1980’s Friday the 13th, 1981’s The Burning and 1983’s Sleepaway Camp are inarguably the holy trinity of summer camp slashers. And yet there’s another cabin and counselor opus from around the same time which deserves to be spoken of, if not in the same breath as the aforementioned formidable trio, then at least in the very next.
1982’s Madman (recently released on Blu-ray for the very first time by Vinegar Syndrome in a new 4K transfer taken from the original negative) is a little different. Its setting is Northsea Cottages, a special retreat for gifted children. It also takes place just before Thanksgiving. Hence, we have a summer camp film set in late-autumn. Fair enough.
As the film begins, the staff are huddled around the campfire doing their utmost to scare the shit out of the (very few) campers.
First we have counselor T.P., played by the late Tony Fish, telegraphing the carnage to come by warbling the portentous folk tune “Song of the Fifth Wind” as if he’s a deranged Gordon Lightfoot recounting “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”. If that’s not enough to make the kids soil their undies, Camp Director Max, played with equal parts gravitas and hamminess by Carl Fredericks, then regales the bunch with the legend of Madman Marz.
Apparently Mr. Marz was a local farmer who mutilated his wife and kids with an axe. When the townsfolk got word, they lynched Marz, cleaved his face with an axe and left him for dead. But when the townsfolk returned the next day, Marz was gone. According to legend, Madman Marz still haunts the woods and if you say his name – and here’s the important part- in a voice just above a whisper, he’ll come and get’cha!
Imprudent camper Richie ain’t hearing none of that. He foolishly screams out Marz’s name and hurls a rock which breaks the window of the Marz farmhouse. As the campers head back to the bunks, Richie spies an ominous, hulking figure amongst the trees and hangs back to do a little exploring. Could it be the fearsome Madman Marz roused for revenge? You’re damn right!
Marz’s first victim is the drunken cook Dippy who gets his throat torn out gloriously and dies gurgling blood. As the night goes on, counselors realize that Richie is missing. They go out looking for him, allowing Marz to do his thing in excellent scenes of carnage.
Madman Marz is a great addition to the slasher pantheon. He’s a giant, monosyllabic brute with a simian, feral, deranged Santa Claus vibe about him. His kills are quick, efficient and wonderfully brutal, including a gruesome beheading by truck hood.
Madman is goofy but also a heck of a lot of fun. It’s a must-see for the ludicrous hot tub scene alone, in which TP and his girl Becky, played by Dawn of the Dead’s Gaylen Ross, repeatedly circle the circumference of the tub and gaze lovingly in each other’s eyes while the sappy ballad “I Don’t Need Words”, sung by Mr. Fish himself, plays on the soundtrack.
Madman doesn’t stray too far from the camp carnage formula, but slasher aficionados will not be dissapointed. And while Madman Marz may not be as famous as Jason, Cropsy or Angela, those who’ve met him will not soon forget him. Just make sure to not say his name in a voice above a whisper!
*** ½ (out of five)