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MADMAN

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Alexis 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

Film **

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 priceless.

Video **1/2

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 hope for.

Audio **1/2

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 about, either.

Features ***

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 lane. 

Summary: 

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…)