It was the early 80s and the world of horror movies was thriving. Two filmmakers took the popular legend of Cropsy, a man who beheaded scouts, and made two films, which were shot and released concurrently. Madman was one and the other was a little film called The Burning. Although both ideas were spurned from the same legend, the films were radically different. The Burning featured several soon-to-be-famous actors such as Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens and Jason Alexander. It also had top notch effects by the legendary Tom Savini and it featured a lot of character development as well as some very effective set-pieces. The Burning is an excellent film and usually fans favor it over Madman, but I still sit here in the minority. I’m re-watching Madman right now and loving every minute of it.
The story itself does differ from The Burning. Madman is about an insane family man who axe to his wife and kids and was then hunted down by a lynch mob. They hung him up a tree only to disappear by morning. Legend has it, Madman Marz still walks the halls of his old, dilapidated house and if you say his name above a whisper, you will wake him from his slumber and he will hunt your ass down. One of the kids listening to the story yells out the famous adage, “Come and get me Madman Marz” and I’ll be damned if that old coot doesn’t get himself an axe and give everyone forty whacks, all while Ritchie (Jimmy Steele) eludes his fellow campers and learns the horrible truth about what is locked away in Marz’s house.
Madman relies almost solely on minimalism. In many ways, the film plays it by the numbers with the whole camp counselors in peril bit, and the dialog doesn’t do much to support any real character build-up (although naming characters “T.P.” does help differentiate things a bit!) but what it does have is a feeling of dread that bleeds through every frame. The set ups are classic, yet they remain effective and yeah, it’s still scary as hell. Marz is also a bloodcurdling creation. He’s a big backwoods type who looks like he could do some serious damage. For some reason, He has a perplexing growl, but I’ll forgive little inconsistencies for all out fear.
Another strong feature of Madman is the artistic photography. Shot completely night for night with blue gels, the movie is awash in dark, foreboding colors with some magnificent framing as well. Director Joe Giannone really puts the screws to the audience, and even incomprehensible scenes seem to work (I’m talking about the gal who hides in the fridge here. Uh yeah, good idea!). I remember the fist time I saw Madman, I was still not jaded by overplayed plots and it had me terrified. I still get that way when I watch this movie. It’s an example of a low-budget working in its favor and well, I’m always up for a decapitated head under the hood of a truck. Aren’t you?
IFC has recently picked up Madman and opened it up to a new audience. Slasher meets artsy fartsy?!? While that might put a few old schoolers into a tailspin, I say “Come and get me Madman Marz”!!!