Madman (1981)

Madman_1The look of utter disgust on that guy’s face is pure gold. 

On the last night of summer camp, a group of camp counselors and the camps head counselor sit around a campfire and tell the small group of campers about the legend of Madman Marz, a disfigured farmer that inexplicably went mad one night and brutally hacked up his family with an axe while they slept. The townsfolk quickly caught Marz and, as punishment, threw a noose around his neck and hung him that very night. But when they went back the next morning, the townspeople discovered that Marz had freed himself, and the bodies of his family had disappeared. Ever since that night, strange things happen in these woods and it’s said that anyone who says Madman Marz’s name in anything above a whisper will summon his angry spirit from the grave. But they should be fine as long as no one calls his name out, righ–

Madman_2Damn it, you little shit…

Madman is an American, low-budget slasher film from 1981 (though it didn’t get properly distributed til ‘82). It is just one of several summer camp related slashers that tried to cash in on the success of Friday the 13th. Some attempts to claim that lightning in a bottle success were more successful than others. Unfortunately, Madman is not one of those cases. Some of the film’s issues are likely partially due to the changes the filmmakers had to make to the story, when their original plan of basing the film around the urban legend of the Cropsey Maniac fell through (The Burning kinda beat them to the punch.) But Madman has a lot more flaws than just a poorly thought out story. 

Madman_3I love how they find the campfire song of murder so delightful.

Even though much is made of the fact that the story was altered from its original plan of basing the killer on the Cropsey Maniac, that particular urban legend is so generic that not much looks to have really been changed, plot-wise. The base tale of the Cropsey Maniac revolves around a dilapidated insane asylum said to be haunted by an escaped mental patient named Cropsey. As the story was typically told to campers (likely to try to keep them from meandering off into the woods), Cropsey is said to snatch wandering children off the streets and murder them without remorse. The only real difference between the two tales is that in Madman the asylum is replaced with a farmhouse, and the killer ghost really only seems to be interested in killing off the camp counselors, not so much the kids.

Madman_4Of which there were only six. Must not be a popular camp.

But all of that is just a blanket excuse to have some nutter out stalking the woods in the hopes of finding and killing some horney teen councelors. And Marz completes this task with an almost childlike glee. When he’s not slowly stalking teenage horndogs or lurking in the shadows he can be seen prancing between the old farmhouse and the woods off to his next kill. Unfortunately that’s the most good that can be said of him, because everything else about him is painfully generic. He’s super strong, seems unkillable (though no one actually makes a valid attempt), wears a pair of overalls, and does nothing but make grunting/heavy breathing noises. There’s just nothing particularly spectacular or memorable about him, and while Marz’s design might be okay, the execution of the design is questionable. Marz has long clawed fingers and toes (which, okay, cool, I thought he was a ghost, not a demon, but whatever) but every time you get more than a glimpse of them it’s clear that they’re just rubber gloves and booties. The same goes for the prosthetics on his face, which is likely why we only see him briefly, and rarely see him up close or in decent lighting. Even the creators knew that their creature effects weren’t quite up to snuff.

Madman_5Rubbery hands are apparently a symptom ghosts have. Who knew?

The same can be said regarding the rest of the production, too. It’s clear the whole thing was done on a rather tight budget. Stunts are pitiful (one girl is thrown from a truck after hitting a tree at a whopping 5mph) and the deaths, though quite gruesome, don’t last very long and most of them happen just out of sight. You do get a bit of gore shown on screen but, like Marz, most of it is brief so you can’t focus on the defects. 


Madman_7Pretty sure they used the same dummy for both these scenes.

Madman_8Exploding mannequin head….cool.

Then there’s the characters and….ho boy. While the acting is serviceable enough (inane dialogue aside), the characters are not only all painfully generic, but they may also very well be some of the dumbest cannon fodder I’ve likely ever encountered. You know in the Scream films, where the actors mock the characters in horror movies for making incredibly stupid decisions? Well the Madman counselors are basically the poster children of that trope. Some of the descriptions for the film mention that the camp is supposed to be for ‘gifted children.’ After watching the movie I’m convinced that whoever wrote that somehow mixed up ‘children’ with ‘teens’ and ‘gifted’ with ‘brain damaged.’ These people make some of the most moronic decisions I have ever seen in a horror film. Not one, but two of the guys go off alone into the woods to search for a missing camper, everybody screams instead of just running the hell away, and the lone survivor (who I refuse to call the ‘final girl’ because that would be an insult) actually gets all the kids on a bus, successfully fends off the ‘ghost’, drives everyone towards safety and then…gets off the bus and sends the kids off alone (you are a terrible counselor) so she can track down the monster herself. That… is almost a whole new level of WTFery right there. Like, you and the kids were SAFE, lady. I don’t care if you saw him drag off your dead friend and you had a shotgun handy. You ain’t Rambo, let the police deal with that shit.

Madman_9Ya know lady, if you had just shut up he wouldn’t have even known you were there.

Madman_10You can pick out the exact moment when he realized this whole ‘camp’ thing was a bad idea.

Madman_11Never have I wanted to scream at a television so much in my life.

The one thing the film really has in its favor is that it looks surprisingly good. Scenes are well choreographed and designed, focusing on dark shadows and highlights, and there are even a few attempts at ‘art’ shots. Even more impressive, for a movie that was filmed on a tight-budget and considering that takes place entirely at night, everything here is clear as day. There are no overly dark shots where you can’t tell what the hell is going on and it doesn’t look like they filmed anything during the day and just put a filter over it later. There are some scenes that utilize a blue filter, but instead of being distracting the filter actually gives those scenes a more dreamlike quality, which complements the nightmarish vibe going on in the rest of the film.





So Madman ends up being…okay. It hits all the right notes of an early 80s slasher, and it does have a couple of decent jumps, but it’s so generic and forgettable that it’s not the type of film one would suggest to new slasher fans. Based on the cinematography and lighting it’s clear that there was skill present, and you can tell a lot of love went into the film. But the plot and writing are so illogical that it’s likely going to turn a lot of people off. Perhaps it’s faults are in part due to the last minute changes, but if the script and dialogue had been more polished then it would have made for a better movie. Maybe then we wouldn’t have been forced to sit through the mountains of inane idiocy and unnecessarily long scenes that make the movie drag (I’m looking at you unsexy, twirly spa scene.) If you’re a fan of 80’s slashers then Madman is probably worth seeing at least once. But if you’re looking for the cream of the crop, then this ain’t it.

Madman is currently available on a variety of streaming services, including free on Tubi TV.

It is also available on DVD and Bluray.



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