Some kids are sat around a campfire telling spooky stories. One of them trumps all the others with a story not just spooky, but also true, or so they say. Later, that truth is confirmed when the kids start to be killed off one by one. Can you name the film?
In this case it’s Madman, a 1982 slasher with a seriously heavy debt to Friday the 13th, and the relevant spooky story is that of Madman Marz, who may sound like the über-hip music producer all your friends knew about before you did, but is actually a farmer who one day killed his whole family, only to face a lynching when the enraged townsfolk got wind of his crimes. However, as every horror fan knows, evil has a tendency to linger, so Marz is still out there in the woods to this day, just waiting for an opportunity to kill anyone foolhardy enough to say his name above a whisper. So, of course, it’s said above a whisper, and after an unspeakably boring half-hour of romance subplot comes a series of cheerfully nasty tortures and dismemberings and other types of brutal retribution on the young for their crime of being young and cocksure.
Madman isn’t exactly good, but then so few slasher films are that it seems almost gauche to mention that fact. Besides, slasher film fans are not, on the whole, interested in quality. It isn’t that they’re undiscerning; more that things like quality writing and convincing acting are so much not a part of the slasher experience that to complain about their absence is like being disappointed not to see any home-runs at a rugby match. In terms of slasher currency Madman has to score quite highly: the kills are violent and varied; the gore effects are nice and disgusting; the villain design is cool and almost convincing; and the music is throbbing, foreboding, and a little cheesy.
God, the music. If Madman has any claim to fame, if it’s ever to be remembered in the way that Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th are remembered, it’ll be because of its score. OK, so John Carpenter had already gone and pretty much invented the electronic score on Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13, so Madman yet again fails the originality test, but the problem with Carpenter’s scores is that they were too good: sparse, yet catchy; simply orchestrated but melodically complex; and rewarding, to this day, to fans of film scores, electronic music, or modern classical composition. The way that Madman’s score cuts out all that shit and focuses just on the big old squelch of 80s synths is kind of like the way punk stripped down its influences to their quickest, cheapest essentials. Plus the credits roll over an original campfire song about Madman Marz, and that too is set to nothing but synths – there’s a genre I’d never heard before. The sound on this release is astonishingly good, and if the visuals let it down slightly, then that has more to do with the condition of the original film stock than it has to do with the typically tireless restoration work done here.
The box is, as one might expect, attractive in a cultish way, and Madman was lucky enough in its own time to receive one of those posters that promises far more than the film itself could ever deliver. Similarly, the menu here is absolutely gorgeous, throbbing, and foreboding. I could probably watch the menu for as long as I could watch the film, and find my interest equally sustained either way.
Apparently, Madman’s music is getting its cult due, and I learnt that the same way I learnt far more than I ever thought I’d need to know about an objectively undistinguished slasher that I hadn’t previously heard of – through the positively extensive extras featured on this disc. There is a documentary, The Legend Still Lives! Thirty Years of Madman, which is actually longer than the film itself; two audio commentaries; Madman: Alive at 35, a short but pleasant piece with producer Gary Sales and actors Paul Ehlers (Madman Marz) and Tom Candela (Richie); The Early Career of Gary Sales, a look back over the producer’s seamy and highly suspect history; decent but inessential interviews with Sales and Ehlers; an “In Memoriam”; and, best of all, Music Inspired by Madman, which is mostly amateur efforts sourced from YouTube, but is a real blast with real rewatch value.
As usual, my gratitude and respect go out to Arrow Video and their endless patience and hard work in filling every DVD and Blu-Ray they release with hours of fascinating extras. The number of high-quality titles in their catalogue is small, and if you threw a dart at an Arrow Video catalogue to decide what disc to buy next, odds are it’d be something obscure, cheaply made, and bad. But you wouldn’t have wasted your money, because by the time you were through with the extras, you’d be convinced you held some piece of rare filmic treasure.
Is it worth buying Madman? On the film’s merits, probably not. But if you’re a fan of home video releasing in general, then this has much to recommend it, and probably the single coolest menu screen I’ve ever seen. Even if the film is weak, the whole package is enough to convince you it’s golden.