Gaylen Ross (as Alexis Dubin) - Betsy
Tony Fish - T.P.
Jan Claire - Ellie
Harriet Bass - Stacy
Seth Jones - Dave
Alexander Murphy, Jr. - Bill
Jimmy Steele - Richie
Carl Fredericks - Max
Paul Ehlers - Madman Marz
Michael Sullivan - Dippy
Year - 1982
Score - 1 Howl Outta 4
As a horror movie connoisseur, I can admittingly say that the slasher sub-genre is my absolute favorite. Watching stupid characters get massacred by a much more interesting villain brings a lot of fun to my viewing experience. After watching many slasher films and still catching up on some as well, my slasher experience has raised a few rhetorical questions I continue to ask myself:
a) How come Norman Bates' corpse mother looks a lot better than 42-year-old Brigitte Nielsen?
b) Why does the town of Haddonfield continue to stock their stores with that blank William Shatner mask when the only person buying them is resident killer Michael Myers?
c) Why does 85 percent of all slasher films post-FRIDAY THE 13TH have to take place at camp or some kind of woodland area?
I really don't know the answer to any of those three. All I do know is that the 1982 slasher, MADMAN, was released after FRIDAY THE 13TH and takes place at camp. I also know that MADMAN, while odd and campy [no pun intended], is no where a classic as FRIDAY THE 13TH or as good either. The only thing "mad" about MADMAN is me wishing the film could have been better.
We literally begin this horror film with a dude singing the theme song around a campfire with his friends (which includes DAWN OF THE DEAD's Gaylen Ross) and the children being looked after. The singing automatically turned this film's rating from "Excellent" to "Good" in a matter of seconds. Anyway, the singing stops and camp propeitor Max (Carl Fredericks) tells everyone a story about the legend of Madman Marz, a local farmer who one night killed his wife and two kids before the local townspeople hanged him and set an axe to his face. Max claims if anyone says the name "Madman Marz" above a whisper, he'll reappear and murder everyone. Of course, there has to be a smartass in the group. His name is Richie (Jimmy Steele), and he pretty much yells out the name and taunts the legend as well. He also hurls a rock behind him, which ironically breaks a window of the house that used to be Madman Marz. The group laughs it off, thinking it's just a silly story. But quickly after, they start to get murdered one by one. Is it Madman Marz? Is it an actor wearing a really ridiculous costume? The choice is yours.
This was actually my first time watching this film. I saw the poster for
it during the GOING TO PIECES: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SLASHER FILM documentary and figured it looked pretty cool. So I caught it on cable and...well...it was just "eh". While the film tried with some nice direction, decent gore, and a very good performance by a certain actress, the rest fell flat for me. Just because you set a horror film in the woods doesn't mean it's gonna achieve FRIDAY THE 13TH status.
Let's start with the good. Gaylen Ross, who many of you may remember from the original 1978 DAWN OF THE DEAD, is pretty much the only good actor in the film. While her character of Betsy doesn't have much depth, at least Ross tried to make the most of it and actually seemed to care about her craft. She has these eyes and this approach to things that makes you want to watch and hear her. As the main heroine of the film, she should have been able to do more if the script had allowed her to do so [which it didn't]. But I liked her anyway and it's a shame she didn't garner a bigger career. I think she had what it took to do bigger and better things. This was a step down from the George A. Romero zombie classic, that's for sure.
The direction by Joe Giannone was actually good as well. Giannone created some scenes of tension, had very good pacing, and used his surroundings and the lighting well to create an atmosphere. The film pretty much takes place at night, so the woods look extremely creepy. He also took a crap script and turned it into something that shouldn't have been watchable in the first place. The film would have been barely watchable if it wasn't for Mr. Giannone.
The special effects by William Depaolo were pretty good. While the film wasn't as gory as FRIDAY THE 13TH or the much better FRIDAY THE 13TH clone THE BURNING, the effects in MADMAN are above average. We see blood, severed heads, people getting hooked, people getting hanged, and people getting axed. Giannone tries not to showcase the gory stuff, probably due to the low budget of the film, but you see enough to feed your blood thirst.
Too bad everything else pretty much blew. The script is absolutely dumb as rocks. Sure, slasher films are not known for their intelligent scripts. But this was as if Paris Hilton was trying to write a screenplay for a horror film. Yeah, it's that bad. Nothing is really logical here. The dialogue is terrible. The characters are annoying as hell. I mean, how do people expect us to enjoy a film when I'm watching idiotic people do things that NO ONE would do even if their lives depended on it? It's ridiculous. Joe Giannone, who wrote this script, should stick to directing. At least he's good at something.
Let's talk about these stupid characters. God, I hated them all except for Betsy and maybe Max. None of these people were remotely likeable or deep enough for me to give a damn about them. I mean, what kind of counselors don't suspect that something is wrong when people start disappearing? They had the clues right in front of them but did nothing with them. You had T.P. (Tony Fish) who seemed like a decent guy, but he's killed right after that you never get the chance to care.
Then there are these two annoying girls (Jan Claire and Harriet Bass). I honestly couldn't tell you what their names are or who was who. The sex positive one [who pretty much told Betsy that she had a reputation] wasn't promiscuous at all. Hell, the only nudity you get from this film is from T.P.! Nothing she said was remotely convincing or with a shred of emotion. Even her screaming and fear was flat. And then there's the really annoying one who barely had any brain cells left to use. I don't blame Madman Marz for doing what he did. What a dumb character played by an even worse actress. She either underacted or overacted. She could never get it right. The best thing she did in the film was hide in a refrigerator. It seriously made me laugh at how dumb it was, so she got points for that. Other than that, no thanks. And the male co-stars were no better.
And Madman Marz...cool name, horrible costume and make-up job. He looked like a waxed, bleached version of a gorilla. The makeup by Jo Hansen and costume by Paullette Aller didn't do the job for me, sorry. I liked the character but the look only made me laugh. Not scary at all. And all he did was grunt, which annoyed me as well.
And that theme song - what the hell was that!? It was supposed to be some kind of gothic-funk music score and all it did was make me roll my eyes and laugh. It was ridiculous. This is supposed to scare people? It sure does...into fits of laughter. Want a real horror score? Listen to HALLOWEEN. Listen to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Listen to any of LaToya Jackson's albums. Those selections are frightening. This one was far from it. I never thought there would be a worse theme than the one from MY BLOODY VALENTINE. I was proven wrong.
And I have to say that I will never make love in a hot tub after watching this film. That "foreplay" scene between Ross and Fish was just sad and I didn't get the point of them just circling around each other before having really boring sex. And the Air Supply-ish music didn't help [I like Air Supply but not in my horror cereal, sorry]. I swore hot tubs were supposed to lead to exciting things on a date. I guess reality TV really is scripted.
THE FINAL HOWL
MADMAN is a very uninspiring and pretty dull film. It's dumb, it has a really cheesy theme song, the characters are really unlikable, and the villain is laughable at best. If it wasn't for good direction, nice gore, Gaylen Ross, and a half-half ending that's both good and bad, this film wouldn't be worth anyone's time. I can usually look past faults in the slasher genre, but this one has too many to dismiss. If you've seen MADMAN and enjoyed it, that's cool. I can understand the appeal somewhat. But if you haven't seen this one and would like to for whatever reason, make sure you have some kind of substance in your system. You'll probably enjoy it more not sober. If you want a decent camp slasher, watch any of the FRIDAY THE 13TH films, SLEEPAWAY CAMP films, and THE BURNING. But hey...at least it's not a remake!