|Review||Madman (1981)||Director||Joe Giannone|
|Writers||Joe Giannone (story and screenplay) and Gary Sales (story)|
|Cast||Gaylen Ross (billed here as “Alexis Dubin”), Tony Fish, Harriet Bass, Seth Jones, Jan Claire, Alex Murphy, Tom Candela, Frederick Neumann and Paul Ehlers|
“One by one you’ll start to fall before night’s over” – Max
These standard slashers don’t really need a synopsis but here we go! – Under a campfire on a dark night Max (Neumann), owner of a camp for gifted children, tells staff and campers the tale of Madman Marz (Ehlers); a deranged farmer who slaughtered his family in a nearby house. Legend has it that if you speak his name above the sound of a whisper he’ll come for you.
The staff consists of Betsy (Ross) and her kinda’ boyfriend TP (Fish), couples Ellie (Claire) and Bill (Murphy), free spirit Stacy (Bass) and jokester Dave (Jones). When one of the campers, Richie (Candela), goes missing each of the staff goes out searching for him one by one. Awaiting in the woods is Madman Marz who greets them in memorable ways.
“Madman” is a good example of the typical slasher formula done right. The best backwoods slasher, IMO, will always be “Friday the 13th” (1980) and it was, undoubtedly, a hugely influential horror film as well. Numerous copycats came afterwards that utilized the woods scenario with plenty of disposable victims and the films varied considerably in quality to say the least. “Madman” is one of the good ones as it serves up a scary villain, utilizes the setting well and provides enough nastiness and gore to score high as a top ranking copycat.
It’s not without it’s flaws and a few “what were they thinking!” moments but all the key elements are handled admirably. The moody atmosphere is established in the very first frame with a nicely staged campfire scene and the telling of the legend of Madman Marz. A rather nice touch is a foreshadowing of sorts as the key characters are shown in life and death situations as the camera introduces them to the audience. It’s not like most viewers won’t already know how they’ll end up anyway so, for me, the scene left an impression and worked well.
The characters are fairly likeable and just interesting enough to register at the basic level. The performers are quite decent as well but top honours go to Ross (“Dawn of the Dead” – ’78) and Fish (his only film credit) is also very likeable as a somewhat typical horn dog who reveals hidden depths. The screen kills range from deliriously nasty to fairly pedestrian but make-up effects are well done so the mayhem looks splendid.
Directing duties, writing, cinematography, and lighting are all very competent and bordering on impressive. There’s a number of stylish, and creepy, imagery on display here that leaves a lasting memory. There’s quite a bit of suspense created in the standard stalking sequences and the setting ends up being quite the creepy place. As said earlier the film is not above the usual dim-wittedness in character’s decision making but it’s never too distracting as to kill the suspense.
The mood is genuinely well sustained throughout the feature and blissfully free of self-parody and that’s, in the end, what places “Madman” in the upper tier of backwoods slashers. The nihilistic ending makes sure the feature goes out with a bang and leaving things, of course, open for a sequel. No such thing materialized for this “Madman” but as a standalone it’s a must see for slasher aficionados.