Madman (1981)

In 1981 a group of film students from Staten Island decided to make a movie about the Cropsey legend.  Although largely a story told around New York and New Jersey, it's one of the cornerstones of American urban legends, known to most as the "hook-hand" killer, although it went a lot further than an attack on two teenagers on lovers' lane.  He lived in the tunnels of the Seaview Hospital on Staten Island, New York and would capture children to take back and murder, among other things.  Supposedly an escaped mental patient, the story was partially based on Andre Rand, a janitor at the notorious Willowbrook State School.  He already had done time for sexual crimes against minors before being brought to trial for kidnaping and murder and, although the latter charges were dismissed for lack of evidence, the first has been enough to keep him incarcerated to this day.

The more morbid parts of the legend were ripe for filming and, since Friday the 13th had grossed nearly 60 million dollars on a budget of around half a million, director Joe Giannone and his writing partner Gary Sales figured making a similar movie based on a real legend could make them a decent amount of money as well as break them into the filmmaking business.  Only problem was, a guy named Harvey Weinstein and young director Tony Maylam had thought the same thing.  Their movie, The Burning, was already in production.  That led Giannone and Sales to come up with an entirely new villain, Madman Marz, to terrorize their camp. 

As Thanksgiving approaches the children at an exclusive camp for gifted kids prepare to greet their families and head home.  On the last night they are told a frightening story by the camp's manager Max (Frederick Neumann) about the local legend of a man who killed his family and was lynched, but whose body was never found.  Supposedly if anyone speaks his name above a whisper he will hunt them down and either hang them or decapitate them.  No one believes Max, and so they all do exactly what they shouldn't do.  Marz (Paul Ehlers) definitely exists, and he is spotted by Richie (Tom Candela), who gets distracted and ends up at Marz's house. 

TP (Tony Nunziata) soon realizes Richie is missing, and after spending a bit of time with Betsy (Gaylen Ross) in the camp's hot tub decides to go out looking for him.  When TP doesn't return Betsy tells another counselor, Dave (Seth Jones), who also does not return, leading the others to go searching for their missing colleagues and falling victim, one by one, to Marz. 

This movie has become a cult favorite in recent years, and I can say it has a few things going for it.  One is Paul Ehler's makeup.  The Madman Marz get-up is well done for a small budget, and Joe Giannone wisely keeps him in the dark so that the more rubbery parts of the costume aren't so obvious.  When it comes to most of the killings they are also well executed, even if they are laughably ridiculous.

Despite Giannone and Sales doing their best, the movie is by different turns excruciatingly boring and hilariously awful.  A good amount of the running time is spent wandering around the woods calling out the names of everyone missing, while another five minutes or so is spent in a hot tub with water the color of chicken broth with Betsy and TP circling one another while Tony Nunziata sings a cringe-inducing folk song written by Gary Sales.  

Madman is a chore to sit through despite the few good parts, and the only reason it was remembered was because of good poster art that enticed people who had exhausted every other option in the local video store's horror section to give it a go.  It's definitely not the worst slasher film I have seen, but it still was early enough in the genre that it had the leeway to do what it wanted and pull out a few surprises.  This does happen occasionally, but even those are barely competent. 

Madman (1981)
Time: 88 minutes
Starring: Gaylen Ross, Tony Nunziata, Tom Candela, Harriet Bass, Seth Jones, Jan Claire, Alex  Murphy, Paul Ehlers
Director: Paul Giannone



Popular posts from this blog

Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)