“It all started during a campfire at North Sea Cottages, a special retreat for gifted children.”
Madman (1982) is one of two slasher movies based on the upstate New York Cropsey Killer urban legend, the other being The Burning (1981). When it was learned The Burning was using the same plot and killer, a last second decision was made to change Cropsey to Madman Marz, a farmer who went insane and killed his family with an axe. So it’s not a love story.
Joe Giannone wrote and directed Madman, and at times the results are bizarre. The movie begins with a group of camp counselors and young campers seated around a campfire, telling scary stories. One of the counselors, “T.P.” – a name which elicits a chuckle from the middle school student inside of me – begins to sing a song about a killer. Like I said, bizarre.
This is followed by the camp leader, Max, telling (not singing, thankfully) the tale of Madman Marz, complete with cut scene flashbacks to Marz axe-murdering his family. Max warns the children that no one should ever speak Madman Marz’s name above a whisper. I’ll bet you can’t guess what happens next. Would you believe that one of the kids, a wiseguy named Richie, begins shouting Marz’s name at the top of his lungs into the dark and scary woods?
I know. I was shocked, too.
Grave consequences follow, and it’s all Richie’s fault. Madman Marz reawakens, or perhaps returns from his petite lake cottage in wine country, and begins to stalk and slash his way through the camp.
But wait. Another bizarre ritual follows, whereas the children must run in place for a short time before returning to camp. And then the movie gets down to business.
Though I poked (deserved) fun at Madman, this is actually a pretty good slasher with a fair share of creepy scenes. Madman Marz is a scary, intimidating killer, and the brooding atmosphere is one of this movie’s strongest points. A blue filter is utilized for the woods scenes to mimic moonlight and provide an ethereal quality to the production. Though some fans feel the blue is too much, I really like it. It is certainly effective at evoking emotion.
Another strong point is the immersion. Every time I watch Madman, it’s like I am in the woods with the other characters. I can almost see my breath and feel the chill of autumn creeping up on me at summer’s end. Fans of camp and backwoods-based horror movies will be in all their glory with Madman, which takes place entirely in the deep woods (except for a brief bar scene).
I also appreciate Giannone’s choice to show Madman Marz on screen in prudent amounts, just enough to provide jump scares while letting our minds fill in the scarier details. Madman builds suspense competently, often climaxing with a gory payoff, and the stalk scenes are hair raising.
However, there are plenty of head-slappers in this movie. For instance, at one point a woman running from Marz through the cabin decides to hide herself inside a refrigerator. I don’t want to give the story away, but her plan fails. A hot tub sex scene is made awkward by a regrettable background song, and there are a few lines which will make you groan. But minor snafus are expected in slasher movies, and these are part of the fun.
Overall, Madman is a pretty good slasher movie and easily one of the better camp slashers from the 1980s: not quite on the level of Friday the 13th and Just Before Dawn, but much better than Don’t Go in the Woods and the Sleepaway Camp movies. A must-see for all slasher horror fans.
The special edition DVD of Madman is available through Amazon.
An added note: Special thanks to Devoida Taste from our horror Facebook group for alerting me to the Cropsey documentary, currently available for free streaming on Netflix.