Written and Directed by: Joe Giannone
Starring: Gaylen Ross, Tony Fish and Paul Ehlers
Reviewed by: Wes R.
Campgrounds have always provided horror fans with a ripe setting for bloodshed and mayhem. For one thing, camps are usually located in heavily wooded and secluded areas. Also, many of the tools involved with camping are of the sharp and pointy variety and could be used as instruments of destruction (axe, machete, tent stake, etc.) Then, of course, there is the opportunity for a spooky campfire story. Providing an easy and effective way to relay the story of your movie's killer, nearly every camp slasher movie from The Burning to Friday the 13th makes use of this device. Released in the thick of the early 80s slasher craze, Madman was no different.
The moon is full and the night is dark. Before a roaring campfire, a group of teens and counselors are singing songs and telling spooky campfire stories on the grounds of a retreat for gifted children. The oldest (and perhaps wisest of the staff) relays the story of "Madman Marz", a local legend who butchered his entire family before being hanged by a lynch mob. According to the story, Marz may still roam these woods looking for new victims. At the story's conclusion, one teen mockingly calls out the name of Madman Marz. Soon, the camp staff is knocked off one by one in a variety of gruesome ways, by a growling hulk of a killer. At the rate they're being offed, it's doubtful anyone be left alive to tell the tale of Madman Marz to future generations of campers.
Madman is a guilty pleasure classic. It's not one of the scariest or even best made slasher movies ever, but since my first viewing, its long held a special place in this slasher movie buff's heart. It's remarkably stylish at times for a low budget production of the time period. The director makes good use of silhouette and lighting. I'm a particular fan of the use of blue lighting against the green trees and darkness of the night sky. It gives the film a somewhat nightmarish quality, even though the killer doesn't exactly instill many scares. If I were to make a top 20 list of my personal favorite early 80s slasher movies, Madman would definitely make the cut, and I would even edge it close to the top 10. You have a memorable villain, creepy synth music, a handful of fun kills... what's not to like here? Slasher fans who have never seen it are in for a treat. In recent years, there has been talk by Madman Marz himself, Paul Ehlers, that a sequel or remake could possibly be on the way. Given the weak nature of the ending, I think a sequel could definitely be possible.
The acting isn't as bad as it could've been for such a low budget flick, although it's a bit on the amateur side. Originally wanting Vincent Price for the role of Max (the wise overseer of the camping group), budget suggested they settle for the unknown Carl Fredericks. Naturally, he's no Vincent Price, but he does well with the material he's given. Being an unknown, he definitely gives the film a more "real" feeling. The cast as a whole is solid enough, although its been called by some "the most unattractive slasher movie cast" of the early 80s. I'm not quite sure if that's warranted. I think their... plain... appearance aides the film's realism. The heavy synth score by Stephen Horelick is simplistic, but effective. The end credits "Song of Madman Marz" has become a favorite among slasher fans. There's a truly dated love ballad that was written for the film ("Don't Need Words to Know") that accompanies an awkward hot tub lovemaking scene between Gaylen Ross and Tony Fish. T.P.'s oversized belt buckle has become something of legend in fan circles. I mean, if you would wear a belt buckle in the first place, would you get one with your initials on it? T.P. would, and that's why slasher fans have come to embrace the character.
While not a Savini-esque bloodbath, there's enough of the red stuff to maintain interest. We get a fairly gory throat slashing, a decapitation, and more. Though the film came out in the wake of the successes of Halloween and Friday the 13th, it bears more resemblance to another early 80s slasher flick... The Burning. Perhaps, for good reason. You see, Madman started out its cinematic life as the story of the "Cropsy Maniac", the same urban legend that The Burning is based on. When the filmmaking team behind Madman caught wind of a Cropsy movie already being filmed, they quickly re-wrote the story about a new horror character named Madman Marz. The rest is slasher film history.
The original Anchor Bay DVD release was nearly flawless, including a nice transfer, one of the all-time best slasher movie audio commentaries, trailers and TV spots. The only problem, being an early Anchor Bay release, the disc was non-anamorphic. Out of print for a number of years after the initial release, the film has finally made its triumphant return to DVD, however this time, to controversy. The great audio commentary from the previous release was left in tact, and a new "The Legend Lives: 30 Years of Madman" documentary was included, as well as the TV spots and trailers. All of this is fine and dandy. The question mark comes in with the transfer. Though overseen by the filmmakers, many scenes shown with a blue tint in the previous release were color corrected to reflect natural light. Many fans, myself included, preferred the eerie blue glow that suggested moonlight for the night scenes. Similar to what happened with the newer releases of John Carpenter's Halloween, color correction divides fans who grew up watching a particular film a certain way. The new transfer doesn't exactly hurt the film, but I think they should've left well enough alone. There was a certain EC Comics quality to the blue hue, and without that added aesthetic, the once-stylish scenes appear kind of dull. The transfer is 16:9 enhanced this time around, although the picture isn't as clear as the previous release. From the opening titles on, there is a fuzziness to the image. Not sure if it was just a bad transfer, or if the print used for the disc was different than that of Anchor Bay's but as far as clarity, Anchor Bay's wins hands-down. If only it were anamorphic. Honestly, because the Anchor Bay disc is so rare (and likely to go up that much further in price now knowing the questions that surround the Code Red disc's transfer), I hesitatingly suggest picking this disc up. I suppose it's better than no release. If 16:9 enhancement means nothing to you, and you can find it at a good price, my preference would be the Anchor Bay disc. Code Red's release, through perhaps no fault of their own, was rushed and the final product reflects that. The added documentary on the film is nice, however. If you can find Code Red's disc fairly cheap, I do recommend it for the documentary. With a $19.99 suggested retail price, though, it's kind of a tough pill to swallow. I will say that Code Red's cover art, both front and back, is much better than Anchor Bay's. Although, that's not usually a major consideration when it comes to purchasing for most. At the end of the day, Madman is well worth owning, and if you're into slasher films of the early 80s, I think you'll find this is one you'll revisit more than once. Essential!
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