Some ideas sound great on paper. On the face of it, a slasher concerning the vengeful antics of a maniac farmer who butchered his entire family and returns to wreak havoc on the site of the original crime whenever someone calls out his name, should surely have no trouble in raising a few goose-bumps. However - the transition from initial idea to page, and from the page to the big screen provides many opportunities for things to go horribly awry. The makers of ''Madman'' unfortunately, seem to have grasped most of these opportunities to mess things up, and exploited them to maximum effect to create one of the slasher sub-genre's more inept and bumbling of offerings.
The film starts with the legend of ''Madman Marz'' being related to a group of children and camp councilors around a camp fire, on a summer retreat for gifted children. The camp proprietor (Carl Fredericks) tells how an abusive local farmer (Paul Ehlers) went berserk and killed his entire family with an axe (cue flashback of the Madman's little kiddies getting an axe slammed into their heads!), then calmly turned up at his local tavern, his axe still covered in the blood of his butchered wife and kids! The townspeople are rather intolerant of such maniacal shenanigans, and ten of them confront Marz, hang him from a tree and, just for good measure, whack him in the face with his own axe leaving a hideous bloody wound! The next day however, Marz's body is missing ... and so are the bodies of his family. Legend has it that if anyone calls his name aloud, the Madman will come for them - and will not be satisfied until he's hanged or chopped or done something incredibly nasty to them!
Naturally, one of the dafter kids can't resist shouting out Marz's name, but no one takes it seriously. Later, the same boy (Jimmy Steele) sees a strange figure climbing down from a tree and follows him to a dilapidated house — the house of Madman Marz!
From here on in the film follows the usual formula - a succession of annoying characters go off into the woods alone to look for all the other annoying characters who have gone off into the woods alone to look for ... etc.etc. Eventually we are left with one survivor — apart from all the children, who the Madman seems not to have a taste for — who goes back to the Madman's house for a final showdown.
This film should have been great - all the ingredients are certainly there; but apart from a few plus points, the whole thing falls rather flat. But first of all, let's start with the good points: If you think you recognise the film's heroine Betsy, then you're probably right — it's Gaylen Ross, who any self-respecting horror fan will be familiar with from her role in Romero's ''Dawn of the Dead'', and she is the best thing about this otherwise botched effort. For some reason though, she goes under the name Alexis Dubin in ''Madman''. Another noticeable strength is the cinematography; the film was shot on a small budget, mostly at night - but a very spooky atmosphere is achieved through clever use of some stylish blue lighting which baths most of the action in the outdoor scenes.
Unfortunately though, the bad points far outweigh the good; apart from the aforementioned Gaylen, the actors are mostly a pretty woeful bunch of hams. One can't help praying for the moment their characters meet their inevitable end, simply so we don't have to put up with their toe curling performances a moment longer. Secondly, the Madman himself looks more like a big cuddly bear than a psychotic, evil maniac. I mean, really - Mrs. Maniac would have surely noticed that her husband was a little on the odd side wouldn't she? Seven foot tall and covered from head to toe in thick hair? One can't help thinking that she should have expected a few problems in the marriage.
The film is co-written by Joe Giannone and Gary Sales. The script they have come up with though, sags horribly and fails to build tension; it takes ages for things to start happening and then the film just runs on autopilot for most of the time. Only a few set-pieces here and there are worth a mention, and then mostly for their head scratching nature. One character for instance, tries to hide from the killer by clearing out the fridge and jamming herself inside!
One would hope that a film of this nature would redeem itself with its gore content; but the low budget effects don't cut the mustard these days, although admittedly, they might have seemed cool in 1981.
The most annoying thing about this film though is the music. Stephen Horelick's electronic score is fine when establishing mood, but producer and co-writer Gary Sales has found it necessary to burden the film with his own interminable musical numbers. We get an excruciating campfire song at the beginning, a mind numbing ''romantic'' number during a completely unsexy Jacuzzi scene and finally the laughable Madman Marz ''theme'' at the end of the movie, which will make your ears bleed. What kind of torture is this?
The film is presented in its original 1:85:1 widescreen aspect ratio but is non-anamorphic. Most of the movie takes place at night and the blacks are nice and solid throughout. There are some strange scratches that periodically appear on the screen here and there throughout the film, presumably this is down to damage to the original film. The soundtrack is presented in both the original stereo and a new 5:1 track; they are nothing special but are perfectly adequate.
The highlight on the extras front is the commentary from Joe Giannone, Gary Sales,Tony Fish and the actor who plays the madman, Paul Ehlers. I must admit, I found it more entertaining watching the film with the commentary track running than as a normal film! Apart from that, you get a trailer and some TV spots.
One for slasher fanatics only.