So, it's 1982. The done thing for American teenagers in the summertime is to head off to summer camp and wait for the local psychopath to turn up and bloodily slaughter them all.
In this instance, a group of would-be victims sit around a campfire one night spinning scary yarns (and, in one bizarrely cringe-inducing moment, even singing the yarns). When it comes to the elderly camp counsellor's turn, he points to a derelict farmhouse nearby and tells his goggle-eyed listeners of a man who lived there, and whose insanity drove him to kill his entire family with an axe. Splashy flashbacks aid the viewer.
His story ends with the claim that the man was subsequently hung in public by the local townsfolk, only for his body to have disappeared the following morning, Legend has it, we're told, the man still roams the woods looking for fresh victims. If you utter his name - Madman Marz - louder than a whisper, he's sure to come and get you.
Cue wisecracking annoyance Richie (Tom Candela), who takes it upon himself to launch a brick through one of the farmhouse windows and scream the psychotic killer's name as loud as he can. Jovialities over with, the group retire for the evening.
All seems well the following day - the usual shenanigans can be found here and there (romances that blossoming; romances that may not last the summer; people preparing to head off home, etc). But in the back of everyone's mind lurks the counsellor's creepy story. Is Madman Marz real?
Of course, it doesn't take long before the group find out the answer to that question. And I bet it's a question they wish they hadn't asked.
A low-budget addition to the popular slasher cycle of the early 1980s, writer-director Joe Giannone's MADMAN takes local folklore and weaves into a formulaic but fun film that perhaps plays too close to convention for its own good.
I know, I know, this genre was hardly known for its originality - just look at FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE BURNING, THE PROWLER etc for evidence. But those films compensated with a few quirky, memorable characters, the undeniable flair of directors such as Sean S Cunningham and Tony Maylam, and - of course - all three of the films mentioned had the benefit of a certain Tom Savini handling their gory special effects...
In contrast, MADMAN suffers from weak characters who don't strike a chord with the viewer. The dialogue is flat, and so are the cast's deliveries. Giannone clearly lacked directorial experience and fails to muster either engaging performances or any sense of incremental pace. He shoots with a basic eye on the action, resulting in MADMAN being quite an aesthetically dull film too. There are occasional flourishes of style - during set-pieces and flashbacks mainly - but for the most part the direction looks very workman-like.
As for the gore? Well, MADMAN is relatively bloodless in slasher terms, There are splashes of the red stuff here and there, and the occasional inventive kill (including cool use of a car bonnet) but there's nothing here to remotely rival the excesses of the early 80s' fellow slasher films.
And yet, the film has acquired a commendable cult following over the decades. Why? Well, it does have a certain charm. Be it the embarrassing hot-tub love scene in the first half-hour, complete with a pop song sung totally out of tune on the soundtrack, or Paul Ehlers' exaggerated grunts as the hulking titular character, there is enough demented fun here to keep MADMAN highly watchable despite (or perhaps, because of) its many shortcomings.
Vinegar Syndrome already released MADMAN as a nice blu-ray/DVD combo pack not so long ago, in America. Now it's the UK's turn...
Arrow Films Video bring MADMAN to UK blu-ray (and DVD, in what is also a dual format combo pack), fully uncut and as a nicely sized MPEG4-AVC file which houses a clean 1080p HD transfer of the film. Framed correctly at 1.85:1 one, the 16x9 picture is a tad soft at times - per the filters employed during shooting - but detail remains fine throughout, while natural grain works alongside deep blacks and good depth to deliver an authentically filmic presentation. Colours are warm, flesh tones are true. The print used is strikingly clean for the most part.
English audio comes in a clean, clear and consistent English lossless mono mix. Optional English subtitles are easy to read.
The disc's animated main menu page leads into pop-up menus including a scene selection option allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.
Extras are plentiful.
They begin with Victor Bonacore's stupendously thorough 92-minute "The Legend Still Lives!" documentary. This manages to track down most of the film's surviving cast and crew member for onscreen interviews. It's a slick, well-edited and attractively produced affair which ironically ends up being more interesting than the main feature. It looks at the slasher trend that inspired MADMAN, speaks about the shoot and even goes out touring for filming locations.
Two audio commentaries are entertaining affairs. The first comes from the cast and crew, dominated primarily by producer Gary Sales. Warm memories and keen attention to detail mix well with light banter to produce an engaging listen. Meanwhile The Hysteria Continues team provide the second commentary track, and it's a far more informative, trivia-based chat than I'd anticipated.
We also get "Alive at 35", in which Sales teams up with actors Tom Candel and Paul Ehlers for the first time in over three decades, to look back fondly on the film's making. This 21-minute featurette is as a fun as it is heartwarming (the trio are genuinely touched to consider the film has so many fans). This was originally produced by Vinegar Syndrome for their US release.
"I wanted to add some polish to my rock 'n' roll chops" states Sales in the proceeding 14-minute interview, which focuses on how he shifted from music to the film industry in the early 80s.
Sales and Ehlers also feature in archive, VHS-quality interviews conducted by The Dead Pit. Sales' chat comes via a 3-minute onstage Q&A clip; Ehlers is quizzed at a convention, flanked by his son John - who was born during the film's shoot! Both interviews make mention of a MADMAN remake...
"In Memoriam" finds Sales commentating over 6 minutes of stills of various cast and crew members who have passed away. Most notably, of course, is Giannone.
"Music inspired by Madman" is a 12-minute featurette looking at musicians such as Deron Miller who have submitted their songs, inspired by the films, to Sales. Good stuff.
The film's original 2-minute trailer is a nice addition, as are 5 TV spots. A stills gallery rounds out the on-disc bonus features.
This package also includes double-sided reversible cover art and a collectors' booklet, neither of which were provided at the time of review.
MADMAN is fondly remembered by many, but in truth I don't consider it to be one of the essential slasher flicks of its era. Having said that, if you're a fan you really do owe it to yourself to check out this packed set.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|see main review|