Madman (1981) – Film Review

Madman Film Review

Director: Joe Giannone
Cast: Gaylen Ross, Tony Nunziata, Harriet Bass
Certificate: 18

By Roger Crow

Ever heard of the Cropsy Maniac? Probably not, unless you’re a fan of American low-budget slasher movies.

In 1981, two films were inspired by the urban legend which involves a murderer who steals children and hides them in a tunnel beneath an abandoned sanatorium on Staten Island in upstate New York.

Madman Film ReviewThe most famous of them is The Burning, the first production credit for the now-disgraced Harvey Weinstein; it was co-written by his brother, Bob. The second is Madman, which began shooting shortly after the Weinstein film, so was hastily rewritten to delete any mention of Cropsy, replacing the character with Madman Marz, someone with a spookily similar raison d’être.

Both films were made to cash in on the then-hugely lucrative market for low-budget horror films started by the likes of The Last House on the Left and Halloween. It’s fair to say that Madman is not in the same league as either, particularly the latter, but it’s not without its merits.

“Spooky stories”

The story takes place around the end of that particularly American notion of the summer camp season. As the embers of a fire burn, the counsellors and the youngsters in their care gather to tell spooky stories, one of which focuses on Madman Marz, a psycho who reputedly lived in a nearby now-abandoned house.

While some of the youngsters are visibly frightened by the tale, one teenager shouts his name out loud, the one thing that will apparently cause the killer to reappear. The lad scoffs at the idea but, of course, lives to regret his hasty move when Marz does return to systematically bump off the revellers in a variety of grisly ways.

The film was shot on such a restricted budget that it ended up being a non-union project, resulting in the cast and crew being credited under false names to avoid landing themselves in trouble. So if you recognise the character Betsy as being Gaylen Ross, star of Dawn of the Dead, but then notice she’s listed as Alexis Dubin, don’t worry, you’re not going mad – it really is Ross.

She’s interviewed among the special features, discussing not only Madman, but also her work with George A Romero, offering fascinating insights into his process.

Madman Film Review

“A cult hit”

Others talking about the project include Paul Ehlers, an artist originally hired to provide promotional materials for the film, but who ended up playing the villain.

The movie itself isn’t half bad, and it’s easy to see why Madman became a cult hit on the drive-in circuit back in the day – it features a strong bad guy, some hapless victims, plenty of blood and a relatable setting, all ingredients in any self-respecting slasher movie. It’s sure to go down well with the audience that enjoyed Halloween on its cinema release too, and although not a stone-cold classic, it’s good to be able to finally see a film that was seized by the police during the UK’s video nasty era.

Madman is available to buy on limited edition 4k UHD from 24th June 2024 from Arrow Video. RRP £22.00


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