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June 5, 2011


(1982, Dir. by Joe Giannone.)

Just a heads up - Madman is a slasher film about a killer who comes after you once you say his name.  Kinda like Candyman or Bloody Mary, but you don't even get four test says with his name.  Now, I'm not superstitious and stuff....but still, saying his name's pretty risky, isn't it?  Thus, I will spend the entirety of this post calling him by a pseudonym I've chosen - Lunatic Lars*.  If you want to know the character's real name, go to IMDB.  But before you do that, you should see this news story about an IMDB programmer who was murdered with an ax.

Now, let's actually talk about Madman, the story of a bunch of camp counselors stalked by a seemingly unstoppable killer.  Yeah, I know - you've seen that movie.  Heck, you've probably seen like 8 or 9 movies that fit that description.  Can I honestly tell you that Madman is significantly different and/or better than those films?

Surprisingly - at least to me - I think I can tell you that it is different and I think I might be willing to say it's better than many slasher films of its era.  Madman hooked me from the start with the combination of one of the coolest title/credit screens I've seen in some time and the campfire/ghost story setting which opens the story.  With the staff and residents of a camp gathered around the campfire, their employer retells the legend of Lunatic Lars* - who killed his family with an ax, was put to death for his crimes, yet broke free from the grave and still stalks the woods whenever his name is said.  Of course, the old man has to end the story by relaying Lunatic Lars*'s name to the crowd of campers and counselors.  In a weird turn of events, he kind of stumbles over this dramatic line, and I was a little confused that Lunatic Lars*, who I'd read of before the film, didn't actually have a name that ended with an "s" sound.  Luckily, one of the campers inquired "What did he say?", allowing the actor to clearly state that the character's name is Lunatic Lars* on his second try.

That's one of our first signs that Madman is going to be a somewhat ham-fisted production, but I found the film's flaws in things like acting or writing kind of charming.  While the film is full of flaws, I couldn't help feeling that many were the result of writer/director Joe Giannone and his crew's love for this project and their story.  Like, maybe it's a little annoying when the characters swim around a hot tub in a sensual circle while someone struggles with a ballad that was written by the producer, but it's unique.  This isn't one of those '80s slasher films that's just going to slip into my mind and assimilate with the rest of the cardboard cutout slashers I've seen, it's gonna be the one that stands out a bit because it's different and has a fun yet cheap musical score and a wild-haired killer and the name that can't be said.

Also helping the film is the casting of Dawn of the Dead veteran Gaylen Ross - using the pseudonym Alexis Dubin - as one of our potential survivor girls.  Ross was certainly the heart of the cast in that film's quartet of characters, and the ability to appear terrified while not going over the top that she showed in Romero's classic adds a dimension to Madman when she's on-screen.  The rest of the film is filled with the type of performances you'd expect from an '80s slasher film, but Ross seems to have that little extra bit of fear behind her eyes as she goes toe-to-toe with Lunatic Lars*.

(Off-topic, but I had a random theory about Dawn of the Dead and Ms. Ross while I was watching Madman.  If Ross' Francine is the heart of the cast in Dawn of the Dead, that kind of makes her the Donatello of that quartet.  If I have to place the rest, I'd say that Scott Reiniger's fun-loving Roger is the Michaelangelo, Ken Foree's moody-yet-efficient Peter is the Raphael, and David Emge's Flyboy is the Leonardo - because he tries to be in charge but really nobody likes him and Donatello's the only one smart enough to convince the others they need Leo.  And once I had that thought, I'm starting to think that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may have an alternate universe connection to Dawn of the Dead.  Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about Madman more!)

The other thing worth noting about Madman is the killer, who is certainly unique in size and stature.  This deformed lunatic with the wild hair and the ax lumbers around the screen effectively enough, and is an imposing force - kind of like that Victor Crowley these days, only not drenched in overkill.  Well, maybe there's a tiny bit of overkill, but there's something to be said for a brutal kill with an ax that doesn't linger on the ridiculous special effects like it's the ending of an episode of Lost.  Like I said earlier - Lars* isn't memorable because of his kills, he's memorable because of his stature and his backstory (which doesn't require a dozen flashbacks).

Madman probably isn't that good of a movie, but I'm kind of ecstatic about it.  It's not a colossal bit of ineptitude like Pieces and it's not iconic and polished like a Friday the 13th film, but it's exactly what I wanted it to be.  Thus, I expect Madman will become one of my go to slasher films over time.  Maybe I'll pick it because of Ross, maybe it'll be the memory of the opening ten minutes, maybe it'll be someone mentioning Hatchet and me remembering how much I enjoyed Lunatic Lars* - but I'll probably go back to it because it's memorable.  It just goes to prove that the 70 minutes in the middle of a slasher movie aren't that relevant; you just really need to nail the first ten and the last ten.  And Madman did that.

1 comment:

ZedWord said...

Oh shit. This looks looks kind of neat. I'm certainly going to check it out now.

A few other notes: 1.) That Dawn of the Dead / TMNT analogy is genius.

2.) I've been Rickrolled, but never until today have I been Dark Helmet'ed. Well played.