There's something strange going on in one of the rooms of this hotel, and as the resident, Dr Kessler (Randall William Cook) leaves all wrapped up in his long coat and scarf for the evening, the bellboy receives a call from the woman in the room next to his that she thinks some kind of pet has been left there. The manager is not pleased and goes up to investigate, warning that if Kessler does own a pet, then he's getting thrown out, but as he opens the door he surveys the gloom of a makeshift laboratory. There is a large case there too, one which has strange sounds emanating from it...
But don't get too caught up in this plotline, because once the creature in the hotel room bursts out, it is revealed we have been watching a woman's imaginings of the book she's reading. That woman is Virginia Caldwell (Jenny Wright), and she's engrossed in the novel but after she reads the bit about another woman reading that bit only to have her door battered down by a monster, she grows afraid and phones up her cop boyfriend Richard (Clayton Rohner) yet only gets his answer machine. As these layers of fiction build, they begin to mesh as well, so that we were in effect seeing one of those "Is it a dream or is it real?" horror movies.
Only in this case it was "Is it a book or is it real?", a twist on a rather hackneyed device which was getting quite the workout in the footsteps of the Nightmare on Elm Street series, of which the screenwriter of I, Madman David Chaskin had penned the much-maligned second instalment. Although this little item was nobody's idea of a perfect horror movie either, it marked a substantial improvement as while there were problems with its stop-start structure it indulged in some effective plot foreshadowing to generate the sense of dread for Virginia and her possible fate. The author of the book she's just finished, one Malcolm Brand, did write another and she's keen to read it.
As she is working in a bookshop waiting for her acting career to take off, this affords her plenty of opportunities to watch out for the title, yet for some reason when she returns to her apartment after a fruitless search, there's the book in question sitting on her doorstep. Thinking her colleague and friend Mona (stand up comedian Stephanie Hodge) has left it for her, Virginia dives into its pages only to find that its villain may not be quite as made up as she might have thought. And when she notices the publisher's details in the inside state the work is "non-fiction" she gets understandably nervous. The villain seems to be Brand himself (this part is confused), and he has cut off parts of his face in an attempt to impress the woman who rejected him - except now he's decided a face is what he needs.
In effect, Brand was a human Mr Potato Head in that he starts murdering people in Virginia's life and taking bits and pieces of their features to graft onto his own head, but can she get the police to believe her? Of course not, and even Richard finds it hard to swallow, embarrassed when he takes her down to the station and she offers her opinion on what is going on, only for his fellow officers to think she's crazy. Wright was an actress whose often leftfield choices earned her a cult following before she dropped from sight in the nineties, and I, Madman was no different, a change from her vampire in Near Dark in that she's the potential victim this time, but with a delicate quality which made Virginia easy to warm to, and a definite plus to a film which could have been your basic slasher flick with a wacky twist. Also worth noting is that the actor playing Brand was a special effects expert who went on to win Oscars for each of the Lord of the Rings trilogy about ten years later. This is a predecessor to Stephen King's The Dark Half, and not bad on that level. Music by Michael Hoenig.