June 30, 2013

Thoughts on Madman (1982)

Let me ask you a question. Which movie do you prefer - The Burning (1981) or Madman (1982)?

An unforgettable silhouette: Cropsy in The Burning (1981).
I am 95% sure that most of you will answer The Burning - the infamous summer camp slasher film that featured a terrifying Tom Savini-designed killer, a jarring Rick Wakeman synthesizer score and some truly mean-spirited murder sequences. The movie's popularity has increased enormously over the past few years thanks to its emergence on DVD and Blu-ray. It's also notable for early appearances by future stars Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter.

I was really disappointed with The Burning when I first saw it in 2001. I had missed the film entirely while growing up and was only vaguely familiar with it from seeing the title and publicity photos in Fangoria magazine and in horror movie reference books. When I finally did take a look, I was underwhelmed. However, as the years passed, I grew to appreciate it more and really liked some of the odd choices that were made - I loved the idea of the "final girl" being flipped to be a "final boy", I found the characters of the teenagers to be pretty likeable and realistic (which made their deaths even more disturbing) and the brutality of the killer was incredibly different from the behavior of other movie maniacs. There were no wisecracks and no gimmicky murders a la Friday the 13th.

Several months after the release of The Burning came another film that is practically unheard of outside of the horror fan community - Madman (1982).

This film also featured a camp setting terrorized by a deformed villain who was more monster than human. Like The Burning, Madman's storyline was based on the notorious urban legend of the "Cropsey Maniac", a familiar tale that is often told to shivering children huddled around campfires. The Burning even went so far as to name their killer after this anti-folk hero.

I saw Madman around 2002, not long after The Burning. I liked it immediately. The movie also showcased some strange moments that were unlike things I had seen in the more well-known slasher films and series. First of all, Madman was photographed beautifully. The entire story took place at night so there were plenty of atmospheric shots of the dark forest, shadowy cabins and the desolate farmhouse, home of the maniac, "Madman" Marz.

Madman got a lot of bad reviews. People complain about the acting, the pace and (unfairly) compare it to The Burning. On the other hand, there is a large fan base devoted to the film, people who have gone so far as to create original make-up designs and custom artwork based on the movie. However, I have never met a Madman fan in real life. Most of the people I've talked to about it find it to be a real snooze and completely forgettable. I'm always disappointed when I hear that.

"Madman" Marz and one of his victims.
I've seen Madman several more times than The Burning. Something about it sticks with me and I find myself revisiting the movie once every couple of years. Each time I find something a little different to focus on. My last viewing from a few days ago still resonates - I can't stop thinking about the effective photography and some of the truly eerie, subtle shots of the killer.

An important detail to mention is the two versions that are currently on DVD - the original release, on Anchor Bay, featured a print that retained the spooky, bluish hue that really embellished the proceedings, set the tone, so to speak, and went perfectly with the night time photography and woodsy setting. The most current home video release from Code Red featured a more natural color scheme and a lot of those unearthly details get lost in the warm colors. If you can, make sure to view the Anchor Bay print for full effectiveness.

I'm sure that this article will not change anyone's mind about Madman, but if you haven't seen it, give it a shot and see what you think. If you have seen it, perhaps you can give it another chance and see if you can finally warm up to its subtle rewards.

*Note - In an effort to remain spoiler-free, I tried not to list specific details or scenes from the film so as not to impair the experience for any new viewers.