Coffin Corner: There's a MADMAN on the Loose
Welcome to The Coffin Corner! Every week, Ian West will be delving into some of the best and latest Blu-ray releases, as well as focusing on the brilliant labels that keep the home video market alive and well!
In the wake of John Carpenter’s Halloween and Friday the 13th’s popularity, the next few years produced a plethora of slasher films with production companies and studios in a “supply in demand” frenzy to get more butts in the seats and fill up the video rental shelves. Numerous franchises continued and new ones were born as the 1980’s surged with iconic villains hacking their way through the decade, the multiplex, and eventually the home video market. In fact, over the last few years (especially with the booming surge of horror conventions) it seems like so many of these films, especially the non-franchised one-offs, have cultivated some sort of rabid following, as we await each month to see what new gem is finally making its way to the Blu-ray format.
Thankfully that’s not a bad thing! Specialty home media companies like Code Red, Severin, Scream Factory and Vinegar Syndrome have been giving us our money’s worth in recent years, and it seems like every year I fall in love with some under the radar release whose VHS boxcover art was just a faint memory on the video store shelf! One such example is Blood Rage, I knew nothing about it until hearing about it on an old Killer POV episode and Arrow Video released it shortly afterward, now it’s a traditional Thanksgiving watch for me!
Two films in the early 80's had the distinction of being summer camp slashers influenced by the infamous New York urban legend of Cropsey, a disfigured crazy man who lurks in the woods. 1981's The Burning, the better known of the two, called its villain “Cropsy” and featured a bigger budget and makeup guru Tom Savini’s incredible effects (that raft scene actually makes me uncomfortable). Another production from the same year, Madman, changed the name of its killer to “Madman Marz” to avoid competition and was soon released on January 1st of 1982.
(Side note: The 2009 documentary Cropsey explored the urban legend in much more detail, which is currently available and definitely worth a watch)
Joe Giannone’s Madman fittingly begins at the end of summer around an atmospheric campfire setup (which, along with The Fog, has now become one of my favorite opening scenes in the genre), where head counselor Max (Carl Fredericks) decides to delight the campers and other counselors with the chilling tale of local maniac Madman Marz (Paul Ehlers). Years earlier, Marz brutally slaughtered his family with an ax and was hung on a noose by the local townspeople for his crimes before he mysteriously broke free, escaping into the woods. As the story goes, if his name is uttered above a whisper, Madman Marz will return to brutally kill again. The campers are petrified, but an unimpressed teenager named Richie (Jimmy Steele) feels compelled to test the legend despite the warning of deadly consequences. Within moments, a chilling silhouette appears in a tree, illuminated by night sky. Madman Marz has returned!
After returning the campers to their bunks, the counselors head to the rec room to blow off some steam and relax and little do they know, Marz is lurking about the camp. We are then treated to a slew of memorably fun genre moments — a hot tub scene, one of my favorite decapitations involving a car, and by far the best usage of a refrigerator in cinema (eat your heart out Kingdom of the Crystal Skull!).
Look, I know Madman isn’t going to win any major awards, especially for originality, but one thing I do think is unique to this flick is how the lore of Madman Marz is set. Sure, there are other slasher flicks that utilize a campfire scene and I’ve noticed it’s usually a used as a recap tool (I’m looking at you Friday the 13th sequels), but the atmosphere set in this scene far eclipses a ten-minute rehash from other films, at least in my eyes! I admire the simple fun that Madman has to offer, whether it's watching campers get randomly massacred in the woods or the aforementioned refrigerator scene, there is no doubt that Madman has earned its horror cult classic moniker.
Overall, Madman is fun, scrappy and full of indie heart from some New York filmmakers who decided to head to the woods to make a horror movie. What I mean is, It’s got “spunk”. Sadly, in an era of franchised genre villains, Madman Mars never got the sequels it deserved.
I have vague memories of watching this movie when I was young, and since I live in New Jersey I’m not too far from the origin of the Cropsey legend. Thanks to the close proximity, this movie has a small cult following around here, and my slightly older relatives and friends with older siblings grew up telling me whispered campfire stories of both Cropsey AND Madman Marz! It didn’t really help my young sanity as I was convinced someone or something was watching me from within the heavily wooded area I live in!
The fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome did a wonderful job delivering a brand new 4k mastered transfer to Blu-ray with a slew of special features including Madman: Alive at 35! and the hour and a half retrospective titled The Legend Still Lives! that explores the film’s legacy with the cast and crew. Every summer I embark on a month-long slasher-fest, mixing in classics, newer films, and hidden gems I’ve never seen that have only made it to VHS. Rest assured though, because 1982's Madman is ALWAYS watched, usually just at the end of summer when a crisp breeze begins to whisper through the air. The legend lives my friends, Beware the Madman Marz!