I, Madman (1989) Revisited
If you were one of the 26 people that sat through The Goldfinch last weekend and walked away disappointed, then this retro review of 1989’s horror cult hit I, Madman is the movie for you. To clarify, both the review and the movie are for you.
The review you can read, which presumably you are since you clicked on this.
The movie you can purchase or I can let you borrow my copy since I’m standing right behind you as you read this review. Don’t worry. I have it in my settings that I personally stand behind the person who’s reading any one of these reviews. It’s that personal touch that gives me your location just in case you’d like me to deliver these reviews by hand.
No, Madman doesn’t have a nearly 4-hour running time that feels like the longest dentist appointment nightmare ever. No, it doesn’t have an Oscar-bation cast with Nicole Kidman and Sarah Paulson. It doesn’t even have strippers like Hustlers.
I still don’t see what The Goldfinch and I, Madman have to do with each other.
Goldfinch is an awful movie based on an award-winning novel and I, Madman contains a book that might be involved in some murders.
That’s a flimsy connection at best.
And you know your dog Marvin that’s been missing for the past week? I saw him a couple of days ago and totally neglected to tell you about it. He’s probably dead now. How’s that for a flimsy connection?
Anyway, both The Goldfinch and Madman involve books, except one is a pretty good horror movie and the other is a movie that you will never see unless you’re forced to.
Where did you see Marvin?
I’m not going to tell you since you were rude. Maybe after the review I’ll tell you. Perhaps you will have learned some manners by then.
I, Madman opens in 1989 with a woman reading a book. Since it’s the 80s, it’s one of those books where the reader (you) has to “turn” the page in order to advance the story. Over the course of a novel, you might have to turn 300 to 400 pages.
That’s way too much work. Those 80s people must have developed super-strong arms and legs from all that “turning”.
It made them strong while living in asbestos-filled houses and gulping pesticide cocktails. Our main character Virginia (Jenny Wright) is an avid reader with quite a vivid imagination. She pictures herself as the main character of the book she’s reading. It’s a lurid, bloody horror novel by the cult writer Malcolm Brand.
Certain passages in the Brand book scared her so much that she can’t go to sleep. She calls her police officer boyfriend Richard (Clayton Rohner) to relieve her tension. And by “relieve her tension” I mean sex. Since it’s the 80s, instead of pressing one of her contact buttons she has to physically use her hands to dial 7 up to 11 digits. All by herself.
How long does that take?
About 5 to 7 seconds.
That is no life worth living.
After arduously dialing the Richard’s entire phone number by hand, they eat, copulate and then Virginia’s back to reading. Richard seems agitated that Virginia has the temerity to read a book while basking in the afterglow of the best 45 seconds of their lives.
Virginia learns that cult writer Malcolm Brand also published another novel, one by the name of I, Madman. She is now obsessed with finding that book.
Good thing Virginia just happens to work in a bookstore with her sassy coworker Mona (Stephanie Hodge). Good thing they just received an estate sale purchase from the late cult writer Malcolm Brand.
Weird. Virginia was just talking about Malcolm Brand the previous night. I was just writing about Malcolm Brand in the previous 2 paragraphs. How fortuitous that we should be mentioning his name again so soon.
Virginia asks Mona if she noticed the Brand collection had a copy of I, Madman. Mona says the estate hasn’t been unpacked and inventoried yet.
Virginia goes upstairs to find the book but can’t. Perhaps after more unpacking it’ll turn up. We can understand why Virginia might be a little tired what with all that page-turning and phone number dialing she’s done during the past day.
Virginia goes back to her apartment. There’s a package by the door. She opens it. Guess what it is.
Is it the book I, Madman by the dead cult writer Malcolm Brand?
No. The package contains the book I, Madman by the dead cult writer Malcolm Brand. Mona must have found it and mailed it to her. That helpful Mona. Sure hope she’s not dead by the end of the movie.
Virginia begins reading while manually turning pages again. She’s loving how violent and gory it is. She imagines herself as the main character Anna.
But little does she know that somewhere else in the city murders are taking place. It just so happens that the murders seem to match the methods of killing found in the book. It just so happens that the victims happen to be people Virginia knows.
Who is behind the murders, and can they be stopped before Virginia reads again?
You’ll have to stop reading and watch the movie to find out.
What Works With I, Madman
- The kills themselves are more creative than you’d expect. There’s nothing revolutionary or too gory about them, but you could tell time and care went into them considering what might have been budget limitations.
- Jenny Wright’s sympathetic yet strong performance as the put-upon Virginia makes you wish she starred in more movies than I, Madman and Near Dark (1987). Who knows how many great performances we missed.
- An ending that jaded audiences might see coming but still packs quite a punch. The special effects from ’89 feel more than quaint, but they serve their purpose.
What Doesn't Work With I, Madman
- It’s a minor quibble, but the first act is more than a little stop-and-start. There are times when you wonder if you’re not just watching a movie about a woman that likes to read.
You, reader should watch I, Madman again. The movie holds up remarkably well after 30 years. Added bonus- it’s not as much of a physical burden as reading books with pages.