Madman was released in 1982, right in the thick of the tidal wave of Friday the 13th slasher clones that were being pumped out at a mind boggling rate. From big budget national release dice ’em ups, to low budget, backyard quality rampage flicks, the movie industry saw the unprecedented success of films like Halloween and Friday the 13th and then broke both its collective legs trying to be the next studio to pump out a blood-splattered cult jewel. What happened next was inevitable as the public became burned out on seeing the same stories retold over and over, but among the shameless slop that was shoveled out at a breakneck pace, there exists some gems that not only stand out, but nudge the sub-genre along into uncharted waters. Madman is one such film that takes what has been done before, and makes small, but incredibly significant alterations to the formula in order to create something not wholly original, but certainly highly entertaining and just original enough to become nessecary viewing for any self-respecting slasher fanatic.
Madman is an incredibly simple tale, which is actually refreshing since it doesn’t parade around trying to be the next slasher with a great twist ending or be deathly scary by replacing suspense and genuine chills with a whole shitload of too-dark-to-be-really-appreciated outdoor sequences or drawn out, pre-kill silence. Instead, it simply lays out a fairly thin story of how some guy when crazy and chopped us his family with an axe. When people found out what he had done, they hung him AND dug his axe into the side of his face. When they awoke the next morning, Madman Marz, as he is known, had managed to free himself from his noose, and made off with the bodies of his family he had killed. Neither he nor the bodies were ever seen again. While it may be a pretty scant mythology, Madman Marz lets his actions speak for himself, and since we aren’t bogged down with dozens of minutes of revelations about our killer that are meaningless, we can be treated to more detail on his soon to be victims, which is one the the first points where I began to realize that Madman was going to be a very different type of slasher film, regardless of its glowingly apparent similarities to its more famous predecessors.
Speaking of his prey, the cast here, full of the typical “nobody I recognize” actors, do an amazing job bringing the embarrassingly natural feeling script to life. Make no mistake, dialogue here is not simply filler in between pot smoking, beer drinking, pre-marital sex, and of course the killing. It actually stands on its own to make the characters deeper and not only likable, but sympathetic. It also explores some admittedly half-baked psychology, but its done in such a playful yet relevant manner that it becomes incredibly interesting. One such scene has a counselor type guy whip out a knife and deliver a very convincing bi-polar personality turn where he threatens to kill his fellow counselors in the room, all the while explaining how no one can really know what goes through another persons mind, and how at any moment, you can never fully tell what something is thinking or plotting. Its pretty subtle, and to most viewers will hold very little significance, but to me, it was light years ahead of of its contemporaries, and echoed more like the analysis that goes into the character study/torture porn films like SAW more so than the mindless camp slasher. In short, everyone holds there own acting wise in this flick, and some even elevate their performances to downright good, striking the balance between slightly cheesy and stereotpyical, and innovative, three-dimensional, and stimulating.
All the acting in the world can’t save a flick that doesn’t move at a carefully orchestrated pace though, and Madman proves how even without an opening kill sequence, a movie can still fly by without a hitch. Director Joe Giannone, directing his ONLY movie, shows brilliantly how to make nighttime in a slasher seem much less frustrating to the viewer. Instead of relying on huge lights that cast an obviously man-made, sun-like glow, or resorting to on set/location lighting like candles or light fixtures, he uses a variety of filters to give nighttime a very stylish and ahead-of-its-time blue hue. The clarity seen in the image quality is almost surreal its so pleasant. It really makes Friday the 13th, and its disciples, look so bland, boring, and ameteurish in comparison. Besides a stunning visual presentation, Giannone also keeps the pace deliberate, teetering the line between too slow for its own good, and too quick to be tense and enjoyable. Once Madman gets going, and the other counselors figure out why people are disappearing, the pace ramps up to those blissful last 45 minutes where the killer can pop up anywhere as he plays with the emotions and confusion being experienced by the now weary remaining staff. Gionnone showed an intimate understanding of the principles and tricks that make a good old-school slasher tick, but also showed a willingness to twist those concrete practices in order to keep the audience guessing, and make for a more convincing, and realistic, serial killer flick. The audio is standard for a early 80’s movie, and is pretty crisp overall. You won’t find it blowing you away, but its all there and done well, so there is nothing to worry about on the audio front.
The final piece of the slice ’em up puzzle, or riddle if you prefer, is the kills themselves. In many films featuring disfigured or masked psychos chopping up everyone in sight, the kills are seen as the main dish, but with Madman, the style in which each kill is presented is constantly in flux. Sometimes we will see the actual slaying, sometimes we’ll get just the aftermath, and sometimes we’ll get a cleverly placed quick cut that does more to infer what has happened, than actually showing the act itself. This usually bothers a self-proclaimed gorehound such as myself, but since the other aspects of the film are already so damn solid, the fact that the payoffs came in many different forms was very palatable, and even welcome. It’s another example of Giannone wearing many different hats as a director, and flip-flopping, to great affect, through all sorts of different styles and methods to present his murders. There are some great, and innovative kills to be had though, along with some oft-forgotten traditional murdering techniques, like good old fashioned hanging and neck breaking. All in all it’s jolly good fun, and well conveyed on screen at all times.
Madman is a title I couldn’t be more happy that I stumbled upon. Its unique blend of tried and true formulas and snazzy photography tethers beautifully to the natural, unpretentious nature of the dialogue, the noticeable and commendable skill of the actors, and the clever diversions from the beaten path in terms of how the stalking, killing and pace are handled. Madman is a testament to the sub-genre of the slasher, and proof that even in times of shameless cash-ins and rip offs, that creativity, innovation, and progression can still be prevalent. OH, and did I mention you can watch it on IMDB for free as long as you have a free account there? Yeah, so now you have absolutely no reason not to catch this unusual hidden gem.