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MADMAN: Magnificent...or Malodorous?
on January 22, 2004
Okay, 1982's MADMAN is admittedly low-budget schlock. That's a given. But does MADMAN qualify as schlock in the Ed Wood vein (i.e., so bad that it's actually fun)? Or is it just another run-of-the-mill '80s slasher flick whose creators wanted to hitch a quick ride on the lucrative HALLOWEEN (1978) and FRIDAY THE 13th (1980) gravy train? Well, that's actually hard to say, because MADMAN not only precariously walks the fine line between an enjoyable cult flick and unwatchable celluloid, it inexorably teeters back and forth to either side of that line during its entire 88-minute runtime. But again, is MADMAN so bad that it's actually good? Well, yes...and no.
There are aspects of MADMAN that aficionados of cheesy horror will certainly love. The synthesizer-based musical score envelopes the film in a cheesy but charming 1980s skin, with the catchy ditty played during both the opening and closing credits being especially droll. And the campfire tale of the murderous Madman Marz, told in the opening scene, is pretty spooky and functions as a fun set-up for the flick's plot. The film's setting is a wooded campground during the late autumn, and James Lemmo's excellent night-for-night cinematography gives the film a perfect Halloween-ish (the holiday, not the movie) texture. Also, some of the requisite killings are carried out in amusingly original ways--the decapitation via truck hood is a must-see for hardcore fans--with more men than women comprising the final body count (a slasher-flick rarity).
On the other hand, a lot of the acting in MADMAN is more monstrous than the eponymous killer, though to be fair, a lack of thespian talent is not necessarily a bad thing for a lovable trash pic. Whether this works to the film's advantage or not is debatable, but be forewarned that some of the performances here are, to put it bluntly, appalling. Several lines are delivered with improper inflection or with a palpable lack of appropriate emotion, and when lack of acting ability isn't the problem, some of the scripted dialogue is so insipid and unrealistic that even the best of actors would have trouble delivering it in a believable or natural manner. One notable exception is the performance of Gaylen Ross, here credited as Alexis Dubin. (Genre fans will recognize her from 1978's DAWN OF THE DEAD and 1982's CREEPSHOW.) As camp counselor Betsy, Ms. Ross exudes enough genuine pathos, even when spewing ludicrous lines, that hers is the one character the audience hopes will avoid a fatal encounter with the killer.
Ever since sexy P.J. Soles flashed her mammary glands in HALLOWEEN, slasher-film fans expect to see a certain amount of nudity. Alas, MADMAN hardly delivers here. Yes, there is a hot-tub scene where viewers get a light-speed flash of Gaylen Ross' bare chest, but to the dismay of male viewers--who make up the larger percentage of the slasher-flick audience--it is accompanied by a longer flash of a guy's naked behind! Not a good thing.
And finally, the make-up for the titular killer himself, Madman Marz, is a bit hokey. When the audience at last gets a good view of him, he looks more like a hillbilly version of ol' Saint Nick than an ol' serial killer. Director Giannone wisely keeps the old gent in the shadows for most of the movie, though, showing him only in quick glimpses or, better yet, in silhouette against the night sky. Pretty spooky, that. But again, the actual revelation is a letdown.
Alone, MADMAN deserves a middle-of-the-road rating of 2.5 stars (if amazon.com allowed for partial stars, that is). But Anchor Bay's very cool DVD packaging raises the film's rating to 3 stars. In addition to the theatrical trailer, the DVD includes several TV spots, as well as--believe it or not--a cool feature commentary with some of the crew and actors! On top of that, the disc's menu system is a "killer"! The cursor is a little bloody axe, and as it is moved from option to option, the blood disappears in transit but reappears when the cursor "whacks" into the top of that option! Also, when an option other than "Play" is selected, a much larger bloody axe swoops across the entire screen as, in its wake, the current menu imagery is replaced with new sub-menu imagery. Very clever and very cool.
Recap: MADMAN does lean towards the Wood-esque enough to provide a few laughs, and it also provides some genuinely eerie moments and a few imaginative killings. Hardcore slasher-flick fans will probably love MADMAN, and even casual fans of this sub-genre may want to watch it due to its historical significance as one of the first HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13th rip-offs. As for mainstream horror fans, it's really hard to say. MADMAN walks that fine line that divides enjoyable trash pics from the unwatchable, and it vacillates so much that personal preference will depend on just how low one's willing to go. The DVD package from Anchor Bay is so cool (and so affordable), though, that it alone justifies adding this film to any serious horror collection.