Let me start this review by quoting the opening text from Student Bodies (1981):
"This motion picture is based on an actual incident.
Last year 26 horror films were released . . .
None of them lost money."
Madman was released in 1982, not so much riding a wave of slasher horrors, but perhaps more trying to be drowned by the stab-happy deluge. To stand out, it would have to feature some great kills, memorable chaacters, top notch FX work, and more great kills. Alternatively, it just had to be viewed on videotape by some of the kids who were fast discovering the many pleasures now available to them through the magical portal of video cassettes. While I can't speak for everyone, I found the movie, and found that it lodged itself in my mind, thanks to the second scenario. I even saw Madman way before I ever saw The Burning, making it probably the first Friday The 13th derivative that I was exposed to (although it certainly wouldn't be the last, by a long shot).
Despite the slasher titles I have just namechecked, Madman actually starts off in a scene that aligns it most closely with The Fog. A campfire tale sets up the scary atmosphere, and reveals the backstory/legend of Madman Marz, and it always surprises me that more horror movies haven't made use of the campfire tale tradition, a simple precursor to most forms of modern storytelling. But once everyone leaves the campfire we end up treading much more common ground, as individuals wander far enough away from the group to be picked off by the vicious killer. And that pretty much covers the entire plot.
While I can't say that the acting is all that great, or that the characters are even all that memorable, Madman benefits from the memorable turn from Paul Ehlers in the title role, and is also of interest to any horror fans who want to see Gaylen Ross in horror genre fare other than her most well-known film (Dawn Of The Dead). Tony Fish, Harriet Bass, Seth Jones, Jan Claire and all of the other main players cover a pretty wide range of talent levels, from good to bad.
Although they are sparse throughout the film, the special effects and gore gags are fairly well done. A couple of heads are removed from necks, sharp things are stabbed into bodies, and there's also a highly effective hanging that makes a great impact thanks mainly to the physical performance of the actor involved (kudos to him for such a convincing moment). And the hideous visage of Madman Marz himself is actually a solid piece of work, displayed to best effect during one particularly enjoyable jump scare.
Strangely enough, I guess Madman falls down for fans of slasher movies when it fails to adhere to the rules that had already been well established by this point. Yet, somewhat perversely, it's this lack of adherence to those rules that also help it to stand out, even after all these years. Yes, you get the kills and you get a finale that reveals where some of the corpses have been placed, but the film also consistently surprises, whether by focusing on some genuinely good atmosphere and scares ahead of the bodycount or just in the victim choice/order.
If you ask anyone about Madman, and are lucky enough to stumble across someone else who has seen it (it's a title often forgotten or simply overlooked by even many members of the horror community), then the chances are that they will remember it for one of two reasons. The first is a particularly impressive kill scene/grisly aftermath. The second is the catchy theme song. Let it invade your ears here . . .
James Oliver, writing in the booklet that accompanies the Arrow Video release, lists a number of flaws that the film has, and says: "the (regrettably plentiful) songs are awful". With respect, James, I have to disagree. I used to think that the main theme song was a memorable one, and also recall the score being pretty solid throughout. Revisiting it today, I still think exactly the same. Oh, it may well be a case of love or hate it when it comes to the soundtrack, but I am firmly on the side of love.
Actually, never mind my sudden focus on the soundtrack for this last paragraph, the film itself may well be a love or hate it affair. Until this Bluray was released I always thought that nostalgia was tinting my view of the film. That wasn't the case. It's an undervalued diamond in the rough that deserves to be discovered by horror fans who think they have already seen every slasher movie worth seeing. And this package is the best way to give it a go.
Madman is goes on general releases on Bluray tomorrow here in the UK, thanks to those lovely, lovely people at Arrow Films. The bumper selection includes some bonus content from previous releases, plus a few goodies that may be seeing the light of day on shiny disc for the very first time. I haven't had time to go through everything yet, but I am keen to explore further. And the film itself is the best I have seen it. Here are the specs, as listed on thier site:
Order your copy here - http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/shop/index.php?route=product/product&keyword=mad&product_id=562%22
And then feel free to shop on Amazon to boost my income - http://www.amazon.com/movies-tv-dvd-bluray/b?node=2625373011