If Friday the 13th is the A-lister and The Burning is the cult alternative, Madman is the ugly stepchild of 80s camping slasher movies. Though all three movies share obvious similarities, The Burning and Madman are clearly spiritual cousins. Both slashers share the same story DNA – the Cropsey urban legend was the influence for each one. If The Burning was low budget Madman was mirco-budgeted. Some future movie and TV stars pop up in The Burning; no one remotely recognizable shows up in Madman. While 80s horror fans warmly regard the former, only diehard genre enthusiasts show love for the latter. But this camping slasher does have its fanbase. It may not be Friday the 13th, but is Madman a ‘bad movie’ or is it ‘so bad, it’s good’?
Around a campfire, Max, a senior camp counselor, regales his staff and campers with a local ghost story. It’s the story of Madman Marz – a man who murdered his wife and children with an axe. After an angry mob hung Madman Marz from a tree branch, his body mysteriously disappeared. Now, according to Max, if you shout his name into the same woods, Madman Marz will appear. When an arrogant camper named Richie ignores the warnings and calls out Marz’s name, he quickly learns that the legend is all too real.
Madman Puts Its Low Budget to Good Use With Decent Practical Gore Effects
At just under 90 minutes in length, Madman is a pretty streamlined slasher movie. Even when compared to Friday the 13th and The Burning, writer and director Joe Giannone doesn’t take long to get the ball rolling and never detours for too long. With its hokey campfire story, its probably a good thing. Nothing about Madman’s story and continuity would hold up to much scrutiny. Is Madman Marz a ghost? Or a real person? Giannone’s screenplay doesn’t really offer any answers. In fact, Madman probably makes more sense if its villain is in fact a ghost. From a continuity perspective, Madman Marz has an uncanny ability to move around pretty fast. Everything else about the movie is ultra-low budget.
And most of its low budget actually serves to create a bit of atmosphere.
But that’s also to the movie’s advantage. Madman is a movie that knows exactly what it is and never tries to overextend itself. And most of its low budget actually serves to create a bit of atmosphere. From its blue-tinted nighttime shots to the accompanying synth, Madman actually has a handful of decent jump scares. Aside from a couple of awkward, cheesy hot tub sidebars, Giannone also maintains some creepy tension. Most importantly, Madman delivers on its death scenes with wonderfully practical effects. This is low-budget horror done right. And like many 80s slasher movies, the ending is surreal and bleak.
Madman May Have The World’s Oldest Camp Counselors
Like a lot of low-budget horror movies, Madman looks like it recruited cast members from friends and family members. No one looks remotely young enough to be an actual camp counselor. Aside from Gaylen Ross (Dawn of the Dead), you won’t recognize anyone in the movie and you’ll struggle to remember most of the characters’ names. Well, you’ll remember Tony Fish’s ‘TP” if for no other reason than his personalized belt buckle. And you’ll remember Tom Candela’s ‘Richie’ for all the wrong reasons. While he’s supposed to be a ‘cocky’ and initially irritating, Madman leaves him wandering the woods for the entirety of the movie. It’s not so much of a disappointing arc as it is just a little strange.
In fact, the hulking killer looks sort of like a cross between Sasquatch and Ookla the Mok from early 80s Saturday morning cartoon, Thundarr the Barbarian.
As for the movie’s titular villain, Madman Marz works much better when he’s left in the shadows. For such a low budget horror movie, Madman’s practical effects are actually quite good. Unfortunately, Madman Marz’s makeup doesn’t quite meet the same standards of The Burning’s Cropsey. In fact, the hulking killer looks sort of like a cross between Sasquatch and Ookla the Mok from early 80’s Saturday morning cartoon, Thundarr the Barbarian. Diehard 80s slasher fans will likely love the characters regardless and its in keeping with the movie’s overall tone. But Marz isn’t very scary and the movie would have benefited from a ‘less is more’ approach to the character.
Come for the Gory Practical Effects, Stay for the Madman Marz Theme Song
Though it’s still the ‘ugly stepchild’ of early 80s camping slashers, Madman is much better than you’d expect based on its budget. Everyone involved in the movie was clearly passionate about it. No one’s ever going to confuse it with highbrow horror. And no, it’s not as good as either Friday the 13th or The Burning. Nonetheless, Madman boasts the scares and gory practical effects to win over most slasher movie fans. That it’s more obscure than other horror properties makes it something of a hidden gem worthy of cult movie status. Besides, how many horror movies have their very own theme song?