So Bad, They’re Good: Madman

What happens when you take genius children to summer camp, but instead of an iconic hockey-mask-wearing killer or a serial murderer with a shocking identity twist, you have the blandest axe-wielding maniac summoned by calling his name like he’s Candyman? Enter Madman.

Film poster for Madman

During a campfire gathering of the Midnight Society, a mix of horny teen counsellors and naïve campers listen as camp owner Max (Carl Fredricks) recounts the legend of Madman Marz (Paul Ehlers). This deranged farmer lost his mind and killed his own family at the farm right next to the campground. An angry mob exacted their own form of justice by hanging him, but he slipped from the noose and escaped.

Supposedly, he still lurks in the nearby woods. After his name is called, Madman Marz returns to massacre everyone at the camp. Max then leaves the teenagers to their mischief as he heads into town for supplies.

While the start of Madman is nothing new compared to other camp-based horrors of the time, it still delivers an atmospheric opening with a well-thought-out campfire tale that sets the stage for a terrifying story. Created by Joe Giannone (director) and Gary Sales (writer), Madman Marz began as Cropsey, but rumours of another film using Cropsey as a serial killer, The Burning, prompted a change to a killer farmer. The result is a delightful yet simple camper-slasher.

A group of young adults in front of a burning fireplace. Still from Madman.

Madman Marz is a fantastic killer with an incredible backstory. He’s a scruffy, cruel murderer with white hair, clad in dungarees, who seems nearly impossible to harm. His minimalistic design, complete with a scarred face and a missing nose, is effective.

Marz stays hidden until his reveal at the end, living up to expectations. Watching the film, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between Madman Marz and Victor Crowley from the Hatchet films.

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This film emerged during my research for films released the year of my birth, and despite borrowing elements from Friday the 13th and Halloween, Madman manages some good scares. Unfortunately, Madman decided that if the formula isn’t broken why fix it, and this is the crutch that damages the film.

A woman screams while bleeding from her nose and neck. Still from Madman.

Unlike Friday the 13th, this summer camp actually includes some campers, albeit not many. The film features some fantastic death scenes, although the cast is relatively standard. There were rumours that Vincent Price was considered for the role of Max, but I think his theatricality might have been too much.

The characters are given ample screen time before the killing starts, allowing the audience to get to know them. Gaylen Ross as Betsy is one of the more courageous characters, but her performance is subpar. Her battles against Madman Marz feel lifeless, possibly because she isn’t given enough time to develop her role as the final girl.

Interestingly, Stacy (Harriet Bass) undergoes the final girl journey, stalking Madman Marz—a role that would have been more believable for Betsy’s badass character. Madman isn’t a forgotten classic, but it’s worth seeking out for slasher fans. Madman Marz might never be the next Jason, Freddy, or Michael, but he has the potential for a remake or sequels, probably from an independent company rather than Hollywood.

A woman stands in front of a yellow truck looking at the ground while holding a torch. Still from Madman.

Madman is idiotic, but that’s the charm of many slashers. It’s the kind of film you see mocked in slasher parodies, with characters making stupid choices and logic taking a backseat. Yet, it retains the 80s horror goofiness expected from slashers of this period. The camp setting, blue-tinted lighting, and synth-laden soundtrack contribute to its 80s feel. Despite a bait-and-switch for the final girl and the most annoying character, Ritchie (Tom Candela), not getting the death he deserves, Madman delivers decent horror with some intense slasher moments. The film features some gory scenes, including a blood-spurting neck stump and throat slitting.

The dialogue isn’t great, but it moves the film along. So, if you’re looking for a Friday the 13th knockoff that isn’t Sleepaway Camp, give Madman a shot.

Madman is available to watch on Amazon Prime

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