It’s easy to call Madman a ripoff of Friday the 13th and leave it at that. Writer/director Joe Giannone’s slasher film has so much in common with that iconic summer camp horror that it can be difficult to pick out the aspects of Madman that have made it a cult classic, and yet it still attracts viewers nonetheless. Madman is certainly not the most original storyline, taking inspiration from old fireside folktales like the Cropsy maniac and putting it in the context of the popular stalker/slasher films of the period. But hell, we could be defining any number of ’80s features; they never were, and still aren’t, rife with originality, and so they must be judged on merit of the film alone.
Madman, though, is particularly fun because of the liberties it takes. It opens with a fireside sharing of spooky stories, one delivered by T.P. (Tony “Fish” Nunziata) in a catchy and verbose song, the other given by camp manager Max (Frederick Neumann) with gravely aplomb. Giannone sets up the horror atmosphere right away by offering a scene most people can directly relate to: the camp setting, the comfort of drawing in close to a cozy fire with a group of friends, is in opposition to the creepy house that sits behind them harboring the legend of a maniac farmer that killed his family.
Madman doesn’t set out to give its characters much introduction, either. Giannone is comfortable with allowing the camp counselors only a semblance of depth, most of them given only a couple lines and little characterization besides small details about their relationships. The closest we get to main characters are T.P. and his girlfriend Betsy (Gaylen Ross), who becomes a final girl of sorts; the rest linger on the side, simply flesh for Madman Marz’s hands.
But Madman doesn’t really need characters for its plot to work. The slashing is set into motion when one of the kids at camp, Richie (Tom Candela), throws a rock into Madman Marz’s window, and when he wanders off, he causes a number of counselors’ deaths when they go looking for him. The film is quite simple, and it relies more on the fun of wandering through the woods while Madman closes in from a distance, the camera often picking up his gnarled claw hands or the fleeting glimpse of an ape-like face.
Giannone’s film has all the right features for a slasher. It’s got the nudity – Ross and Fish supply butts and boobs – and it’s got some inventive kills, although nothing that would rival some of the later ’80s slashers. It’s also got the cold atmosphere of a post-Halloween camp flick; that sets the mood that continues to create tension throughout the film.
What Madman lacks, however, is a good sense of pacing. Giannone often lingers on the stalking sequences slightly too long; though the film is a compact 89 minutes, some of these moments are stretched out too far, resulting in scenes that could have been more suspenseful had they edited some of the additional footage. Those cuts could have added a few more minutes of character development, too, giving Madman a leg up on its competition if only for its competent storyline.
Still, Madman has its own odd charm, from the opening credits sequence – love that artwork – to its singsong legend. Despite its standard slasher formula, the film is oddly likable in a way that is difficult to describe; it just has a tone that’s easy to enjoy, and Giannone’s quick shots of Madman Marz throughout the film help to give it a creepy stalker vibe. It has a derivative approach, but a nostalgia for the sub-genre keeps Madman in the ranks of good slasher films.
Here’s where this Madman collection from Vinegar Syndrome really shines. Like most VS releases, this is a DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack. The Blu-Ray 4k transfer looks really good despite a couple of flaws from the negative, most notably a few scenes that have tears in the middle portion of the screen. Besides that, the colors and blacks look good, and the mono soundtrack is great. Subtitles are also a feature.
There are two commentary tracks on the Blu-Ray. One is with the director, producer, and cast which isn’t new, and there’s also one, in VS fashion, with The Hysteria Continues!, definitely always worth a listen.
Along with that is a feature-length documentary on Madman called “The Legend Lives: 30 Years of Madman,” with tons of interviews from cast and crew with an in-depth look at the making of the film. This adds a lot of value to this release.
Art and still gallery comes with commentary from producer Gary Sales, and there’s an In Memoriam feature where Sales discusses his relationship with some of the crew that have passed. He also gives an introductory statement for the film, if you choose to watch it.
There’s also reversible cover artwork, a trailer, an interview with Sales and Paul Ehlers by Deadpit, and a compilation of music inspired by Madman, one by the Vicar of VHS at Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies! Finally, a 20-minute interview with Ehlers, Sales, and Jimmy Steele (Richie) round these features out.
Blu-ray/DVD Combo | Region Free | 1.85:1 OAR
Scanned and restored in 4k from 35mm original camera negative
New video interviews with star, Paul “Madman” Ehlers, Producer & co-creator Gary Sales, and for the first time ever, “Richie” actor Jimmy Steele.
The Legend Lives: 30 Years of Madman documentary by Victor Bonacore (90mins)
Madman: Alive at 35 featurette
Commentary track with Producer, Director and Cast.
Commentary track by The Hysteria Continues!
Music Inspired by Madman featurette
In Memoriam featurette
Vintage Still Gallery
Original Theatrical Trailer
English SDH Subtitles
Reversible cover w/ original artwork (Designed by Madman himself, Paul Ehlers)
There’s definitely no shortage of special features on this 2-disc set, making it a collection all horror fans should seek out.