Starring Gaylen Ross, Tony Fish, Harriet Bass, Seth Jones, Jan Claire, Jimmy Steele, Carl Fredericks, Paul Ehlers
Directed By Joe Giannone
Forced to live in the shadow of Friday the 13th since its original release in 1982, it only takes one viewing to realize that Madman is hands-down the superior film. Not to brazenly shit on the legendary long-running horror franchise, but there is a reason this obscure slasher film was gobbled up on DVD and went quickly out of print when Anchor Bay took a chance on its re-release a few years back. The same can’t be said for Friday the 13th which still waddles away, buried deep in the $5 DVD bin at your local Wal-Mart™.
Popping this disc in instantly takes me back in time to the horror aisles of old mom and pop run video rental shops of the 1980s. Gone were the wall-to-wall piles of new releases that are found in most present day franchises. Hidden behind the sun-faded Freddy Krueger cutouts and below the thumb-tacked Toxic Avenger poster with its curling edges and scotch-tape repaired tears would lay rows upon rows of obscure, low-budget horror films. They were propped up meticulously in their shiny cellophane wrappers with that block of foam jammed inside the box to keep it from flattening. Every Friday visit to the rental store was like a treasure hunt. My dad would carefully float down the aisles grabbing pretty much anything that looked at least somewhat interesting. We would take home stacks of long forgotten classics like Chopping Mall, C.H.U.D., Night of the Demons, and Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2. Some of these films would be deemed worthy of second or third rentals. But I don’t think my dad rented any film as much as Madman, which probably saw more time playing inside our top-loading VCR than it did sitting on that shelf in the video store.
In fact, we took that goddamn movie everywhere we went, bestowing upon friends and family its virtues of bloody axes hacking into faces, gnawed off noses, and brutal depictions of child murder. Yes sir it just wasn’t a Jasper family Christmas unless the kids were gathered around the big, wood-paneled TV, wolfing down ham and mashed potatoes while taking in repeat viewings of Madman.
The film opens in familiar slasher film territory. Students and staff of the North Sea Cottages for Gifted Children sit around a dark campfire, telling ghost stories. The head counselor and old man of the group, Max, tells the local tale of a mentally disturbed farmer and the night he snapped, butchering his wife and kids for no reason before lying his bloodied axe up at the counter of the local bar and ordering a beer. The locals took the deranged killer into the woods, hanging him until dead. His name was Madman Marz. But never mention that name above a whisper or he will hunt you down.
Well, campfire douchebag Ritchie uses this opportunity to not only taunt Madman Marz at the top of his lungs, but to throw a rock at his old cabin, shattering a window.
I know what you’re thinking… God damn you Jasper. That is the most generic, bare-assed plot in the history of horror movies. You’re absolutely right. But the beauty of this movie lies in its simplicity. This film doesn’t rely on gimmicks to justify itself. What you have here is the slasher film stripped of all the bullshit spins and twists that would later flood the genre in the direct-to-video market of the late ’80s. Madman Marz wasn’t a killer clown, a bloodthirsty dentist, or a psychopathic Santa Claus. He was a big-ass farmer with a big-ass axe, and that was that. It is the slasher film in its purest, most undiluted form — and it remains scary to this day because of that.
A film snob will look at this movie and find five hundred things wrong with it.”The Acting is bad!” “This dialogue is awful!” “Why would that woman hide in a refrigerator?” The joke is ultimately on them though, because darling, the movie doesn’t care about any of that petty bullshit. Its only concern is delivering a heavy payload of blood, gore, violence, and chills. And there are few other films out there that deliver where it really counts as well as this one does. You want meat hook killings? Bam! We got that shit. How about car hood decapitations? Booyah!! We have you covered. OK guys, now how about some bare male ass?
Yeah, I guess they could have done without that one.
Director Joe Giannone takes a few liberties that keep the film fresh and interesting. I especially enjoyed the quick flash-forwards at the beginning of the film which show the demise of each victim around the campfire long before they actually end up getting the axe. Also it was a wise move to never show Madman Marz directly until the very end of the film, opting instead for moonlight silhouettes or close-ups of a gnarled hand or axe. It definitely helps play up the “elusive local legend” thing quite a bit and further perpetuates one of those undeniable truths of horror filmmaking… It’s always scarier when the audience doesn’t see the monster. When Marz is finally revealed towards the end of the film… well, the makeup could have probably been a little better. Truthfully, he looks like he could have been a stunt double from Harry and the Hendersons, but that’s just a minor grievance.
And finally there is the classic theme song. I don’t think any horror film of the ’80s had a better theme than Gary Sales’s Song of Madman Marz. It is like the electronic driven, unholy union of Jethro Tull and Kris Kristofferson. It actually works its way into the film itself, as sung by one of the counselors, which is pretty awesome as well.
If you’re in the mood for senseless murder, horny camp counselors, or axe swingin’ maniacs you could always watch that other film… or you could be a true original and give Madman a spin.