Project Evisceration Vol. 1: I, Madman
Today we launch a new quarterly series on Dread entitled "Project Evisceration", in which I weigh the pros and cons of certain DVDs and VHS tapes in my collection. As I’ve begun drawing up plans to add a wet bar to the basement/home theater, it’s become abundantly clear I need to “trim the fat” from my film library.
Not that I’m not about to admit to having an addiction. Nope. Because in the war games of marriage that would give the missus a mark in the “win” column, and well, we just can’t have that. But I will admit to having… shall we say… proclivities.
Throughout the years I have indeed amassed a decent-sized film library. Back when VHS was the only game in town, any given weekend might find me building shelves for the ever growing archive. Those tapes weren’t exactly space friendly. Since I worked at a movie theater in the 90s and was thus “salary challenged”, I missed out on the rather expensive laser disc phase. Just as well. Like Beta and the ill-fated RCA Selectavision Video Disc Player, it was short-lived even if the quality was better (as with Beta, not so much for the skip-happy Selectavision). So I continued adding VHS tapes to the repository.
Some ten years later DVD hit the scene in earnest, my job situation changed significantly, and my library exploded like that dude’s head in Scanners.
I probably have around three hundred DVDs. I’m sure there are a number of you who have more, but that’s a lot for me. It’s the largest collection I’ve ever owned at one time. While some were gifts, the majority were purchases. People don’t give me films as gifts very often. If it’s something I want, I probably already have it, in the preferred version I might add. The people who do gift films to me usually end up failing in that endeavor (anybody want a free copy of Bulletproof Monk?).
Add to the DVDs the remaining VHS tapes I still have and… well… it takes up a lot of room. I need the space, and admittedly, there are a lot of DVD’s I haven’t watched since they were purchased.
But how do I go about deciding which movies remain in my esteemed archive and which suffer the fate of rejection? Sent to the CD/Game/DVD Exchange for store credits? More than once I’ve jettisoned a title only to catch it on cable at a later date, thoroughly enjoying it all over again, and then kicking myself for getting rid of it. Tombs of the Blind Dead falls into this category, and when I replaced it, I replaced it with the far more expensive box set (I actually consider this a bit of a “win” to be honest).
So this time around, I’ve decided the only way to go about this is to watch every movie I’m considering for the trade-in box and letting it make its own argument for remaining in the archive.
Obviously, there are automatic finalists into the collection – Halloween (1978), The Thing (1954 & 1982), Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), etc. What we’re talking about here are films like Pigs aka Daddy’s Deadly Darling (1972), Food of the Gods (1976), Tentacles (1977), The Children (1980), and The Beast Within (1982). Movies picked up purely for nostalgia's sake in an attempt to recapture the titillation I felt in the 1980s when cable finally arrived in our small town and "Captain USA" or "Elvira’s Movie Macabre" ran some of these movies with regularity. Or when we got our first VCR and the local video store was my oyster.
For every automatic finalist like The Prowler (1981), there are probably five Slugs (1988) or Sssssss (1973). Fun movies. Nice to have on hand when the mood strikes. Buuut… the mood hasn’t struck since I bought them.
But to make sure I have no more Tomb of the Blind Dead repurchase incidents, I’m going to watch the movies which are on the fence and let them make the case for, or against, permanent placement in the archive.
I Madman (1989).
This flick got a lot of pump in the pages of our favorite horror mags (the place we used to get our horror information before the internet) because it was written by David Chaskin, whose first screenwriting credit was the successful A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) four years prior. Post Freddy, Chaskin had written The Curse (1987) and an episode of the short-lived television series "Monsters" that aired in limited syndication.
Directed by Tibor Takács (who’s gone on to direct a zillion Syfy channel movies) and starring the ever delectable Jenny Wright, I Madman focuses on Virginia (Wright), who, while working in a used book store, discovers the work of Malcolm Brand, a pulp author she’s never heard of before. The first book she reads, “Much of Madness, More of Sin”, is a first-person tale of unrequited love and the Van Gough-esque lengths the main character, Dr. Kessler, goes through to try and make himself more attractive to the woman of his desires, eventually cutting off his own face and reassembling it using more attractive parts from various victims. The book is so vivid Virginia becomes preoccupied with finding the only other book Brand wrote, called “I, Madman”. As Virginia’s obsession with Brand grows, the lines between her reality and Brand’s fictional world begin to blur.
A series of murders begin to occur in the same manner as the books, and when the character of Dr. Kessler begins appearing to Virginia, now the object of his affections, and shows her his “more attractive” face, she begins to suspect the novels may not be fictional at all and the name Malcolm Brand may in fact be a pen name used by Kessler and the books his personal diaries. And when the publisher confirms Malcolm Brand insisted the novels be published as non-fiction, the lines between Virginia’s reality and Brand’s world disappear altogether.
There’s no doubt there was an attempt to create another Elm Street dynamic here, using the rubber reality trope wherein the main character has to constantly question the actuality of transpiring events, and Malcolm Brand’s one-liners are definitely Freddy-esque. And while it works in a number of ways, it falls a bit short. How the borders of reality are breached by Brand/Kessler is never actually answered, and there’s a sense it’s never exploited to its true potential, never really delivering on the promise of the premise.
The introduction of Virgnia’s boyfriend (Clayton Rohner) as the Police Detective who just so happens to be investigating the murders comes off as a convenient, clunky plot device and actually prevents Virginia from truly taking charge of her own situation, which doesn’t play well in an era of the strong female horror heroine where we saw Nancy turn the tables on the omnipresent Fred Krueger and Ellen Ripley beat the shit out of the Alien Queen.
Still… there’s a lot to like. The story pays homage to the pulp novels of the Fifties, and the story attempts to play out in the same manner – sometimes to great effect, sometimes to its detriment. The used book store setting definitely plays on fond memories of my youth when I would lose myself in a local store called Yellow Pages back in the 80s; and with so many mom and pop book stores having gone the way of the dinosaur, it’s nice to see a film with a shared affection that definitely captures a point in time I can relate to. And when you throw Jenny Wright into the package, who could have sucked my blood any time she wanted (Near Dark reference there, boys and girls), I have to say I’m leaning toward “nostalgia keeper” and can pretty much guarantee a spin in the DVD player at least once every two years.
Feel free to share any similar stories you may have from your over-abundant collections, and see you next quarter for Vol. 2!
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