- Paul Ehlers
And I haven't even explored the inappropriate, ill-timed smiles (the one in the pickup truck is hysterical) and lack of urgency she shows when reunited with her lover. And those aren't the only moments that make Madman a riotous watch with heavy replay value (it's clear the filmmakers had a sense of humor).
As far as slashers go, Madman is a curious entry stuck between two extremes: At times it's so silly you can't take it seriously, but just as many times its surprisingly good at crafting some scenes and images of genuine suspense (even if most of them aren't entirely original). That odd mixture can be frustrating--you almost wish the filmmakers stuck to one approach, and it becomes particularly disappointing when a chilling scene gets ruined with a silly exclamation point. If Halloween set the slasher standard, Friday the 13th capitalized on the craze and took the genre on a cheapened camping trip. As for The Burning? It was a Friday the 13th knockoff. Madman? It makes The Burning look like Hitchcock. Nonetheless, the film is only half "so bad it's good", the other decent half easily raising it above the genre's bottom-feeders.
Don't stop me if this sounds familiar: It's a dark summer (cough*fall*cough) night at a camp for kids, and the gang is huddled around a campfire as one of the counselors relates an urban legend. Seems their campsite is located near an infamous house where a crazy farmer slaughtered his wife and kids. The town took justice into its own hands, its residents disfiguring the man (his nose was bitten off in a bar brawl...yikes!) before hanging him from a tree for his crimes. But when the sun rose, his body was nowhere to be found (ditto his victims' bodies). His legend now lives on:
"On certain nights when the moon is full, he's out there stalking in the woods, searching for people so he can chop their heads off with an ax, or hang them from a tree! It is said also that if you say his name above a whisper in the woods, he will hear you, because he can be anywhere, anytime. And if he hears you call his name, he'll come for you. And if he comes for you, he'll get you...one by one, you'll start to fall before night's over. His name is...Madman Marz!"
That tale comes courtesy of Steve Christy--sorry, 'scuse me--Max. He's played by Carl Fredericks, whose affected and mannered delivery made me think of Kramer's occasional (and hysterical) attempts at adopting a dignified accent on Seinfeld ("Why don't you just tell me the movie you want to see?"). That story is also accompanied by flash-forward clips of our counselors in peril, a nice touch that casts a bleak tone right away and foreshadows the evil ahead.
Like many a Friday counselor before him, Max soon heads into town, leaving his staff and the kids alone on their last night before heading back home. The caretakers include blond Betsy (credited as Alexis Dubin here, genre fans will know her better as Gaylen Ross of Dawn of the Dead), whose has a tempestuous relationship with on-again/off-again boyfriend T.P. (the late Tony "Fish" Nunziata in his only film role, a trend with this cast acquired outside of the Screen Actors Guild); Betsy's gal pal Stacey (Harriet Bass), who--in her spare time--likes to sit in a canoe and play her flute alone in the dark at night; the slightly odd Dave (Seth Jones), whose knife-wielding monologue about the potential violence in all of us is just plain creepy; and lovebirds Ellie (Jan Claire, who helped with casting before replacing an actress at the last second) and Bill (Alex Murphy), a mustachioed hunk who likes to get groovy in tents.
There are more adult figureheads, and until the end--when a counselor corrals the kids into the bus in an attempt to escape--I didn't realize that this film only has six (!) child characters (you should have been there for the "That's it?!" epiphany in my head...it was a riot). That's right--the kids at this camp are apparently so gifted, they each require two staff supervisors. You'd think the filmmakers could find a way to at least fake a larger number--thus upping the tension with more youngins in peril (ala Jason Lives)--but nope, just the six! The only one you need to concern yourself with is Richie (Jimmy Steele), who takes Max's bait and shouts out Marz's name at the campfire, daring the killer to surface--thus bringing on the night of mayhem.
In addition to the lower production values and mostly unfortunate acting (Ross wasn't this atrocious in Dawn, was she?!), 1982's Madman had the misfortune of closely following the two films it resembled the most: Friday the 13th Part 2 and The Burning, which were released within a week of each other in May of 1981. Those concerns are addressed in the bonus features, and it's clear that this film was being made around the same time as its predecessors--so you can't really blame director/writer Joe Giannone and writer Gary Sales for all of the striking similarities; it's probably just bad luck and bad timing. Then there's the synth score, which just forces comparisons to Halloween. But hey, at least we get the cool folksy ballad, right? (Oh, wait...My Bloody Valentine did it better in 1981, too? Dang, Madman...you can't catch a break!)
This is an odd entry to pin down. What to make of Madman, especially when the sequences that stick out the most are the silly ones? Yeah, that's right...I'm talking about the hot tub scene. Having made up, Betsy and T.P. (a name I'm assuming was given to the character simply because the prop department had a belt buckle with those initials on it, seen in a sexy torso close-up here) head to the bubbling water. The odd interlude is so out of place and tone with the rest of the film, you'd almost swear it was accidentally spliced in from a porno.
It looks like a parody lifted straight out of Date Movie (or any other of Aaron Seltzer's lousy lampoon "scripts"). The two lovebirds stare at each other with bedroom eyes, then commence an odd mating dance in the water--while circling the tub at opposite ends, they also rotate their own bodies in a circle. All the while, the tango is accompanied by an awful song (sung by Nunziata!) from a 1970s Easy Listening station: "Please, let your feelings throooogh! Don't need words to know, how I feel about yoooou! Love, get a grip on us tooooo!"
When we cut back to them later (as our horny voyeur killer watches from the window), the two rise from the depths with my favorite line from the entire film, courtesy of Betsy: "I was right in the middle! You didn't let me finish!" (Note to viewers: underwater oral sex is no laughing matter...I've had 43 brushes with death before I finally learned my lesson.) For a horror movie, the scene is a total buzz kill. But as a piece of unintentionally funny early '80s awfulness, it's delish.
And while I make fun of the acting, the script isn't helping anyone: The "I'll be right back!" and "Let's split up!" developments are so prevalent, you'd think it was a joke if the genre wasn't still in its infancy. This exchange between Ellie and Bill as the two are wandering the woods is made all the more hysterical because her last line is delivered so terribly (almost like the actress doesn't comprehend the purpose of the scene):
Bill: "The campfire area is that way! If you move close to the trail and I go this way, we'll make a complete circle."
The last line makes it sound like the two are about to have sex, the actress apparently reading from a different script (I'm assuming from the same porno movie the hot tub scene is from). Ellie, you just had sex! You know you're searching for your missing friends, right?! Focus, Ellie! Focus! Crazy nymph! (If you've seen Kristen Wiig in any of her Betty Boob-inspired Shanna skits on SNL, you know what I mean.)
But even worse is the dialogue we have to endure long before the carnage even starts. I'm imagining the exchange between Betsy and Stacy at the beginning is meant to be some form of character development, but...really?! "There are things that I like about him...when we're alone, he's soft and tender!" That follows Stacy's advice to T.P.: "Give her room to make up her own mind! If you really love her, the biggest test is letting go, not holding on!" And because tragedy always comes in threes, listen to this nugget of wisdom from Max: "Play the game with a fair heart, and you'll always be able to look yourself in the mirror. Play too hard to win, and you might not like what you become!" (Where's Madman Marz when you need him?!)
Giannone and Sales are perhaps trying too hard to inject fake sincerity in an attempt to be taken (at least slightly more) seriously, instead of just letting natural story, performances and interactions unfold (something Friday the 13th did well). I suppose that's part of the fun of early '80s slashers, but nonetheless, given this cast I would have put Bass in the lead role--she has a far more alluring presence in front of the camera (watch for that great shot of her face after one kill cuts back to the cabin) and comes across the most natural of the bunch. (Although in all honesty, there really aren't any leads here--Ross and Nunziata are absent from large chunks of the movie.)
But all is not lost, and when the jittery Madman takes time to settle down and breathe (the film often has little sense or flow, scenes sometimes smashed together with the finesse of an industrial stapler), there's actually some cool sequences and shots. We get a few teasing glimpses of Marz's face (too many, actually), and the forest stalk sequences--especially T.P.'s and Dave's--are effective because they slow down and take their time.
Ditto the finale, where Betsy (after making a laughably nonsensical decision in the bus that will have you yelling at the screen) gets pursued in Madman's house, a pretty cool and chilling location that the film takes advantage of (Betsy's comfort with a gun? Not so much...Sigourney Weaver she ain't). Stacy is also part of perhaps the film's most memorable sequence, starting with a headless discovery and ending with...um...a headless discovery (note to self: pickup truck hoods are sharp, y'all!). Giannone composes a few great visuals, including one with that bloody pickup and another with an unsuspecting Dave in danger.
Giannone and director of photography James Lemmo (aka James Momel) show some nice composition at times, and--as rightly noted in the bonus features--the film uses editing and misdirection to solid effect, often covering up for its minimal budget. Most of the gore here is post impact, but not nearly as bad as some of the acting. And even if it doesn't make any sense, I like the film's running subplot that has Richie trailing the killer, who isn't aware of the intruder's presence--although the shot where Richie sees something horrible sticks out for a few reasons: it seems straight out of Friday the 13th Part 2, and it takes a really, really long time for realization to dawn on the amateur actor's limited face (wait for it...wait for it...keep waiting...yawn...hey Richie! We're getting tired, here!).
And that brings me to the best of both of the film's worlds, the madman himself. Played by Paul Ehlers, Marz strikes a formidable presence, his silhouette and shadow used effectively. But the film also makes its biggest mistake with this critical character. The makeup department goes a little overboard with the feet and hands (which look like painted dishwashing gloves), but that's a forgivable offense. If there were just one thing I could change about the film, it would be the cartoonish grunts and growls that come out of Marz (ditto his excitable gait, viewed by Jimmy in a wasted scene that quickly transforms from spooky to silly). They alone do more harm to the film's potentially chilling atmosphere, transporting us into a Warner Brothers short where the bad guy comes across like a hybrid between the Tasmanian Devil and Animal from the Muppets (don't get me wrong...I love those crazy beasts, just not in my horror films).
And the poor guy could also use a little more cardio training--listen to his heavy breathing when he has to chase after a truck. One of the funniest parts of the film, it instantly called to mind the heavy breather from Student Bodies--a film that mocked slasher conventions and came out in (you guessed it!) 1981. Oh Madman, couldn't you learn from the mistakes of others? And I have to wonder if the silly bus standoff at the end inspired the golf cart chase sequence in Club Dread (the best scene in that disappointing spoof). You're a strange beast, Madman...but I still love ya, warts and all. Hey, anyone in the mood for an omelette?
And continuing the "bad" trend, many of the outdoor night scenes are missing the blue filter that accompanies the film on the Anchor Bay disc, a look I prefer (the lack of tint makes some of the scenes look like they appear in the daytime, and lessen the look and impact of the picture). Over on a thread at HorrorDVDs.com, Code Red president Bill Norton had this to say:
"Some clarification, unlike previous DVD's where we used a place that also has Shout Factory as a client, I did not have my usual authoring house author this, this DVD was produced by the Producer of Madman, Gary Sales, who not only produced all the extras, but also over saw the authoring process at Duart. I do not know why it looks like this, as according to Gary, this was the exact same HD master that is being used on cable channels. I did not have 'hands on' approach on this project at all, so did not see the master after the fact, and did not have the Anchor Bay disc to compare it with. I will contact Gary Sales right now to find out the issues, as I instructed Duart to make sure this was to be progressively scanned, and Sales had to have told them numerous times when he over saw the project. Again, my usual authoring house did not do this title.
Since the producer had full control of this DVD, he approved the master, and told me MonstersHD did the work, as they are known to do great work, and many here have said it looked great on IFC and MonstersHD, also I checked the finished disc, and as I said in a previous post that got deleted, did not have the AB disc to compare it."
Here are some comparison shots of the two discs; the Anchor Bay disc appears on the left (blown up from its non-anamorphic video), this new disc on the right:
Interestingly, in the audio commentary--which was recorded for the Anchor Bay release--Gary Sales says during a nighttime stalk sequence: "We worked with our D.P. Jimmy [Lemmo/Momel] quite a bit...these are all rigged lights, so that they worked for his look for night lighting. He was big on the blue--he really did the blue on this for night look." That's shortly followed by a comment about how Momel and director Joe Giannone had many "discussions" (i.e. disagreements) over various aspects, including composition for shots. Perhaps the blue hue was another disagreement, and Sales intentionally wanted to leave it out for this newer edition? It's disappointing--in my book, the blue helps the look--but overall isn't anywhere close to being a deal-breaker.
Note: This disc provided for this review appears to be a final version of the disc, but arrived sans packaging or art. Should a copy with better quality surface, I'll update this review.
Viewers familiar with the audio commentary from Anchor Bay's 2001 disc (also presented here) will find repetition in some stories--from little things like the influence of Holst's "The Planets" and the crew spray-painting the autumn leaves and pasting them to trees (an attempt to pass off the season as summer) to big things like the realization that there film was filming five weeks behind The Burning, forcing a change in script and focus. But there's a lot of new info and fresh perspectives here.
Producer/writer Gary Sales is the leader for the bulk of the documentary, taking us through the film's inspiration (the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th created a buying frenzy for horror films), casting, filming and the resurgence in the film's popularity. The documentary doesn't spend quite enough time with the actual filming for my taste--and the role of some people like Gaylen Ross is glossed over. Says Madman himself Paul Ehlers: "Gaylen was always cool on set...I never had a problem with her or anything" (um, okay...).
The early segments spent a lot of time with warm and fuzzy feelings about the contributors, primarily late actor Tony "Fish" Nunziata (involved with fish in some capacity for much of his life) and late director Joe Giannone, described as being focused, absorbed in what he was doing, a perfectionist and a kind soul: "Gary and Joe were perfect counter-balances to each other," says Harriet Bass. "Joe was a little higher strung and got a little more excited, and Gary would kind of be the voice of reason." The director also apparently was disappointed that they didn't pay the $12,000 to get three days of work out of Vincent Price, who they initially wanted for the Max role (which went to Carl Fredericks: "His hamminess? In a sense I always thought it worked for the character," says Ehlers. "It was kind of neat...").
We also hear a lot about the location and night shoots, two essential aspects that help give the film its character: "I believe because we actually lived on the set that it was a much richer experience," says Bass. "We were living in the woods and here we were doing a slasher film about the woods. You thought a little bit more about when you walked from one cabin to the next cabin in the middle of the night...it brought everyone closer together." As for the similarities to The Burning (a film mentioned by name only once in all of the extras), she recalls: "I remember how disappointing it was, cause this was sort of an original idea--we thought--and we were hoping that this would be the signature slasher movie. And low and behold, at the same time somebody was coming in with more money, bigger budget, bigger everything. " Sales notes that he and Giannone got a hold of the film's script and spend a long night combing through it before refashioning Madman.
Screenwriter/author Adam Rockoff (who wrote a "pickup truck hood death scene" homage into one of his scripts) also shows up to praise the film: "The fact that Madman isn't as well known or that it doesn't have the notoriety of its contemporaries like Terror Train and My Bloody Valentine and Prom Night is not at all an indictment of the artistic merits of the film, it's just a function that the film did not have close to the distribution that a lot of these other films received at the time."
Still, Sales was thrilled with the initial success his modest movie attained: "When we hit New York, we were Number 10 on the Variety Top 50 when E.T. was Number 9. Tootsie had 69 theaters, we had 73. So we were...for a little stupid $350,000 picture, it was exactly what we said we could do. We were competing with the majors on their turf, and making a movie for 1/20th of what they would spend."
The doc slows down a tad when it turns itself over to the fan boys, who--despite their enthusiasm--don't always make the most sense: Aaron Frye of Deadpit Radio over-emphasizes the importance of the campfire scene and mythology: "To me, that really was the key to what made this movie different from a lot of the other films." He says this just seconds after acknowledging the exact same scene came in the previously released Friday the 13th Part 2; ditto the unmentioned Burning (no one ever points out the possible influence of the Bloody Mary myth, either). We also get to see a fan-made trailer for the station's Mad Mania contest.
Other fans/genre journalists like Deadpit's Wes Vance (aka "The Creepy Kentukian"), "#1 Fan" Larry New, Geno McGahee of ScaredStiffReviews.com and Robert V. Gallozzo of Icons of Fright show up to share their recollections and views--and share some of their impressive collection of Madman memorabilia, including custom-made masks and figures as well as VHS tapes and posters from around the world: "I wasn't even aware of the fact that Madman had shown in other countries," notes Ehlers. "But it turns up, I hear there's a Pakistani Madman poster." (Adds Vance of his Greek VHS copy: "I have no idea how to pronounce what it says on there...").
Devon Miller, front man for band CKY, talks about how the film influenced some of his songs. Like Rockoff (and myself), he first discovered the film at a VHS rental store (I vividly remember the Thorn EMI label in that white box!)--a movement that, along with the internet, helped revive the film and give it newfound popularity. That has helped inspire people like Ehler's son Jonathan (born during filming, one of the great stories shared here: "I was held by a monster dad...that's how I came into the world") to co-write a remake/sequel that he promises will see the light of day. Sales and daddy Ehlers are also on board with the project--and the two pay a visit to the film's original Long Island filming locations here, making two really cool tree discoveries in the process.
Even with the doc's flaws (a few sequences/scenes/actors aren't even mentioned), there's a genuine love coming from everyone involved. Ehlers recalls how wonderful it was when he realized the film's influence years later at conventions, and notes that "it's worth it to be nice." And the smile of Bass put a smile on my face--nothing but pure joy radiates from her, and all of her moments on camera are heartwarming. Whether she's talking about not letting her kids see the film until their teens ("I loved doing it, and I love watching it," she says of her death scene), remembering the premiere in New York ("They made us all feel very special") or recalling the overall atmosphere on set ("Madman was about the atmosphere...we all created an environment that I think was really unique and really special"), her energy is infectious: "I like being part of a cult film...but it surprised me, I didn't know it was one until it came back to me," she says. "I believe Madman was a labor of love. It was the first time out for a lot of people and it was an experience I'll never forget."
And then there's Dippy himself, the unforgettably off-kilter Michael Sullivan. His demeanor and recollections perfectly fit the tone of the film and the documentary. You can hear the filmers laughing behind the camera, and I'm betting you will, too. He doesn't remember too much, but that doesn't make his contributions any less memorable: "I don't remember going to an opening," he says, before a tangent suddenly takes over. "I went to the opening of [1973 adult film] It Happened in Hollywood, which was [at] some theater on 57th Street I think...and the porno bike was there. I made a bike that fucks through the seat when you turn the pedals, and they had the bike in the lobby."
Also new to this edition: Madmania: Vintage Photos & Images (7:20), which has Sales narrating production memories as stills from the shoot are displayed (it's cool to see the list of nominees for The Saturn Awards, as well as the box office sheet from Variety and the double-bill marquee with Curtains, a film still in desperate need of a DVD release); In Memoriam (5:27), which also has Sales narrating over stills (many that we saw in the previous still set) as he talks about his late friends--the "stubborn" and "intense" Giannone ("When ya got to know him, ya got to love him") and the "charismatic" Fish, who all attended Richmond College in Staten Island; and Music from Band Fans of Madman (10:00), which has Sales narrating the intro before a series of songs either play ("Beware of Madman Marz" by Pizza Party, "The Ballad of Madman Marz" by The Vicar of VHS and "Beware the Madman Marz" by Wes Vance) or are represented by lyrics and/or Web addresses ("Escape from Hellview" by CKY, "Madman Marz" by Mortician and "Madman Marz" by Savage Thrust) due to rights issues. You also get a quick plug for the Madman Marz Re-imagining Project (:59), which has Sales narrating over links to Facebook and Twitter accounts.
You also get the same audio commentary from the 2001 Anchor Bay disc, which features Sales, Giannone, Nunziata and Ehlers. It's a great track, and thankfully allows us to hear Giannone (who died in 2001) and Nunziata (who died in 2009) share their passion on the project before their passing. The conflict with The Burning (which temporarily shut down the production: "What it left us with was a very weak feeling in our stomachs," says Sales) is revisited often, while the gang has a blast talking about some of the film's more memorable sequences.
That includes the hot tub scene, where they wax nostalgic over Nunziata's butt, (the actor also recalls "practicing" the scene with Ross behind the camera); the truck beheading (the vehicle actually landed Sales in court); the bus sequence ("No logic to this at all, but just keep on going with this!" says the director, prompting Sales to say: "Go see MI:2. You'll see there's no problem with that. You don't need logic!"); and the infamous stalking of Ellie, a.k.a. "Jan's marathon of screaming, yelling and panting" (notes Ehlers: "She was lucky that I was not hungry at the moment...").
It's also hysterical to realize that many of the Marz "single hand" shots were limited by the fact that they only had one claw prop for about a month, while Ehlers points out one of Madman's growls is actually Sales ("I didn't have your girth," he says, asking for forgiveness). Nunziata talks about studying "how to hang", and we learn that he used a rubber band to help add some purple to his face--a move that panicked Sales, who notes it was one of two times he thought he had seriously injured an actor on set (Rod Steiger in Men of Respect being the other).
The gang also discusses the film's reception, from being named a "Dog of the Week" on Sneak Previews to being named one of Joe Bob Briggs' "Top 10 Drive-In Movies" of all time; share how they c ame up with a few sound effects; cite a few brief homages to films like The Shining and High Noon; and recall getting lots of schwag from manufacturers (Wrangler!) in return for thanks in the credits. They also discuss their intent to make Madman a "non-sexist horror film" and talk about the songs and score: "It's almost a period piece in terms of sound," says Giannone. "It's really the early days of synthesizer, and it's being used in a way that would not be used today." We also learn that there is at least one "lost" scene that was filmed, where Betsy almost mistakenly shoots Richie in the woods before the final showdown in the Marz house. (Sadly, that footage is not here.)
The film's trailer (1:46) and five TV Spots (1:58) are also carried over from the Anchor Bay release.