Thursday, February 18, 2010

In short: Madman (1982)

It's the last evening of a summer camp for gifted children and teenagers. The camp counselors and their wards are sitting around a fire telling ghost stories. Camp owner Max (Carl Fredericks) has an especially riveting tale that concerns a man who supposedly once lived in a now empty house nearby in the woods with his family. One night that man, known as Madman Marz, chopped his family up with an axe only to be in turn lynched by the local townsfolk (wielding torches and pitchforks I hope). Of course, Marz's body and the bodies of his family disappeared and of course he is said to roam the woods chopping up whomever he hears calling his name.

Of course, camp counselor idiot T.P. (it says so on his belt buckle, too; played by Tony Fish) can't help himself and shouts for Marz.

That very same night, a large, slightly deformed looking shadow sneaks around the camp, looking for an opportunity to do some axeing and some roping. The dead man's job is made easier when one of the teenagers disappears and some of the counselors go looking for the kid, of course alone or at best in pairs, and fall victim to chopping and strangling, until only our designated final girl of the evening, Betsy (Gaylen Ross, as known from Dawn of the Dead), remains.

I approach films jumping at me out of the cupboard labeled "slasher boom inventory" with a certain amount of trepidation. All too often, this stuff turns out to be nigh unwatchable, every film structured much too similarly to the next to keep my attention and usually filmed without much sense for mood or basic logic.

Madman is a bit better than most of its sub-genre contemporaries. It is still a highly derivative film nearly completely lacking in ideas of its own, but it is at least nice to look at. The cinematography by James Lemmo (who also worked with the young Abel Ferrara) is at times nicely moody, bathing the woods and Marz's house in a spooky blueish light and building up a feeling of claustrophobia.

I'm not as convinced by one-time director Joe Giannone's work. While there are a few tense scenes that make good use of Lemmo's visual talents, there's also a lot of dullness to go around.

The film provides a bit of cheesiness in form of a very funny (while totally earnest) sex scene and a truly perfect theme song, "The Ballad of Madman Marz", as played by a hair metal singer and his synthesizer.

All in all, I have seen worse examples of the slasher boom.


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