Reviews

Madman (1981)

I pulled exactly one all-nighter in college, then barfed the next day. Madman ushers in all-nighter number two for me. No puke yet. I am on a roll!

This movie takes place entirely at night. What does this mean to us? Madman is a supreme independent slasher; a snapshot of chilled autumn sublimity in 1981. There are five campers and seven counselors. A couple performs a steaming jacuzzi sex with choreographed imperfection. The killer, Madman Marz, is based on an urban legend straight from the Catskills of New York. No fooling around. No time for the trivial. So c’mon! Soar to the evergreen tree tops with beet-red violence and skim through the dirt with faultless synthesizers. And whisper with me: “Madman Marz…Madman Marz…Madman Marz…”

It’s the weekend before Thanksgiving. A campfire. A folk song. A dilapidated house. Kids are spooked. Richie screams, “MADMAN MARZ! C’mon! We’re here! We’re waiting for ya! Haw haw haw!” As the legend goes, anyone that speaks the name of notorious murderer Madman Marz above a whisper will invoke his angry spirit upon the campgrounds. Richie, you sap. The barefooted, axe-fitted ‘Marz prowls through the trees. The counselors get it. The wind refuses to stop whooshing. I feel healthy to my stomach.

Shot in a modest forest on Long Island, New York, Madman plays tug of war with The Burning and Just Before Dawn for the title of “world’s most supreme forest slasher.” But where the Burning and Dawn succeed due to their knack for enveloping the viewer both visually and emotionally, the former prospers for opposite reasons. Madman moves calmly. It plays out on a smaller scale. Plot is kicked to the curb. The photography, while filled with mood-building shadows and blue tints, feels confined and rushed. Therefore, the magic lies in what’s immediate, what we want right now. Trees. Scares. Stupid dialogue. Twilight gore. Ambiguous endings. Atrocious theme songs. Madman is what it is — a well-intentioned, marvelously cheap, base-level wooded slasher that never tries to overstep its own boundaries. In other words, a success.

I can’t even remember the all-nighter that forced me to vomit all those years ago. Rest assured, I’ll never forget the one that didn’t.

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