Color, 1982, 88m.
Directed by Joe Giannone
Starring "Alexis Dubin," Tony Fish, Harriet Bass, Seth Jones, Jan Claire, Tom Candela, Paul Ehlers
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Code Red, Anchor Bay (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
The early '80s certainly had its share of slasher movies with teenagers getting stalked in the woods, and seemingly every single one of them has developed some sort of cult following over the years. Two had the distinction of being summer camp slashers based on the same urban legend of Cropsey, a disfigured maniac who stalks interlopers in the woods. The more famous of the pair, 1982's The Burning, called its villain "Cropsy" and milked the Hudson Valley-based myth for all it was worth, while a competing production from the same year, Madman, changed the name of its killer to "Madman Marz" to avoid competition. (A 2010 documentary also covers the Cropsey basis in much more detail, but that's another story.)
Here we have a stripped-to-basics yarn with some counselors sitting around telling (and even singing) ghost stories, and of course, they invoke the legend of Marz, an accused axe murderer strung up by the local townspeople with part of his face lopped off by the offending weapon. Unfortunately he got away, and now anyone who says his name aloud will invoke a new rampage of terror. Of course, one of the idiots around the campfire does exactly that (and chucks a rock at Marz's old house for good measure), and soon a creepy, shaggy-haired menace lurking in the forest begins picking everyone off one by one.
No one's going to cite this as a high water mark in slasher film history, but this scrappy little indie is incredibly entertaining and atmospheric with some bloody good kills, decent jolts, and a surprising "final girl" role for Dawn of the Dead's Gaylen Ross (under the name "Alexis Dubin"), who also participates in a hot tub scene that has now passed into the annals of ridiculous horror movie moments. (The refrigerator moment isn't too far behind either.) There's even a bizarre synth-accompanied theme song laying out the legend of the title character at the beginning complete with some charming DIY artwork, all of which give the film an appealing regional flavor that has fared surprisingly well over the years. It also packs in a few chilling kill scenes, most notably a clever bit involving a noose and a visceral showdown at the end that's a bit different from your average slasher finale.
Madman has had four rounds on American home video, first as a Thorn/EMI (and HBO) release, then an Anchor Bay DVD in 2001 with a commentary track, and again in 2010 as a much more loaded special edition DVD from Code Red. That last one flared up a bit of controversy as the producers supplied an HD master made for the now-defunct MonstersHD channel, and the cool blue color timing of the AB disc is notably gone in favor of a much warmer appearance. Varying accounts about the "correct" color scheme of the film have flown around since, but otherwise print quality on both is very similar (a little soft and ragged at times, but sufficient enough and way better than VHS), though the Code Red release is regrettably interlaced; it's very noticeable here as combing afflicts almost every scene with a lot of motion. You can switch your player over to interlaced playback if you want, but it's a bummer all the same. That caveat aside, the disc is still highly recommended for its slew of extras including the original commentary ported over from the AB disc (featuring late director/writer Joe Giannone, actors Paul Ehlers and the also deceased Tony Fish, and producer Gary Sales), a phenomenally exhaustive new documentary called "The Legend Still Lives: 30 Years of Madman" (which clocks in just over an hour and a half, longer than the feature itself!), a collection of vintage stills with Sales commentary, a plug for a proposed upcoming 3-D "re-imagining" and/or a sequel that has yet to materialize, a featurette on bands inspired by the film, a theatrical trailer, and TV spots. The release is billed as a 30th Anniversary edition, presumably dating back to the year it was shot instead of when it was released.
In 2015, the film revived again from Vinegar Syndrome courtesy of a dual-format release containing a Blu-ray and DVD featuring a new 4K HD transfer from the original negative. Of course the big question here is what the color timing is like, and it definitely veers closer to the Anchor Bay side as the blue tint is now back for the night exterior scenes and flashbacks. (Click here for a sample shot from the Code Red disc for comparison to the Vinegar Syndrome frame grab to the left.) The image quality is very impressive given the modest nature of the source; the film has an intentionally shadowy look, and it actually looks even better if you knock the brightness down on your TV a couple of extra notches to get the blacks nice and deep. The fine layer of film grain here looks natural, and colors are vivid and seem to be accurate. At 88 minutes and 42 seconds, the transfer also clocks in a few seconds longer than the previous releases (88 mins., 16 sec.), which appears to be due to the more immaculate element used without the print damage seen in the past. (Those weird purple lines appearing in some shots are still there in some shots apparently due to what looks like a faulty camera.) Audio is presented in English DTS-HD MA mono with optional English subtitles and sounds great for what it is. The film can also be played with an optional new HD intro by Sales (50 seconds) talking about his pleasure with the new HD presentation. On the audio side the previous commentary is carried over, while a new commentary is added with the gang from The Hysteria Continues podcast (two of them under the weather but soldiering along admirably) with additional guest Johnny Krueg. They're in very familiar territory here as the slasher experts put the film in context within the golden cinematic year of 1982 and point out how it both follows and tweaks the conventions of the subgenre. They also go into the whole Cropsy issue and cover everything from the shooting locales to the ongoing fan popularity and the US theatrical campaign by Jensen Farley Pictures.
Ported over on the video front are the complete "The Legend Still Lives" doc, the trailer, the music featurette, TV spots, stills gallery with commentary, and in memoriam. However, there's also a healthy batch of new extras that turn out to be more than just icing on the cake. The new HD featurette "Madman: Alive at 35" clocks in at 21 minutes and features the first-ever reunion between Sales, Candela (who played Richie) and Ehlers in the same place, sitting around chatting about the film (surrounded by cool fan art inspired by the project), complete with a yapping dog and other folks chattering in the background. It's actually quite a warm and endearing little featurette and should give fans quite a fuzzy feeling to see the gang together. The 14-minute "The Early Career of Gary Sales" features the producer offering an overview of his salad days (in front of a poster for Back Seat Cabbie) covering his experiences in rock 'n' roll and drama that led to film dabbling in Staten Island and operating on the fringes of the adult film industry in fare like It Happened in Hollywood and the industrial film grind where he began working on Madman. Two video interviews with Deadpit Radio are included with Sales (who pitches the remake again) for three minutes and Ehlers for five, the latter hanging out with his son who was born during the shooting of the film. (Expect to see a lot of Madman T-shirts here.) Chalk up another winner for Vinegar Syndrome's admirable list of horror releases.