15th Jul2015

‘Madman’ Review (Vinegar Syndrome)

by Mondo Squallido

Stars: Gaylen Ross, Tony Fish, Harriet Bass, Seth Jones, Jan Claire, Alexander Murphy Jr., Tom Candela, Frederick Neumann, Michael Sullivan, Paul Ehlers, Tom Veilleux, Stephen Clark, Vicki Kenneally, Shelley Mathes, Lori Mathes | Written and Directed by Joe Giannone


Regular readers will know that I am not a big fan of the slasher genre. A lot of the times, I am just bored to tears. I would much rather watch a giallo when it’s at its most convoluted, than a ‘classic’ slasher. That being said, I’m a fair guy. I believe every film should be watched at least once before you offer your opinion. Thankfully, the lovely folks over at Vinegar Syndrome have been sending over many films that I have never heard of and films that I wouldn’t usually check out. Last year they released the slasher classic, Graduation Day. I was pleasantly surprised by the film (Christopher George hamming it up always helps). Fast forward to today, they have recently released another cult classic from the slasher genre. That film is Madman from 1981, directed by Joe Giannone. This is a film I have seen pop up in discussions for years. Thanks to Vinegar Syndrome, I can finally see what all the fuss is about. I won’t bore you with a retelling of the film because I’m guessing you will have already watched it. I will however, do a good old fashioned cut and paste job of the synopsis because I am a true professional:

Years ago, Madman Marz violently murdered his family only to escape into the woods before his execution could be completed. Legend has it that anyone who calls his name above a whisper can summon him back to continue his bloody rampage. But teenage Richie, away at camp, doesn’t believe the old legend and calls his name. As night falls, strange things start happening at camp and soon Madman Marz is back, axe in hand, to finish the killing spree he started decades ago.

Overall, I found Madman to be a very enjoyable film. The concept of an urban legend coming to life is simple, yet ingenious. Of course nowadays, it’s a played out plot device. What Madman does that many films haven’t managed to do for the most part, is create a mythology that actually has some weight to it. Madman Marz is a brute of a character that deserved to have a franchise just as much as Freddy, Jason or Leatherface. For the most part, it’s your typical slasher film. That being said, one thing that is clearly evident is that Madman wasn’t a film made out of purely cashing in on the slasher boom at the time, but a genuine passion project from all those involved. There is actual care and effort put in to what is essentially an independent horror film. Instead of a quickly shot and thoughtlessly staged effort, we have a stylish production lensed by James Lemmo (Ms.45).

Although not brilliantly acted, the cast do a good job throughout, especially Frederick Neumann (Reversal of Fortune) as the camp leader and Madman Marz himself, Paul Ehlers (Ink & Steel). The film isn’t as brutal as other slashers, but the kills are varied and bloody enough to satisfy the gore-hounds. One thing that stood out to me was the score which is brooding and electronic. It adds to the tension of the film. Speaking of which, Madman is full of tension and has a genuinely creepy atmospheric feel that helps the film stand out. This isn’t just another schlocky slasher with a cheap gimmick and over the top gore. It’s easy to see why Madman has a cult following. I’ve been more entertained by this film than I have by all of the bigger franchise efforts combined. It’s not a perfect film and I’m not suddenly an advocate of the genre, but Madman is a competent enough effort that has charm. I was very pleasantly surprised, but then again, my expectations are always low for films like this. If you haven’t seen the film before, give it a try.

In terms of picture and sound quality, the film is newly restored in 4k from the camera negative and I think have Vinegar Syndrome have once again done a stellar job. My only reference to previous releases of Madman are from screen-grabs, but boy this presentation wipes the floor with what was perviously available. A film like this shot entirely at night is always going to be a cause for concern when it comes to restoring, but fear not! The blacks are solid enough the colours are nice and crisp. Vinegar Syndrome have done one of their best restoration jobs here. The sound is also just as solid and helps lifts the synth score to another level. I’m only going off the DVD by the way, so you’re really in for a treat with the Blu-ray! You may want to sell off your old Anchor Bay DVD, but this release and use the change to buy some pizza and beers for a weekend screening!

The best aspect of this release for me is the wealth of extra features. Naturally, you get the theatrical trailer, TV spots and vintage still gallery. There are also commentaries from The Hysteria Lives! As well as the producer, director and cast. Alongside the usual extras you get Victor Bonacore’s feature length documentary The Legend Lives: 30 Years of Madman which includes a wealth of information and anecdotes. There’s also featurette celebrating 35 years of Madman as well as new interviews with cast and crew, some conducted by the folks over at Deadpit Radio. To top if off, you also get a selection of songs inspired by the film which is the icing on the cake. Yep, this is as definitive of a release as you will get.

Overall, this is an essential release for both lovers of the film as well as those wanting to experience this cult classic for the first time. Like I said, I am no real fan of slashers, but I have to thank Vinegar Syndrome for making me experience and enjoy a film I wouldn’t have rushed out to see any time soon. Go buy this release, but remember to breathe his name no louder than a whisper!

Madman is available now as a DVD / Blu-Ray combo from Vinegar Syndrome.


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