(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)
Madman is a lesser known 80s slasher that has enough moments to make it worth a watch. Story has a group of counselors and their charges at a remote deep woods retreat for gifted children. At the opening campfire scene, we hear the story of Madman Mars (Paul Ehlers), a giant mountain man farmer who went mad one night and slaughtered his entire family. The townsfolk took him into the woods and hung him from a tree, but his body disappeared never to be found. His supposed abandoned house is near the camp and when one doubting counselor, Ritchie (Jimmy Steele) mocks the tale and throws a rock through one of the house’s windows…well you know what comes next. Soon counselors are meeting their doom in gruesome ways and they start to wonder if there isn’t some truth to the campfire tale of Madman Mars!
Written and directed by Joe Giannone, this slasher has an almost surreal/dark fantasy atmosphere with James Lemmo’s spooky cinematography and the hulking Mars who, with his long white beard and rubbery grey skin, looks like a fantasy film ogre in overalls. There isn’t too much in terms of suspense or tension, but there are some very gruesome kills and director Giannone does keep an unsettling mood about the flick. Mars is a formidable enough stalker/killer and he’s given an almost supernatural quality as he quietly moves throughout the forest taking his victims back to his abandoned home only to return to the camp for more. Film is far from perfect. The dialog and acting are pretty poor and despite the plot involving children, they rarely factor into the story till the end. There is a really silly scene where two counselors frolic in a hot tub to an incredibly laughable love song and the subplot of Ritchie continually hanging out inside Mars’ house while the killer goes back and forth with the bodies of his victims, is just really odd. Why not leave? Even when he is able to leave the house, he goes back inside. WTF? The gore FX are well rendered and there is a typical 80s electronic score by Stephen Horelick to enhance the atmosphere. Not a great movie, but one with some good kills and some spooky atmosphere and the pacing is typically moderate for slashers of the early 80s.
The cast are all unknowns, except for one interesting member as our lead girl Betsy. Betsy is played by Dawn of the Dead’s Gaylen Ross though, for some reason, she’s billed as Alex Dubin. She makes for a good heroine, this time not playing fourth banana to three men and gets to be a little sexier with her long braided hair and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nudity. Her character disappears for a bit during the middle of the film, but returns to try to get the kids to safety and battle Mars in it’s last act. Surprising that Ross never did more final girl work, especially with the notoriety she gained in Dawn. She does a decent job here. Also very curious why she chose to use an alias for this film. Paul Ehlers is effective as Mars and gives him some menace though he’s no Freddy or Jason. The rest of the cast are fairly wooden, but do make for good enough Madman Mars fodder.
Personally, I kind of like this movie. It has it’s shortcomings, the dialog and acting are pretty weak and there are some silly sequences. It is atmospheric though, the cinematography is spooky and there are some good gory kills. There is an odd, almost surreal element to the film that actually makes it feel more like the campfire tale it’s supposed to be. A flawed, but still somewhat entertaining movie.
2 and 1/2 axes.