A.J.’s Big ’80s Horrorthon #19: “I, Madman” (1989)

by A.J. Hakari

I, Madman begins with a premise that could have very well played out into a mini-meta masterpiece. Our imaginations already crank out better monsters than visual media, so why not just make a movie where someone’s own daydreams become a living nightmare? Think of a gentler Candyman mixed with hints of pulp noir, and you’ve got I, Madman…or at least you have what it tried to be, had an underwhelming second and third act not steered it down a disappointingly generic path.

Virginia (Jenny Wright) gets the sort of chill out of reading seedy ’50s paperbacks that would land her a TLC show these days. Tales about sex, sin, and death light her fire in a big way, and as our story begins, she’s on the hunt for a particularly rare volume entitled “I, Madman.” Oddly enough, the book pops up on Virginia’s doorstep out of the blue one day, and in no time, she’s caught up in the exploits of a psycho who removes pieces of his victims to slap on his own disfigured mug. But it’s not long before Virginia’s acquaintances start to turn up dead in ways described in “I, Madman,” leading her to believe that the killer has somehow stepped out of the printed page and taken to twisting her world into a real life horror story.

Just going by the first twenty minutes, I’d swear that I, Madman would have had me hook, line, and slasher. The movie’s initial scenes flip-flop between Virginia’s day-to-day routine as a mousy retail clerk and her lurid period fantasies. The tenuous grip on her reality that ensues would make a great springboard into an ambiguous mystery based on how deeply violent media truly effects us. But director Tibor Takacs (The Gate) seems to lose interest after he’s set up the stage. The bulk of I, Madman is a “girl who cried wolf”-style thriller that has Virginia unable to convince the authorites that Mr. Putrid Puss of her book is real, and frankly, it does a pretty lazy job. Oh, sure, Takacs throws the audience a stop-motion jackal man to perk up the climax, but it’s only after he’s derived much of the story’s suspense out of Virginia being an unforgivable bonehead.

I, Madman has a mighty fine hook to it, doing something different for horror in a year when the genre gave us Freddy, Jason, and Michael at their absolute lowest points. But it would’ve done the flick a world of good to follow up on its promising start, to really futz around with Virginia’s mental stability instead of spending the long run as a Rear Window retread. The cult appeal of I, Madman is understandable, but why the film came to give its own plot an indifferent shrug is not.