I

I, Madman     1989     Scream Factory Blu ray

                                                Virginia Clayton (Jenny Wright; Near Dark, 1987) is a bookish, aspiring actress who spends her evenings drinking tea,

                                      listening to the piano across the street, and reading.  Demure and a bit socially awkward, her life consists of work, acting

                                      classes, and late night visits from her detective boyfriend, Richard (Clayton Rohner—The Relic, 1997; The Human Centipede

                                      III, 2015). Her chief escape is reading books she finds at work. The latest, “Much of Madness, More of Sin” by Malcolm Brand,

                                      is a steamy pulp yarn about a deranged doctor’s obsession with a young actress named Anna.

                                       The sequel, “I, Madman,” mysteriously appears at Virginia’s apartment and she is immediately drawn into the story.

This time around Dr. Kessler (Randall William Cook) has sliced away his facial features so that he can harvest “perfect” replacement parts from unwilling victims. In this way Kessler plans to win Anna’s affection by making himself handsome.

           Life begins to imitate art when an actress in Virginia’s class is murdered and her scalp sliced off. Dr. Kessler sews the new hair to his own head and then shows Virginia his new trophy. He promises to win her love by gathering the rest of his facial features and stitching them on. More murders follow, but Richard won’t listen to Virginia’s claims to know the identity of the killer. She begins her own investigation and discovers that author Malcolm Brand went insane after finishing “I, Madman.” His publisher (Murray Rubin) acknowledges that Brand did to himself the things Kessler did in the book, thereby making the story autobiographical.

          With the disfigured killer intent of having her heart one way or another, Virginia must confront Brand in the dusty, claustrophobic confines of a used book store, and finds an unexpected ally in the form of a vengeful jackal-like creature created by Brand.

          Made at a time when horror’s screen titans were Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers, I, Madman is a distinctively different film. It’s not a “body count” picture. It didn’t fit the standard horror template of the time, which caused it to be unevenly publicized and easily overlooked. But it is a gem of a film.

          The acting is consistently believable for a B-movie of this nature. There are no poor performances, and Randall William Cook’s portrayal of Kessler/Brand is never overplayed. Director Tibor Takács (The Gate, 1987; Spiders, 2013), and screenwriter David Chaskin reveal influences from such sources as Nosferatu (1921), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), House of Wax (1953), and Maniac (1980). The make-up and stop motion effects remain effective after twenty-five years, although the Blu-ray cleans up the image so well that armature wires can be seen on the jackal-boy model.

          In 2003, MGM released a basic DVD with a theatrical trailer as the only extra. A side-by-side comparison with this BD shows a noticeably brighter image and a richer color palette.  The main titles on the MGM disc are a standard orange while the BD reveals them to actually be several shades lighter, closer to a sunflower orange. Grays and muddy browns have been enhanced to cooler blues, lending distinction and life to buildings, streets, and backgrounds. Skin tones are healthier and blacks have greater depth.  Shadows stand out in distinctive tones rather than blobbing together. And as you might expect, the digital upgrade reveals more details such as street signs, graffiti, and book titles.

          MGM’s DVD was presented in full screen with 2.0 Surround Sound. The BD offers 2.0 and 5.1 options (although I was not able to test the 5.1), and also returns the film to its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  This results in a minor loss of information across the top and bottom of the frame but opens the picture up horizontally as was originally intended.

          Shout! Factory has included several nice extras. The first is an audio commentary featuring Takács and an extremely talkative Randall William Cook, moderated by Icons of Fright’s Rob Galluzzo. It is a congenial, informative talk focused predominately on the technical aspects of the film. The trio covers stop motion animation, lighting, pre-production, the score, and lighting, to name just a few. We are treated to Cook’s remembrance of stop motion legend Ray Harryhausen’s visit to his animation studio, and the influence of Lon Chaney Sr. on the actor’s career. Cook is an accomplished director, writer, and visual effects technician. His effects credits include The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Poltergeist II, Ghostbusters, and John Carpenter’s The Thing, to name only a few. He also did work for Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment.

          Second is “Ripped From The Pages – The Making of “I, Madman,” featuring interviews with Takács, Rohner, Cook (who bears a striking resemblance to Scott H. Reiniger’s Roger in the original Dawn of the Dead), screenwriter David Chaskin, and Stephanie Hodge (who played Mona in the film). The interviews repeat some of the information from the commentary, but at only 33 minutes it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

          Finally, there is an 11-minute collection of behind-the-scenes footage from Cook’s VHS recordings. He made these on-set to check his Kessler/Brand makeup, and to ensure items were situated properly so the stop motion could be placed accurately into each frame. Again, there is repetition of material covered elsewhere in the special features. Rounding out the package is the theatrical trailer, the home video trailer, and a stills gallery with an optional audio commentary by Cook (I told you he was talkative).