Many are familiar with the behemoths of the slasher subgenre – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Friday the 13th – but the American slasher cycle of the late ‘70s and ‘80s produced some slightly lesser known gems, such as Madman from 1982. Here at STARBURST we are particularly fond appreciators of cult films, and this new Arrow Blu-ray release of Madman is a quintessential example of a cult classic. As the new introduction to the film by producer Gary Sales and the Madman himself, Paul Ehlers, reveals, Madman never received a UK release due to the video nasties scandal and so it doesn’t have the notoriety of its contemporaries, however, it is still beloved by many horror aficionados.
Originally, the plot was based on the Cropsy maniac urban legend, only for the crew to find out in pre-production that The Burning (1981) was filming the exact same premise. Due alterations followed. Despite this hiccup, Madman became a pretty popular drive-in film for kids in the ‘80s eager to have their proverbial pants scared off.
The film opens with a fantastic scene set around the campfire. One camp councillor, TP (Tony ‘Fish’ Nunziata) is singing a song that prophesises of the chaos to come. Interestingly, this song is accompanied by interwoven images that flash-forward to later in the film and reveal the camp counsellors fate. It’s a nice piece of experimental filmmaking that riffs on the conventions of the slasher genre by saying, ‘yeah, you know what’s coming’ whilst also adding a degree of tension. One of the great aspects about Madman is how it constructs its own mythology, and TP’s song is followed by a campfire tale from elderly head councillor Max (Carl Fredericks). Max tells the story of a local farmer who one day decides to kill his family, then heads to the local pub for a swift pint (as you do) only for the patrons to notice his bloody axe on the bar and hang him for his crimes. As it happens, the hanging wasn’t enough to see off old Madman Marz, and if you dare utter his name above a whisper he won’t be happy at all. Naturally, a cocky teenager, Richie (Tom Candela), decides to call the killer out and spoil the camping trip for everyone.
What ensues next is a thoroughly enjoyable slasher film, as Madman Marz chases the counsellors through the woods with his big axe. Not to sound morbid but there really are some top death scenes on offer here. They include a hanging, an impaling, and a great scene with a car – all which feature practical effects that would make Tom Savini proud.
Fair enough, the dialogue is a bit cheesy and the characters aren’t the most complex bunch of people you’ll ever meet, but Madman has its stylistic accomplishments. As the feature-length documentary included on the Blu-ray reveals, the film only cost a measly $350,000 so the distinct aesthetic is impressive. The fact it is shot entirely at night gives Madman a really isolative and claustrophobic feel, and the squelchy, synth-laden score that pervades the film only enhances this. The blue-rinsed, moonlit cinematography throughout also adds to the atmospheric ambience and it looks impressive with a 4k transfer for this release.
Ignore that Madman got a frankly preposterous rating of 17% on Rotten Tomatoes and take it from us that if you like your slasher films, you’ll appreciate this. Not to mention the fact that Madman Marz has his own badass theme tune that appears in the credits. Jason Vorhees wishes he had a theme tune half as good as Madman Marz…
Special Features: The Legend Still Lives documentary / Two audio commentaries / Four featurettes / Interviews / TV spots / Stills gallery / Trailer / Collector’s booklet