Madman coverDirector: Joe Giannone
Script: Joe Giannone & story by Gary Sales
Cast: Alexis Dubin, Tony Fish, Harriet Bass, Seth Jones, Jan Claire, Alex Murphy, Paul Ehlers, Jimmy Steele
Running time: 89 minutes
Year: 1981
Certificate: 18

At ‘North Sea Cottages’, an outward bound retreat for children, a group of camp councillors and their wards sit around a campfire telling ghost stories to each other. One of the group tells (and later sings) the tale of a crazy local who killed his family with an axe, but was later caught by the other townsfolk, hung from a tree and cut up. Weirdly his body disappeared, but every now and then it reappears to kill and maim trespassers all over again. And the name of this crazy dude – Madman Marz – which is actually the original name of this film.

Folklore quickly becomes reality for this motley bunch of happy campers when one of their group wanders off and disturbs said madman in his strange, semi-abandoned home. Marz then comes after our lost student, and his companions, in a show of not particularly impressive SFX and ham-fisted scares.

The young group consist of the usual bunch of paint-by-numbers characters, although I did find these more realistic than the normal bunch of losers you find in slasher movies. For one thing, they actually appear like normal people who you might meet down the pub, instead of the part-time models and beauty queens that you usually get in these kinds of movies. Also a few of them seem to be fairly nice people, which is certainly refreshing in this sort of horror film. As usual there’s a ‘final girl’, in this case Betsy, played with refreshing normalness by Alexis Dubin, who comes across as a typical girl next door, and who doesn’t have any weird past that links her to the killer or any of that clichéd nonsense. And, no, I’m not spoiling anything by saying this, as she’s so obviously going to be the last one standing from the get-go…or is she?

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After a fairly slow start the pace picks up with lots of sightings of the malformed madman of the title and a fair few kills – most of which aren’t particularly gory, even though Madman Mars tends to favour an axe or a big knife to kill with. The ‘youngsters’ make the usual sorts of school-boy errors and are soon whittled down one by one, out in the woods, or near the residential cabins, although the finale is pretty well staged and does wring out some genuine tension here and there. Probably the most celebrated kill here is the decapitation by car hood murder, which is nicely handled, if rather OTT.

There’s not a lot of point in slagging films like Madman off too much because they tend to be rather low budget, and therefore shot really fast and feature actors who are just at the start of their careers so tend to make their biggest mistakes in features like this one, whilst they’re honing their craft. The acting is a mixed bag and most of the actors tend to get it right more than they get it wrong, although there are a few dodgy scenes here and there. Well, maybe more than a few!

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The script is actually similar to that of the bigger budget, Miramax produced The Burning, although apparently the original script was much closer in similarity and they ended up rewriting it quite late on during pre-production. It’s nothing to write home about, but just about makes sense and comes out as being just the right side of competent.

The music by Gary Sales and Stephen Horelick is quite memorable, and Horelick was probably one of the first composers to really experiment with electronic music in films. In fact the music has a cult following itself, not just the movie!

Filmed in Fish Cove, in the New York state area, during the autuminal/winter months, the movie looks like it was probably a very cold shoot, but this kind of adds to the atmosphere generated, and certainly some of the woodland scenes do retain a bit of ‘dark woods’ creepiness.

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Overall the picture quality is okay, but there is some grain and scratches to be seen from time to time, but I suspect this can’t be helped as one would expect the original prints saw a fair bit of action on the drive-in and flea-pit cinema circuit during the film’s initial release.

I must admit to quite enjoying Madman for all its faults; it’s kind of quite a charming throwback to days gone by when a visit to the video store would unearth some unlikely delights in the form of low-rent slasher celluloid shits like this…

Madman was recently released on DVD and Blu-ray by Arrow Films. As per usual Arrow Films have done a great job with the extras, which consist of:

The Legend Still Lives! – a feature length (92 mins) documentary about the making of the film, which consists of lots of talking heads interviews, some of which are very interesting, especially to would-be filmmakers.

The Madman: Alive at 35 – a shorter (21 mins) documentary featuring producer Gary Sales and stars Tom Candela and Paul Ehlers, all being reunited for the first time since the film and reminiscing affectionately about making the movie.

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The early career of Gary Sales – an interview with Gary (14.5 mins) that sees the producer talk about how he got into movies and met the now deceased director, Joe Giannone.

Dead Pit interviews – Gary Sales and Paul Ehlers talk about the film at a horror memorabilia event in two separate interviews, for 4 & 5 mins respectively. It’s here they reveal their plans to do a belated sequel to the original film, although, unfortunately, I suspect this probably won’t happen.

The Ballard of Madman Marz – a repeat of the song from the film, in its mind-bending entirety!

In Memorium – Gary sales pays tribute to the film’s cast and crew that are no longer with us (6 mins).

Trailer and TV spots – a cool trailer for the film itself, and a further five TV spots.

Stills & art work gallery – Gary Sales talks over a montage of promotional and behind the scenes material from the film, for seven minutes. We find out that it was a six week shoot and the film was originally out on a double bill with another ‘slasher’ picture, called Curtains.

Audio Commentaries with the cast and crew and ‘The Hysteria Continues’.

Overall a very good package for a little seen (in the UK) horror film from the ‘golden age’ of ‘slasher films’. Recommended.

Madman
3.0Overall Score
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About The Author

Justin Richards is a journalist by day and a scriptwriter by night. His work has appeared in the darker recesses of the internet and in various niche publications including ITNOW, The Darkside, Is it Uncut?, Impact and Deranged. When he’s not sitting hunched over a sticky, crumb-laden keyboard he’s paying good money to have people in pyjamas try and kick him repeatedly in the face.

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