Director: Joe Giannone
Year of release: 1981
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 88 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Taglines: "Don't say his name" and "They thought they were alone".
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Whilst sitting around a camp fire some kids at a summer camp are entertained by a tale told by the head counsellor of local legend Madman Marz. The infamous Marz was purported to be an imposing farmer who is said to have gone crazy one night and butchered his family with an axe. After his crimes come to light the townspeople lynched the man from a tree but the next morning the corpse of Marz along with the bodies of his dead family had disappeared. As the legend goes Marz never actually died and is still stalking the woodlands appearing when people dare say his name above a whisper.
One of the older kids under the care of the counsellors decides to test out the theory by shouting out the name together with throwing a rock through the window of the old farmers house. This turns out to be a bad idea as it summons forth the hulking Marz who goes about hunting the intruders who’ve strayed onto his patch.
Good points: *The opening scene of the movie is really well done and was definitely my favourite part of it. I’m referring to the camp fire scene of course where the tale of Marz is told. Simple and cliché as it is I really liked the backstory provided here. I thought it was very well delivered by the head counsellor Max as well who himself was an entertaining character during his short time in the film and I was a bit disappointed when he departed. Regardless the opening is very atmospheric and definitely the part of the movie which stays with you the longest I’d say.
*Another element I enjoyed was the music particularly the theme song heard at the beginning and end which bookended things very nicely. The musical score throughout the film as a whole was pretty good though and always effective if not being anything truly memorable outside of the theme at the start/end. What the subtitles described as “discordant music” which was used to create tension in the more dramatic parts stood out as well.
*Spoilers: There are a couple of decent killings with the quite brutal hanging to kick off the murders proper and the incident with the car hood/bonnet being the two standouts for me. There is also a decent amount of blood and although they maybe don’t have a big enough budget to do anything too elaborate they at least make an effort to provide plenty of spilled claret.
*The figure of the titular madman himself is reasonable and despite not liking the look of him all that much when he was properly revealed towards the end he is effectively concealed leading up to that point with only flashes of him being seen or close ups of his hands and feet. There is also the unsettling scene near the start where he is seen in silhouette standing in the tree. Considered a well-loved shot among many fans it serves as a good introduction to the character in the early stages for his first appearance outside the flashback.
Bad Points: *I thought the whole business with Ritchie was poorly done with him wondering off early on and entering the killer’s farmhouse. It was just never clear what he was supposed to be doing with too much of the film going by without him being a part of it. He became a bit of an after thought whereas I at first believed he’d play more of a key role.
The one purpose he did serve of dividing the counsellors and giving them a reason to go off on their own to look for him was poorly handled in itself and overused a bit too much throughout the story. It wasn’t clear either why he didn’t try and find his own way back to camp instead of dallying around the Marz house going in and then coming back out again a couple of times.
The look of stunned surprise on his face towards the end when he presumably discovered the bodies was also really cheesy and a bit embarrassing.
*Spoiler: The ending wasn’t very good I didn’t think in terms of the reveal of the above mentioned bodies which Marz had been arranging in the cellar. It was so hard to see what was going on when it was finally shown and so far away I could barely even see that it was supposed to be the posed corpses of those we’d seen killed. When you compare it to something similar like say the endings of Hell Night or Happy Birthday to Me then to me the difference in quality is startling. Even Girl School Screamers did this type of bodies reveal better!
The filmmakers do deserve credit for going down darker avenue at the very end but I didn’t think even this made up for the clunky body reveal plus I didn’t like how it wasn’t clear if Marz escaped the burning building or not.
*Other than the Max character I didn’t like any of the others with not a one of them leaving an impression on me other than Gracie which was for all the wrong reasons. She was such a weird one, dopey and vacant to the point of appearing witless which I don’t think was what they were trying to put across but that’s how it seemed. In fairness I suppose she does provide some unintentional comic relief but I couldn’t take her scenes seriously and it took away a bit IMO from the menace of the killer.
There were some other lame embarrassing moments from the other characters such as Stacey poking her tongue out at the steep slope for making her crawl up it and Dave’s nonsensical jabber at one point which adds nothing other than making him look like a weirdo.
On a final note regarding the counsellors I thought it was stupid that there were six of them in total plus Max to look after just five kids. Perhaps I missed something in which case I apologise but unless the rest of the younger kids were supposed to have gone home early then surely the kids should outnumber the counsellors not the other way around?
Verdict: I didn’t like this one as much as I thought I would and it went downhill I thought rather quickly after an admittedly strong start. Maybe at the time of release a big deal wasn’t made about it but overtime Madman’s become one of the more recognisable of the standalone eighties slashers. I came to it very late only a few years ago but due to the fanbase it’s built up over the years I was hoping for more but ultimately came away underwhelmed and disappointed. This isn’t to say it’s a bad film because it’s got some good things going for it and there are far worse efforts out there but it felt average at best for me.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
I’m not counting the family members killed in the backstory flashback. Also I’m not counting Marz himself as it was probably more likely he survived the fire at the end.
1)Dippy: Throat ripped out.
2)T.P: Hung from a tree with a rope.
3)Dave: Attacked with an axe, found decapitated later.
4)Stacey: Decapitated by car hood/bonnet after Marz jumps on top of it while she is leaning underneath checking the engine.
5)Bill: Back snapped after Marz lifts him up over his head.
6)Ellie: Badly wounded by an axe attack and then later shot by accident by Betsy.
7)Betsy: Wounded and impaled on a hook. The house then catches fire and she presumably dies in the blaze.