Things I Read Off the Screen in “I, MADMAN”


Upon meeting Shadowplayer and now chum Randall William Cook, Fiona and I became fascinated to dig into his career and find out what he’d been up to before LORD OF THE RINGS. I’d heard of THE GATE, which had occupied the shelves of video rental places during my relatively early days of movie-hunting, but had never seen it. Nor had I seen director Tibor Takacs’ follow-up, intriguingly entitled I, MADMAN. I obtained both.

The film’s first onscreen text: The Hollywood Reporter. Headline: Box Office Tops in 1959. My thesis: films are stuffed with writing, some of it carefully placed by production designers, some of it accidental, forced into the film by the ad hoardings and signage peppering the locations. The two form a dialogue. If we could eavesdrop of this colloquy of scenario and city, we would learn… something.

THE GATE is practically an epic, even though it mostly centres around a single house and a few characters, but I intend to interrogate Mr. Cook in depth about its amazing effects. It has an unusual structure seen also in BRAIN DEAD (AKA DEAD ALIVE) and TITANIC — all build-up for the first half, all — and I mean ALL — action for the second half. Certified genius Alex Winter is currently prepping a remake…

I, MADMAN feels smaller, but packs in a lot of ideas, not quite coherently — and to our great delight, Randy plays a central role, titular madman Malcolm Brand, an author of pulp nasties who somehow has found himself living out his own depraved fictions. To my greater delight, I now realize that Randy is also in Stephen Sayadian’s surreal, dayglo, semi-porno DR CALIGARI, which I must watch again sometime.

But to return to MADMAN — it begins, extremely promisingly, with a vaguely period, Techinicolor noir sequence, exquisitely overplayed by Raf Nazario and Bob Frank (the character players are as consistently exuberant in this movie as the leads are colourless), and then a stop-motion jackal-boy jumps into view, causing Fiona to scream.

There ain’t a lot of stop motion in this movie, but what there is, is cherce.

Much of Madness, More of Sin, by Malcolm Brand.” Very nicely design pulp dustcover, the title a quote from Poe’s The Conqueror Worm, a phrase which fittingly concludes, “…and madness the soul of the plot.”

Turns out this opening is a scene from a paperback the heroine is reading, which means we’re plunged into the eighties, losing most of the flavour the forties/fifties stuff has. But Takacs does get some agreeable effects out of transitioning from one period to the other — as when Jenny Wright, our leading lady walks into the shadows in her regular duds and emerges in gown and big hairdo, all in one shot — an effect presumably inspired by Simone Simon’s transmutation in CAT PEOPLE. At first I suspected a split-screen effect, disguised by the heavy shadows, then I came to suspect that the heroine in red is a stand-in, who scuttles off-screen under cover of darkness, to be replaced by the leading lady: a low-tech approach that really appeals to me.

I also dig the fact that our lead still has on her contemporary specs, but takes them off. By the next cut, her glasses and cup of tea, vestiges of our modern world, have vanished! There should be awards for creative continuity like that.





Our heroine is a drama student who also works in a second-hand bookstore and is one of the few movie characters I’ve ever seen take a bus in LA (apart from in SPEED).  Since this is a horror film, a lot of the signs in it are warnings or commands, or intrusive questions. BOOK CITY is an incredibly apt name for the bookshop, since my thesis is that cities are full of words, and the film’s thesis is that books contain populations, some of them hostile.

For Malcolm Brand’s works apparently have the power to cross over into our reality. This is never explained, and for a long time it looks as if it’s going to turn out that the leading lady is crazy and is responsible for the series of gruesome homicides she attributes to the titular maniac of Brand’s second and final novel —

Meta-fiction hits the horror movie! I was slightly reminded of Scarlett Thomas’s novel The End of Mr. Y, which I enjoyed recently. In both, the heroine unexpectedly discovers the impossible-to-find and probably cursed book she’s been yearning for (initially it seems that our leading lady here is both terrified and turned on by Brand’s books, but nothing is made of this) and plunged into another world of craziness and menace. I, MADMAN is more generic, with fewer mouse gods, but the fact that the plot never fully resolves its mysteries leaves the door open to the creeping ineffable, which helps.

SEX FOR SWINGER! Slightly improbable book title for film.


SUBMARINE (name of a storefront) LOS ANGELES (sign on a bus) — both in the same frame, a promise of biblical deluge?

PUSH – WILL RETURN – OPENING HOURS (signs on bookshop door)

In I, Madman the novel, the narrator cuts off his face because the girl he loves doesn’t care for his looks, and then creates for himself a fleshy identikit fizzog harvested from the unwilling heads of the local citizenry. This character, played by Randy Cook in the expressionist manner, emerges from the book and starts culling the supporting cast, who were only there for that purpose anyway. A more economical writing idea would have been to have him target the heroine’s cop boyfriend at the climax, since he presumably has a face she DOES like.




You could certainly read this movie, even if you couldn’t see the pictures.

Cheekily, the movie marquee screen right advertises the director’s first film, cult obscurity METAL MESSIAH, which I’d love to see.




The first text startles the heroine when she finds it in the small print in her face-stealing pulp fiction, the second tells her where to look for answers, and the third tells us all what kind of neighbourhood the publisher operates out of.

And this is the office of Sidney “I only do smut” Zeit, publisher of I, Madman. Magnificent performance from Murray Rubin (the great actors for B movies are out there if you look!) which swings from broad grotesquerie to touching humanity as he recalls the tragic fate of his top author.

TELEPHONE – PUBLIC LIBRARY OF THE CITY — both signs in one shot.


ANGELS with swastika sign. These last two are graffiti at a crime scene.

Nobody notices that all the victims are connected to the heroine. Since there’s no “it was her all along” twist, it might have been nice if the cops suspected her, as they have every reason to do, rather than just thinking she’s screwy. The way society is, any crazy person connected to a murder is likely to be regarded as a suspect. And the cops could be turned into a threat rather than a potential rescue. And there’s no way they could NOT suspect her, to be fair to them — and remember Mackendrick’s wise words, “A character who is dramatically interesting thinks ahead.”

OVER 100,000 BOOKS









The above appear all in a single establishing shot! A connection is drawn between books and food.

Next, a flurry of book titles: THE POLITICS OF THE CENTURY, NATHANIEL WEST: THE ART OF HIS LIFE, ANSWERS TO EVERYDAY QUESTIONS. While, in the background, a hand-lettered sign reads SCIENCE FICTION.

The climactic struggle with Malcolm — books are falling all over the place! As he thrusts his arms through a set of shelves to paw the heroine, THE COURAGEOUS COMPANION falls through shot, and when the cop boyfriend with the designer stubble hurls him into some boxes, THE WOUNDED DON’T CRY drops into his lap: the most blatant gag title in the film, though not quite as funny as EVIL DEAD II’s use of A FAREWELL TO ARMS.

Then, the long-awaited return of jackalboy, summoned from the pages of Malcolm’s first book by the plucky heroine, who’s decided that the contents of Brand’s oeuvre tend to become real. Malcolm struggles with the half-human genetic experiment in a stop-motion battle to the death which sees Randall William Cook heroically animating a miniature version of himself. I’m not sure if that qualifies as masturbation or voodoo. Lots of motion-blur here, and the transition between human and puppet is pretty seamless, helped no doubt by the fact that Malcolm’s face is by now a mass of sutured tissue — lopsided nose, swollen lips, moulting scalp.

Randy was an actor first and an animator later, getting into the biz on the advice of no less a person than Bob Clampett, Termite Alley legend. A lot of animation has to do with acting, which isn’t generally understood… If you talk to Randy, you not only get great stories from his movie activities, you get all the voices too.

Jackalboy (who looks quite a bit like the excellent Harry Potter werewolf) is chopped down the middle by a sheet of glass, but rises again as a Johnny Eck-style man with half a body. A sign in the background reads THIS SIDE UP.

Then half-jackalboy pounces on Malcolm, they fly out the window, and all the loose pages somehow torn from, it feels like, Malcolm’s works (but there was only, like, one copy in the bookstore, so I guess it’s a lot of other books too) goes flying into the sky, and Chanson D’Amour plays us out (ra-ta-ta-ta-ta). What have we learned?

One last sign —



Sounds like a sequel to me!

16 Responses to “Things I Read Off the Screen in “I, MADMAN””

  1. I like to think that Richard Kelly stole the vortex-above-suburbia from The Gate for Donnie Darko…

  2. A vortex-above-EIGHTIES-suburbia at that!

    Both The Gate and I, Madman have a feeling of not being quite fully developed in script terms, but especially in this one, there’s a positive pay-off: the movie retains considerable mystery.

  3. Speaking of smut , here’s an NYT piece on a new book about Sam Steward’s Treasure Trove.

    In Marco Ferreri’s Bukowski flick Tales of Ordinary Madness Ben Gazzara takes an L.A. bus with Susan Tyrell.

  4. Goddess of smut! The fact that Tyrrel’s role in The Killer Inside Me is taken by Jessica Alba in the remake strongly suggests to me that Michael Winterbottom doesn’t know, or care, what he’s doing. Burt Kennedy may not have known either, but he gets points for casting (actually, we have to credit the director who was fired before Kennedy came on board, but I don’t know who that was).

  5. I have loved The Gate ever since I saw it on HBO at an impressionable age. It’s one of the very few childhood-fave horrors that I watched again as an adult and STILL loved. The now-quite-obscure sequel (so low-budget, the only stop-motion bits are actually shots from part 1) is enjoyable on its own terms, but not exactly a worthy follow-up. I worry about ol’ Tibor these days… checked out his latest, Lies & Illusions (with Christian Slater and Cuba Gooding Jr.) on netflix streaming and it looks like it was shot on VHS with no script at all.

    Description of “I, Madman” reminds me of Carpenter’s “In the Mouth of Madness”, another not-at-all-guilty pleasure from a while back. And Madman came between The Gate 1 & 2, so seems like something I must watch immediately.

  6. Randy Cook Says:

    Seems like only the other day we were discussing Barrymore and Welles, and now…talk about a steep trajectory! Look out below!

    THE GATE effects were done with care for little money, but I was happy with the work (which entailed storyboarding and directing all the effects sequences—the best part of the job, really, for which I received no screen credit).

    The GATE sequel had original animation, done for the sequel…but at a really, really tiny budget, which showed.

    The I, MADMAN performance was less acting than skulking, but I had fun creating and wearing the makeup. We always seemed to be filming in locations which stank of cat pee, about which I complained bitterly and incessantly. One day I took some prosthetic pieces out of my kit…and I realized that it was the MAKEUP which smelled like cat pee. I talked to the guy who was running the rubber pieces for me & he said he’d run some new ones. I went to pick them up & the my lab guy proudly said, “I’ve fixed the problem: I’m using PINE SCENT”. And so he was: they smelled exactly a cat had peed in the forest.

    Was I really in something called DR. CALIGARI? I’d cry foul, but I read that a friend of mine had done the makeup. I have a vague memory of either borrowing or lending her some makeup supplies, and taking them to a filming location where a bunch of people were dressed in sheets, in an asylum set. Did someone ask me to drape a sheet over myself and act like a mental patient? Did I say ,”Sure! Love to”? Given the careful way I have always guided my career, I’d say that’s entirely feasible.

  7. I’m grabbing a copy of the Barrymore holiday film, so maybe we can raise the tone again. ;)

    I wonder if I can spot your sheeted figure in Dr Caligari (I think Dr Caligari and the Women would make a better title). It’s a movie which seeks to boldly unite the contrasting styles of German expressionist acting and American porno acting. When they meet in the middle, something strange and hideous happens. There’s a review of the movie on here somewhere, it really has a unique (pretty) look and (ugly) feel.

    I want to interrogate you at length about The Gate because it really has some of the best use of stop motion I’ve seen — the angles are really dramatic! I like Harryhausen’s more proscenium type approach a lot, but those low angle shots of your demon are really powerful.

    Brandon, I bet you’d enjoy I, Madman. The influence behind In the Mouth of Madness would seem to be Jonathan Carroll’s The Land of Laughs, where rather than a Lovecraft/King horror writer, the author whose fictional town comes to life is a Frank Oz type children’s novelist. Which proves MUCH creepier…

  8. There’s acting in American pornos? I must have missed that.

  9. It’s ALL acting! I mean, nobody actually talks like that. Or has sex like that.

  10. So, I’m not supposed to look bored and mechanical while having sex? Who knew?

  11. Mainstream movie sex is just as weird – the women seem more interested in clenching the sheets than their partners.

  12. Have you ever seen Andy Warhol’s Blue Movie (aka. Fuck) with Viva and Louis Waldron? It’s excellent. Just sex between friends executed in a casual and offhand manner.

    Actual Sex in “real” movies is often odder than porn eg. Oshima’s L’Empire des Sens, Bellochio’s Devil in the Flesh and Chereau’s Intimacy

    In all three cases blow jobs are involved.

  13. My God, I saw The Gate at the Dublin Film Festival, on a properly sized screen, projected in 35mm, an ungodly number of years ago. I recall loving it, but have never seen it again, and now I really want to do so very badly.

    Trailers for I, Madman used to turn up on many of the sub-disreputable video rentals I watched during the late ’80s/early ’90s but the film itself never materialised. The trailer was outstanding. Sounds like this is a double bill that needs to happen, and soon.

  14. I think a double bill of those two would be a pretty damn good night in/out. As a Freaked fan, I assume you’re excited about the prospect of an Alex Winter remake of The Gate. I, Madman also has plenty of untapped potential. That’s maybe the best reason to remake something — where the original suggests further avenues of exploration.

  15. I’m excited by the prospect of Alex Winter doing anything at all – has he directed anything since Freaked? To the Internet Movie Database!

  16. Yes, he did a noir thingy which I long to see, called Fever. And some National Lottery ads shot in Edinburgh!

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