Review by Michael Jacobson
Dubin, Tony Fish, Harriet Bass, Seth Jones, Jimmy Steele, Paul Ehlers
Director: Joe Giannone
Audio: Dolby 2-channel mono
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: Audio Commentary, Trailer, TV Spots
Length: 88 Minutes
Release Date: February 13, 2001
Madman is a cult favorite horror film from the
80’s, whose reputation rests, I think, largely on how well it mimics familiar
formulas. Nothing is original or
surprising here, and the entertainment value rests largely with how well it doesn’t
attempt to deviate—scare film fans who gather in groups will always be way
ahead of the story and screaming out their advice well in advance, and the
characters are so stupid and predictable in the way they behave, we don’t
really feel any guilt in wanting them to meet their grisly demises.
These are a group of people who would have benefited greatly from
watching the Scream movies a decade or so later.
The story begins with a group of “gifted” campers and
their chaperones having a little campfire fun in the woods. One tells the tale of a farmer who went off the deep end and
murdered his family with an ax. Dubbed
“Madman Marz” by the locals, he was supposed to have hanged for his crimes,
but disappeared. Legend is now, if
you say his name above a whisper in the woods, he’ll come for you.
Which is naturally what one of the so-called “gifted” youngsters
immediately does in mockery. Bad move.
Madman Marz does indeed exist, and his taste for blood is
as strong as ever. What follows
goes something like this: back at
the cabin, Person A wants to investigate something in the woods. He goes out alone, and naturally, meets a horrifying end
courtesy of our friend the Madman. After
a while, Person B says, “Hey, Person A hasn’t come back yet.
I’m gonna go out alone and see if I can find him.”
Another death. Person C then
ponders, “Hey, Person A is still gone, and Person B went out to look for him
and never came back. I’m gonna go
out alone and look for both of them.” See
where this is heading?
We know from the rules of horror that anybody who wanders
out alone is going to get it…we know that doubly here, because if one of the
victims survives to come back to the cabin and tell the tale, nobody else will
be venturing out into the woods to die!
That leaves us pretty much only with the satisfaction of
the murders, which range from mundane to memorable (the car hood decapitation
has become a classic image of the genre). None
of them are particularly surprising, based on the established formula, so to say
that the film achieves a sense of suspense would be an incorrect assessment.
We’re just trapped into waiting for the next gruesome murder while the
picture moves forward at a sometimes obstinately slow pace.
Madman Marz, as portrayed by first time actor Paul Ehlers,
is an effective villain with a good look to him, thanks to some good make up and
wig effects. He moves around mostly
in the shadows, but makes one or two full-out appearances for audiences to
appreciate that he really does look like a horror movie serial killer.
And, like the best such movies, this film doesn’t attempt to explain or
rationalize him or his actions. He
simply likes killing people…everyone needs a hobby, right?
This film was shot over a three month period at the end of
1980. During that short time,
Ronald Reagan became president and John Lennon was murdered. Perhaps more significant on the set was the fact that
Ehlers’ wife was expecting their first child…Madman Marz had to wear a pager
during filming so he could take off if she went into labor.
As fate would have it, she did so right in the middle of the scene, and
her husband had to head to the hospital in full Madman regalia.
The cameras should have followed him there…that footage would have been
This is by far the best looking version of Madman I’ve
seen on home video…fans who have only seen it on VHS will be pleased…but
it’s far from being Anchor Bay’s finest moment.
The overall look is not their fault, however. The film is just old and unpreserved, and suffers not from
transfer problems, but aging artifacts. The
colors are a bit washed and images are a tad soft, and the print shows signs of
wear in the form of debris, scratches, and occasional flicker.
The film is mostly all dark, and tends to render well, with only a few
instances of noticeable grain inherent in the picture.
I doubt that anyone’s going to spend the money for a full scale
restoration of Madman, so this DVD will probably be as good as we can
Again, the audio problems are not transfer related, as this
is a Dolby Digital 2-channel mix…the film and its soundtrack are simply old
and uncared for. The dialogue is
always clear, but the overall sound of the movie is a bit thin, with touches of
noise noticeable in the quieter moments. The
musical score, which is a real 80’s synthesizer fest, is also a bit flat
sounding, but a hoot to listen to. There’s
not much in the way of dynamic range, either.
Overall, a perfectly listenable audio track, but nothing to get keyed up
I love commentary tracks on low budget horror movies, and
this disc boasts a good one, teaming up director Joe Giannone with his co-writer
and producer Gary Sales, plus two of the actors, Tony Fish and the Madman
himself, Paul Ehlers. As with most
horror film villains, Ehlers comes across as the most laid back and with the
best sense of humor in his reminisces; the track is an enjoyable listen.
There is also a good collection of trailers and TV spots (again, for old
low budget horror movies, I love’ em) that will take you on a trip down memory
Madman offers horror fans nothing new, but those
fans have rewarded it by keeping it a cult favorite. It’s strictly by the numbers with no deviations, which
allows its viewers to just sit back and enjoy the gruesome blood fests as they
occur on screen with complete abandon, as there really are no characters we’re
rooting for to survive. Anchor Bay
once again comes through for the horror film fan by making a known low budget
picture available to DVD enthusiasts.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s very late here, and I just heard a noise in the woods outside my home. I’m going to go out alone and investigate. If you don’t hear back from me soon, I’d appreciate it if you came looking for me (one at a time, of course…)