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The F*cking Black Sheep: Madman (1982)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We’re hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

MADMAN (1982)

DIRECTED BY JOE GIANNONE

So, how many of y’all hear yesterday’s news? No, not about that madman, we’re talking about the killer news that the supremely slept-on 1981 slasher flick MADMAN (GET THE BLU RAY HERE) is getting an updated sequel of sorts. Pretty badass…Madman Marz is mounting a mother*cking comeback!

But wait, are there any of you out there who hasn’t seen or even heard of MADMAN? We don’t blame you if not, as the film was not only lost in the flood of post-HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH slasher imitators and ersatz offshoots, it happens to also be one of the countless 80s summer-camp subsets of the slasher genre. And while THE BURNING, SLEEPAWAY CAMP and CHEERLEADER CAMP are probably the top three contenders in the latter category, you know what? MADMAN is on par, and if not, a very close fourth behind. What makes it even more impressive is, aside from forging a sort of hybridized stalk-and-slash-creature-feature, is how it remains the only movie director Joe Giannone ever made. Moreover, many of the actors in the film never performed in a movie ever again, and if so, only a scant few. Between that, and the fact the movie never enjoyed a proper release in the U.S. until 1983, despite being made in 1981, there’s little doubt MADMAN has been shunted as the runt of the summer-camp-slasher litter. Nevermore folks, let’s carve into why MADMAN is a F*cking Black Sheep below!

Co-written and directed by Joe Giannone, MADMAN opens at night around a fire at a camp for specially gifted children. An appositely campy folk-song is belted out by star Tony Fish. We’re then introduced to a bevy of teenage camp counselors are in the midst of entertaining a story from Max (Frederick Neumann), the camp owner. Max tells the storied legend of Madman Marz, a purported farmer who, after snapping one day, waltzed into his house and proceeded to murder his wife and child with an axe. When the locals found out, they went to retrieve the corpses, but when the bodies disappeared before they arrived. Never to be found. Madman Marz was then slashed across the face by enraged locals, strung up and hung from a tree to die a slow death. The following morning, the locals found the rope snapped and Marz’s body missing. The tall-tale rightly spooks the piss out of all the counselors, including some of the kiddy campers who were allowed to listen. Max warns that anyone who says Madman’s name will summon the heinous homicidal hill-man!

When Max (who Giannone originally wanted Vincent Price to play) bails for a night of cards with his pals, he leaves TP (Tony Fish) in charge. His girlfriend Betsy (Gaylen Ross, DAWN OF THE DEAD, CREEPSHOW) senses something amiss almost instantly, voicing her suspicions to friends Stacy (Harriet Bass), Ellie (Jan Claire), Dave (Seth Jones), Bill (Alex Murphy), Tommy (Tommy Veilleux), Richie (Tom Candela) and a few others. When Richie taunts Madman by repeating his name aloud and casting rocks at his old abode, one by one, the counselors are stalked and accosted by Madman Marz, who goes back and forth between his weapon of choice – a wood-axe – and his nasty fingernails that have clawed and calcified into calloused talons. For those who haven’t seen the film and have no idea what Madman Marz looks like, think Victor Crowley from the HATCHET pictures. That disgustingly deformed, black-footed, backwoods, hill-dwelling, overall-donning psychotic owes a lot to Madman Marz’s odious aesthetic. This isn’t your typical mask-wearing murderer, this f*cker’s a feral, scar-faced barbarian who can rip, gouge and flay with his bare hands just as ferociously as he can with an axe-blade!

One of the things that make MADMAN an underrated slasher flick is the unpredictable nature of the killings themselves. Firstly is Giannone’s adroit camerawork, lit and lensed by longtime Abel Ferrara and William Lustig DP James Lemmo (MRS. 45, VIGILANTE, FEAR CITY, MANIAC COP, MANIAC COP 2), which frames the action with Madman creeping in the corners, in the background, in and out of focus, popping out when you least expect it, etc. By contrast, Giannone subverts our anticipatory dread after giving us long, drawn out stalking POV shots from Marz’s perspective that often end without the expected payoff of a predictable death. Giannone will give us a two-minute chase sequence that ends as a red-herring, but then have Marz lunge into the frame during other times when it is least expected, without any sort of setup or chase sequence. I love that subversion of expectation. You never know who is going to die and when, which, for a slasher film, is usually among the most predictable aspects of the story.

For instance, the hot-tub sequence between Betsy and TP sets us up in one direction, and then goes the completely opposite route. When we see and hear Marz’s adenoidal peep-job through the sauna window, we surely expect to see both teens die a gruesome death. Not so. Only later does TP suffer a grislier fate than we can even imagine given Madman’s murderous M.O. (which, frankly means having no M.O.). After the very first fatality of the film, which sees Chef Dippy (Michael Sullivan) get his throat gruesomely gouged with one swipe of Madman’s filthy fingernails, TP is next up. He stumbles into the woods, where we expect Marz to do to TP what he did to Dippy. Uh unh. Madman slips a tightened noose around TP’s neck, drags him several feet along the dirt before the poor bastard is strung up and hung from a tree-limb. TP pulls himself up and catches a breath, only to have Madman lift him up and drop him back down, the force snapping TP’s neck like a twig! The Marz picks up his trusty rusty lumber-axe and goes looking for more blood to let!

The unpredictable deaths continue to keep us off balance. My favorite character in MADMAN is Stacy (Bass), who suffers a brutally protracted death. After a brilliant laterally panning POV shot of Marz eyeballing Stacy, it seems she may escape. But then, when the truck fails to start, Stacy peeks her pretty little head under the hood and WHAMM…Marz jumps on the hood and slams that sucker on her dome so hard that the hood decollates the poor gal…a flowing faucet of grisly grue erupts from her severed spinal stump. It smacks of Dave’s momentous murder from moments earlier, where he too had his head gorily decapitated when searching for TP. The difference being, we don’t see the aftermath of Stacy’s demise until Ellie discovers her lopped-off dome-piece stuck under the hood. Marz then chases Ellie, ultimately flinging an axe plum into her chest cavity. Shite’s gnarly!

But where MADMAN really separates itself from the fray of listless summer-camp slasher joints, and where the unpredictable nature of the kills comes to an absolute boiling point, is in the uncompromisingly ballsy finale. Damn I love this shite! So, Betsy, clearly our final girl by now, unwittingly fumbles her way through a gauntlet of corpses before realizing that Marz has her in his sights next. Betsy hops on a bus and tries to hightail it out of camp, but when Marz latches on to the roof, she somehow decides to go back to his house and end matter there. But instead of our final girl triumphing over evil, it is Madman Marz who prevails in the dourly nihilistic ending. Marz attacks Betsy and drags her into the basement, where he pulls a Leatherface by picking her up and impaling her on a coat rack. A fountain of gore explodes until Betsy pulls out a knife and fights back. A tussle ensues, a candle is knocked into the hay, and soon the entire place is conflagrated. Betsy’s body burns to death while the Madman skulks off into the night!

Look, it’s easy to cast MADMAN aside as a cheap FRIDAY THE 13TH knockoff. But the truth is the film ended its production schedule in November of 1980, just six months after FRIDAY THE 13TH was released. Chances are the overlap in setting was more coincidental than anything, as Giannone was on record citing HALLOWEEN and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE as low-budget-high-grossing templates. MADMAN also has a far darker and unhappy ending than F13, one that is more aligned with the Carpenter and Hooper classics. Between that and getting lost in the release shuffle for two damn years, it’s easy to see why MADMAN has adopted its F*cking Black Sheep status. Let’s hope all that changes when the updated remake comes along and shines greater light on the original!

STREAM MADMAN HERE

GET MADMAN ON DVD HERE

GET MADMAN ON BLU-RAY HERE

 

Source: AITH

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