Beware the Madman Marz!
That simple yet effective tagline sells what could’ve been just another derivative slasher movie from the heyday of the cycle. But with some good scares and shocks and a few steps out of the slasher formula, Madman is a worthwhile little experience.
The movie begins with a cool looking credit sequence over a background of red, surrounded by a bunch of gnarled branches (designed by Madman Marz himself, actor Paul Ehlers). It then introduces the audience to a group of camp counselors as they tell scary stories to a group of kids around a campfire. After the camp owner tells the ghastly tale of Madman Marz, one of the teens makes the blunder of calling out his name, which all of the campers will regret as Madman answers the call. A number of grisly murders follow, as Madman has his violent way with the teens.
If all of this sounds like it’s right out of Friday the 13th, well, it is. But this is most definitely a case of the devil in the details. Though writer/director Joe Giannone follows the archetypal formula for all slasher films, he sets a tone that is a little bit different from Sean Cunningham’s work. For one thing, his camera work is more atmospheric. One point of view scene, as a character looks up to some tree branches, acts as a perfect example of this: is Madman Marz up in the branches, or are your eyes playing tricks on you? The synth driven score also goes against the grain, and some might find themselves preferring it to Manfredini’s work on the Friday series. What sets the flick aside most greatly, though, is that Madman Marz is not Jason. Sure, his grisly murders could easily fit in a Friday movie, but having a different character gives the film a breath of fresh air. Ehlers does quality work in the role, a performance that could’ve gotten swallowed up in the makeup, but fortunately didn’t. The rest of the actors are a little above par for this type of film, including Gaylen Ross of Dawn of the Dead fame (I wish someone on the commentary would’ve addressed why she appears under a different name). Giannone does some work early on to establish the characters, so they’re a little more sympathetic than Teens A, B and C in the Friday movies. And if you think you know which characters will die and which are safe… well, you may be surprised by the movie’s twists.
One of the nicest aspects of Madman for me personally is that it was filmed on Long Island, where I was born and raised, and have spent most of my life. Though I’ve never bought into the “You’re from Long Island, so you should love (place name of homegrown entertainment here),” I always love when I can say, “Wow, that movie was cool. And it was made here.” So while I think Billy Joel is way overrated, I can get behind Madman.
Anchor Bay only gave Madman a small package of extras, but they’re solid. First, there’s commentary by Giannone, Ehlers, actor Tony Fish and producer Gary Sales. The four sit together for a lively, humorous chat that covers much of the film’s background and production. Most interesting is the story of how Giannone and Sales had to pound out a revised script on short notice; a few weeks before filming, they found out the Brothers Weinstein were making The Burning, and that both movies were based on the Cropsy legend. So they went and in a mad dash created the Madman. (I’ve reviewed The Burning for Icons also; give that review a look, as it’s another quality slasher. If I had to compare, I’d give Madman the slight edge). Ehlers makes some really funny comments about his character, and there’s much conversation about how the making of his mask and rubber hands altered some of the shots and the production schedule. And Fish’ way of getting into character for his death scene is interesting, but highly unadvisable. It’s definitely worth a listen. The film’s trailer rounds out the extras.
For those who think the slasher cycle begins and ends with the life and undead times of Jason Vorhees, you really owe it to yourself to see this overlooked little gem. As with The Burning, it will satisfy fans of the cycle, while giving them something a little different.
–Phil Fasso

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