I, Madman (1989) Retrospective

SUMMARY
Beautiful bookseller Virginia (Jenny Wright) fosters a growing interest in the works of reclusive novelist Malcolm Brand (Randall William Cook). After much fruitless searching, Virginia finally receives a package containing Brand’s recent book, “I, Madman,” about a deranged doctor spurned by a beautiful woman. But, as Virginia devours Brand’s latest offering, she begins to have chilling visions of characters from the book — and the line between fiction and reality grows terrifyingly thin.

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DEVELOPMENT/PRODUCTION
This is David Chaskin’s second horror film for distributor Trans World Entertainment; the first, The Curse, directed by actor David Keith. Moshe Diamant, head of Trans World, approached Chaskin with his concept for I, Madman (a.k.a. Hardcover) while The Curse was in postproduction. Chaskin wrote two drafts of the screenplay and Rafael Eisenman was brought in to produce. Takacs had been offered many projects in the wake of The Gate’s success, but chose I, Madman. “It was the most interesting script I read,” Takacs says. “I was really attracted by the idea of experiencing danger in a safe environment. There’s a cozy feeling you get when you sit down to read a good horror story. You say, ‘This is gonna be good,’ like watching an old Twilight Zone episode. There’s a certain feeling of familiarity, but then the story goes more and more into left field. It’s the power of imagination. Does it really matter that you’re frightened in your dreams? Is it real because it felt real to you?”

Both Chaskin and Eisenman have high praise for Takacs. “It was not a typical director-producer relationship,” marvels Eisenman. “It was almost like a student film-not in the level of the production, but in the spirit of the filmmaking.”

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“There is no comparison for me between The Curse and I, Madman,” Chaskin remarks. “I, Madman was a delight. I was involved from the beginning right through postproduction. The project had a guiding intelligence behind it, from the director, the producers and the actors. They all shared the same creative sense about the film.”

Eisenman’s background includes directing commercials and music videos, so he is sympathetic to the director’s job. “I support the director as much as possible,” he reasons. “It’s a writer’s film first, but once it goes into the director’s hands, it’s the director’s film. I protect him from anything that interferes with the creative process.”

The nightmarish horror in I, Madman will inevitably prompt comparisons between Freddy Krueger and Malcolm Brand. “They’re both complex characters,” comments Chaskin. “They both have twisted agendas, although Malcolm is a far more complicated character than Freddy. I tend to view Malcolm as a more classical monster, more stylized, less like Freddy and Jason and more like the Phantom of the Opera. I like to think of him as a character that Lon Chaney would have relished playing, a classical character in a 1980s frame.”

Production began on I, Madman in November 1987 in Los Angeles, and principal photography wrapped the following January. “The main problem, production-wise,” confides Eisenman, “was taking the limited amount of money we had and getting the most value I could on the screen with the cinematography and the special effects. It was a very tricky thing to do, but we had some great people on the crew. The cameraman, Bryan England, studies the old masters like George Folsey, who shot Forbidden Planet and Animal Crackers. He hangs around with these guys, takes them out to lunch. He has a tendency to go into their classic style.’

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“I know Trans World is pleased with it,” declares the producer. “We had the most incredible creative freedom on this film. There was no intervention from them. We ended up with the director’s cut, which is rare. I had input, but I never forced my ideas on Tibor. I’d argue until I’d either convinced him or not.”

Chaskin is happy with the picture. “I was at rehearsals, polishing and making dialogue changes to fit the actors, and even in postproduction we were looping new lines,” he marvels. “I was privy to the whole process. It was probably the best experience a writer could have, short of directing the film himself.”

Producer Eisenman, meanwhile, hopes to work with Takacs and Chaskin in the near future. “It was a very good team,” he testifies. “I’ve never had anything like that and I don’t know that I ever will. That’s why we’re talking about doing something together again with Tibor and David.”

SPECIAL EFFECTS
Similarly, FX technician Randy Cook, who had worked on The Gate and designed the animated “dogs” in Ghostbusters, is influenced by model animation great Ray Harryhausen. Eisenman reports, “When Randy told Ray Harryhausen what he was going to do in I, Madman, Ray said, ‘It’s not possible.’ Randy proved his technique as he went along, and when he showed the film to Harryhausen, he was very impressed.”

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Cook also delivers a bravura performance as the malevolent Malcolm. “It was something that Randy always wanted to do,” grins Takacs. “To entice him to work on this low-budget movie, I had to come up with something!”

It’s fitting that the interview should take place on Halloween, one of Cook’s favorite holidays. (“I’d go out trick-or treating tonight, if I thought I could get away with it,” he said.) Ever since the age of 12, How did he get the job as the titular character in I, MADMAN? Cook smiled knowingly. “I could give you any number of hyperbolic interpretations that I was the best man for the part, that they couldn’t have done it without me, and so on. But the fact is, I got the job through sheer extortion. I said to Tibor, If you want me to do the special effects, let me play a part in the movie.’ Tibor asked, ‘Which part do you want to play?”The villain, of course,’ I said. Simple as that.”

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Genre fans will find I, MADMAN of particular interest due to the fact that Cook, the actor, is killed by a creature that Cook, the effects supervisor, designed. At the end of the film, Brand does battle with a stop-motion character referred to by Cook as the “Jackal Boy” (a pint-size character from “Much of Madness, Much of Sin”)—a “horrid, tormented character, made miserable by his misbegotten parentage,” Cook explained. (The doctor combines his sperm with the ovum of a jackal-thus the creature’s name.)

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Cook eventually expanded the fight sequence-which takes place in the attic of the bookstore where Virginia works-when it was decided to make more prominent use of the Jackal Boy. “I wanted to make their fight somewhat less perfunctory, something more of a miniature set piece,” said Cook. “So I tried to orchestrate the scene the way one would do a live-action fight within certain limitations based on the fact that we were using one character that existed and one that didn’t. There’s a lot of biting, tussling and scratching between us–I even used a stop-motion puppet of myself in certain shots. We tried to construct a fight that people would talk about.”

Working on the film both as an actor and a special effects technician meant that it was often necessary for Cook to be on both sides of the camera. “It was a really busy shoot,” he said, his weary expression mirroring the exhaustion he experienced during his multiple 14 hour days on the set. “We not only had to shoot the live-action plates, but I had to be in the plates and check them on video playback to make sure I was in the right place in the frame-as well as tell the other actors what they were supposed to be reacting to. It was just me and Jenny and Clayton, and a bunch of air that would later be filled with a creature.”

Because he likes expressionistic compositions, Cook changed the setting of the scene to a bookstore warehouse with an open-beam ceiling. Originally the scene was to have the Jackal Boy on top of a bookcase. “Arguably, it would have been more metaphorical, but it wasn’t nearly as visually evocative as putting him up in the rafters,” said Cook. Elsewhere the Jackal Boy will be used in two very short scenes at the beginning of the film both done through suggestion, so as to save the actual look of the creature until the climax.

The effects were prepped and shot over “a grueling six week period” in November December of 1987 at Ruckus, by I, MADMAN’s director of photography, Brian England (who will also be shooting THE GATE II). Cook’s crew consisted of his chief assistant, Fumi Mashimi (who constructed most of the Brand miniature animation puppet. Cook did the sculpting), Bill Bryan (the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man in GHOSTBUSTERS, helped sculpt the prosthetics for Cook’s makeup) and Gil Mosko, who ran foam for the shop. In addition to the 15 inch-tall articulated model of the Jackal Boy (a foam-rubber construction over a tooled metal armature), Cook designed and sculpted a cable-controlled closeup head with eye, brow, lip and tongue movement.

 

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Cook didn’t seem particularly interested in discussing the gruesome makeup he devised for his Dr. Brand character, so he whipped out a photo album-titled “Randy’s Hair Cut”—to do most of the talking for him. “I came up with the perfect way to do a bald cap,” he explained. “I shaved my head.” To be precise, makeup effects artist (and friend) Craig Reardon played barber for the shearing, and Cook took a razor to his scalp to obtain the final billiard ball look.

The degenerative makeup for Brand was done in five stages (which Cook humorously described as “a subtle augmentation of progressive male-pattern baldness and organ-rejection syndrome”). It was created using face casts, prosthetics and the like. “I’m not remotely interested in presenting a textbook version of decaying tissue, “Cook said. “I’m more interested in finding a way to dramatically illustrate the degeneration of the character in physical, concrete terms. The makeup needs to work metaphorically as well as theatrically.”

Cook and crew worked about a week longer than they had planned-which meant extra post-production shooting and more time spent by Cook in makeup. “As so often happens when you’re shooting in a locale unfit for human habitation, I got sick-I got the flu that was going around. Everyone else got very green and sickly looking; I got green and sickly looking under two inches of green and sickly looking makeup. I couldn’t get the pity that the other people were getting. The crew would come up to me and say, ‘The makeup looks real good tonight.”

Cook’s long hours under makeup-23 days, 12 of them consecutive-eventually took their toll. “I didn’t have any face left after the shooting was over,” he recalled. “The skin around my eyes was like jelly. And the bitch was, I couldn’t sue the makeup man.”

CAST/CREW
Directed by   Tibor Takács
Produced by Rafael Eisenman
Written by     David Chaskin
Jenny Wright … Virginia
Clayton Rohner … Richard
Randall William Cook … Dr. Alan Kessler/ Malcolm Brand
Stephanie Hodge … Mona

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Cinefantastique v19
Fangoria#80

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