content to be a straight up ‘80s horror movie, but insists on a light tone without falling into a straight up horror comedy. There’s also a complicated script based around the idea of fiction imposing itself into our reality.
The opening of the movie has us in an old school apartment that looks like the hotel Barton Fink stayed in, where a strange sound is heard coming from the room of one of the weirder tenants. We get a glimpse of the guy as he leaves… pale, creepy red-yellow eyes… he snarles at the desk guy, who is later ordered to go check out the sound coming from the room.
Of course the room is lit with very theatrical horror lighting that if any of us ever saw upon entering a strange room we’d take as a sign to get the fuck right out of there.
He discovers what they refer to later in the film as the Jackal Boy, an evil creation of the mad Dr. Kessler, which looks a helluva lot like a bigger version of Cook’s GATE demon, executed in the same stop-motion style.
A blonde next door is attacked by this thing and we’re suddenly pulled into a different reality as our lead, Virginia (Jenny Wright of NEAR DARK fame) slams her book shut. She’s been reading this story and it is getting to her, maybe even making her hallucinate.
Oh, and did I mention Jenny Wright starts off in a silk blouse and see-through lace panties? That got some of the guys’ attention, I’m sure.
Turns out Ms. Wright works at a book store and they got a ton of rare books from an Estate Sale once belonging to an obscure author named Malcolm Brand.
Brand wrote two novels and she can’t find the second one called I, MADMAN. One night she comes home to find it resting at the foot of her door. Weird coincidences were happening while reading the first book, but the effects of the second book are instantaneous and unmistakable.
The main villain of the book is the same dude from the first book, who this time falls in love with a blonde (who is played again by Wright as she reads and imagines the world). The girl shuns him for not being good looking enough to consider going out with… So, naturally, the crazy fucker cuts all of his main features off.
There’s not so crazy part… his hair… but then he also takes his ears, mouth, nose and lips.
This is the version that shows up in the real world, lower-face covered like The Shadow, and proceeds to stalk her friends, who all share similarities with the man’s victims in the book by the way, relieving them of different body parts so he can reassemble his face.
With that bugfuck crazy story you can imagine how hard it is to convince the cops you know what’s going on and can even predict what’s going to happen next by reading a little faster. Even her cop boyfriend (‘80s staple Clayton Rohner of JUST ONE OF THE GUYS and APRIL FOOL’S DAY fame) doesn’t believe her wild claims despite her continuing to be the only witness at the crime scenes as she keeps trying her best to prevent them from happening.
There’s surprisingly little play with the idea that she might actually be the killer, which I was a little shocked by, but ultimately kind of relieved that the movie wasn’t trying to sneak in a half-assed twist. We find solid evidence on the scene that the killer is definitely a very tall man and that let me relax and just watch the story as it played itself out.
What is more ambiguous is just how much cross-over we’re getting from book to reality. We come to find out that the author is presumed dead, but considered himself the lead character, going so far as to cut up his face, too. He even insisted his books were published as non-fiction.
They definitively answer that question in the climax which sees the return of Randy Cook’s great stop-motion work.
Randy Cook is surprisingly great in the lead, very expressive through the make-up and definitely a menacing figure. In fact when I saw his name in the opening credits I didn’t know who he played until the closing credits attributed Dr. Kessler/Malcolm Brand to him. I assumed he was a neighbor who plays the piano… we never really see his face, but he was fairly Randy Cook-shaped.
Less phenomenal is Jenny Wright, but she’s not too horrible. I actually found her to be pretty easy to sympathize with and I was pulling for her to win out, so I guess she brought enough to make-up for some awkward line deliveries.
Final Thoughts: This is an under-appreciated gem of the era. It’s not life-changing, but it’s fresh, fun and a cornerstone of that era’s genre effects work. The script by David Chaskin is smart, original and most importantly entertaining. I’d recommend one of two films as a double feature. The first and most obvious is the previous Randy Cook/Tibor Takacs collaboration THE GATE. The stop motion work alone makes it a good double feature… and trust me, that movie is scarier than you probably remember it being… The second feature I’ll talk about below.
Now I promised an add-on to each day of HMAD in this final run up to Halloween Friday night… I had a few ideas, but after watching this movie I couldn’t help but move some of my planned favorites aside and suggest one of John Carpenter’s most under-appreciated and misunderstood films.
IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS got a lot of shit when it came out in 1994, but I think time has been incredibly good to John Carpenter’s film. It’s a perfect double feature with this movie, sharing similar story points, but utilizing a radically different tone.
In fact, if you want to have a three-fer night I’d start with I, MADMAN, move to IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS and cap it off with Carpenter’s scariest film, hand’s down, PRINCE OF DARKNESS.
I think that’s why I love IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS so much… it shares a similar tone to PRINCE OF DARKNESS, which still gives me the nut-shriveling shivers to this day. On top of that, you have a genuinely off-putting premise that promises no escape and gives none.
Neither film is Carpenter’s best, but both are scarier than his best work. I love HALLOWEEN and THE THING more than I possibly convince you of here, but there’s something to ITMOM and POD that really gets under my skin, something the other films don’t have. I don’t know if it’s the hopelessness or the building of tension, but both films make me think Carpenter captured pure evil on the screen.
With IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS you have a fantastically unhinged Sam Neill performance as he investigates the disappearance of Sutter Cane, a horror novelist more popular than Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Clive Barker rolled into one.
You end up with a descent into hell as reality becomes less and less tangible. And the cast is incredible. You get John Glover, Jurgen Prochnow, the great David Warner, Frances Bay (HAPPY GILMORE’s grandma) and a nice scene-chewing cameo by Charlton Heston. And the film also introduced the world to Hayden Christensen in the small role of a paperboy (who is wearing a creepy old-man mask if I remember the movie correctly).
Tons of creatures, a dark tone that gets under your skin, a great cast and fantastic central performance by Sam Neill makes IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS my first recommendation this week as we count down to All Hallows Eve. If you haven’t seen it, grab it and give it a spin. If you have, but a long time ago, I urge you to give it another look.
Fair warning, I may have seen this one in my kiddie and/or teenage years. It’s definitely the kind of trash I loved growing up, or appears to be. And it’s got one Mr. George Clooney back when he had ‘80s hair! See you folks for that one!