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.
SHOPLIFTERS WILL BE PROSECUTED
ARE YOU ON OUR MAILING LIST?
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.
PIANOS RESTORATION AND REPAIR – VINCENT BROS
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.
ACTRESS SLAIN — POLICE BAFFLED BY MUTILATION
You could certainly read this movie, even if you couldn’t see the pictures.
SIDNEY ZEIT PUBLISHING INC, 4389 HOLLYWOOD BLVD, HOLLYWOOD CALIFORNIA
BOOKS 25¢ MOVIES 25¢ VIDEOS, THE CAVE ADULT MOVIE THEATER, LIVE NUDE SHOW, PEEPSHOW, ADULT BOOK STORE
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.
THE POPE SMOKES DOPE
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
NEW BOOKS DISCOUNTED
SPECIALIZING IN HARD-TO-FIND TITLES
OPEN 7 DAYS A WEEK
VATTEY’S BOOK CITY
NEW – USED – RARE – ANTIQUARIAN
ROY ROY PIZZAS MEAT PIES
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!