WRITERS: Screenplay by Joe Giannone
Story by Joe Giannone and Gary Sales
DIRECTOR: Joe Giannone
STARRING: Alexis Dubin as Betsy
Tony Fish as TP
Harriet Bass as Stacy
Seth Jones as Dave
Jan Claire as Ellie
Alex Murphy as Bill
Jimmy Steele as Richie
Carl Fredericks as Max
Michael Sullivan as Dippy
Paul Ehlers as Madman Marz
QUICK CUT: As a camp for gifted students closes for the fall, they meet a local farmer with an axe to grind.
TP - One of the staff at Xavier's Camp for Gifted Children, and he's a good guy, but he's a bit pushy and well...a guy. But he means well.
Betsy - TP's girlfriend, or at least that's what he wants, to be more than just a summer thing at camp. She's into the idea, but doesn't want to be rushed or pushed into anything. She's quiet, and shy, and loyal and protective of her friends and the children in her care.
Max - The head of the camp, and the friendliest camp counselor you ever did meet. He puts Mel from Sleepaway Camp to shame. And he is a master storyteller.
Madman Marz - A local urban legend, who one day went mad and killed his wife and children, and disappeared. He's the typical unstoppable force, and be careful if you say his name, because if he is called, he will come for you...
THE GUTS: Welcome back Triskelions, and we are in the final month of the Summer of Slashers. I wanted to drag this out in September, but I have Other Plans. First up for August, turn down the lights and join me around the campfire to hear the story of Madman. In all fairness, this is more of a late Autumn slasher, as the camp featured is closing down as Summer draws to a close. That's why I've saved it as one of the last reviews.
As we gather ourselves around the fire, so have our characters. One of the counselors, TP, sings us a rousing song of horror and death, and I absolutely love it. Is it the best sung little tune? No. Is it particularly scary? It has its moments. But TP dives in with gusto, and really sells it, especially as he creeps around the campfire, grabbing each counselor and camper in turn. And the best part is glimpses of flash fowards of the characters meeting their respective demises. It's a great narrative device, and welp, everyone's doomed!
Once TP wraps up, the head counselor, Max, begins the tale of Madman Marz, a local urban legend. He was a farmer in the backwoods who one day went mad, killed his wife and kids, and was hung for his crimes. But the man and his family went missing in the night, and were never heard from again.
But beware! To speak his name aloud is to call down his wrath upon you, and all you hold dear! Dare not to speak the name Madman Marz above more than a whisper, or he will find you!
So of course, we have the one smartass kid who stands up, calls out Marz, and throws a rock at the nearby Marz residence, breaking a window. Which honestly, he's probably gonna be more pissed about than saying his name.
On the one hand, the motivations for Marz's revenge sprees seem pretty weak. You've got just saying his NAME calling him down from the forest to executional you and yours, and now he's apparently gonna come crashing down on these people because Dumbass McCamper threw a rock at his house. But to be fair, if some pissant little kid broke one of MY windows? Man, fuck that kid and ALL his friends!
But I'm okay with it, because saying "Be careful even *whispering* his name!" is nicely terrifying, and perfect for a horror movie. It doesn't HAVE to make sense. It's an urban legend. It's silly in the light of day, but is perfect for a campfire story.
This is, to be blunt, one of THE strongest openings to a slasher movie I've ever seen. The mood is dark, threatening, and palpable, right out of the gate. You know everything you need to know about what's coming, you know it's inevitable, and the thing that really sells it is Max's story. It feels like a true campfire story, and he tells it SO WELL. You feel like you are sitting there with the campers, listening to the story, and are sucked right in. If this opening gets you, if it pulls you in, you are this movie's willing victim for the next 90 minutes.
Also, if you're sucked in, imagine how the kids feel. Many of them are terrified, and Betsy is upset with TP for his part in telling tales. He scared half the kids? And Max finished the job! They're supposed to have a hot night together, but now she has all the upset kids to deal with, and is generally unhappy with TP pushing things with their relationship.
The ladies head back, and the guys put out the fire before following. Richie, our troublemaker, sees something in the trees and lags behind, breaking the very first rule the Summer of Slashers taught us, don't go in the woods alone!
He finds himself at the Marz house, breaks in, and checks the place out. Because what's a little breaking and entering after everything else? And we see that Marz and his gnarled hands are not far behind.
We get some nice character moments, and some downtime, as the terror lurks nearby. They also set up our murder weapon, an axe buried in a stump that no one can remove, just waiting for King Arthur. Max has set up a bet that anyone who removes it gets 100 bucks, which is a much crappier reward than the rightful king of all England.
The local drunk camp handyman or whatever shows up just long enough to be introduced before dying horribly at the hands of Marz.
Some of the other kids have noticed Richie's gone missing, and buy him some time while he explores the Casa del Marz. He passes by his broken window, and sees Madman lurking around outside, taking care of his fresh kill. At least Dippy comes pre-pickled.
Back at the camp, the counselors chill out and grab a drink, and Betsy gives Max a bit of a talk about his scary stories. He promises to tone it down next year, and heads out of the plot to play some cards. TP stands up and addresses his boorish behaviour earlier, to win back Betsy's favour. And this is another plus about the movie. There's no one really unlikable. They're all HUMAN and make mistakes and are flawed, but they're all pretty likable. TP may have been a dope, but you understand him, and like him in spite of it.
Possibly the worst part of the movie happens next, as the plot advancement just *dies* before our eyes, grinding to a halt while TP and Betsy spin around in a hot tub for nearly four minutes. Fortunately, Marz lurks and watches towards the end of it, but even he gets bored and wanders off after a few seconds. Better things to kill...
Meanwhile, Stacy is out bringing in the boats or something, and heading back to camp in the dark. She has some trouble scaling the leaf-covered incline, and we know Marz is right there. His hand just barely misses her foot as she makes her way up to the path. Oh, don't worry, you'll get yours later. The tension is great, and since you know she DOES die, you get to wonder if THIS is it, is this the moment?? It's not so much a question of who dies, but when, and that has a very unique brand of tension.
TP has finally noticed one of his kids is missing, so goes out looking for him. He's going alone for now, but he's just gonna take a quick look, see if Richie is just over the hill, and then come right back for more help if a larger search is required.
He does the usual aimless wandering and the ritual calling of names, but doesn't find anything. Madman's musical sting however, makes him turn around and become serious.
TP's just about to give up when Madman catches him with a noose, drags him through the trees, and hangs him like a pinata.
He manages to actually grab the branch and support himself enough so the noose isn't choking him, but Marz comes along and grabs his comically oversized personalised belt buckle, and yanks TP down, snapping his neck.
Oh, and we finally get to hear the voice of Madman Marz, which is little more than a burble. He should go hang out with the maniac in the woods from Don't Go in the Woods, they'd have a lovely conversation. "Blurp." "Aheeheehee!" "Arrble?" "RAWR!"
Betsy's getting concerned, so sends Dave out to find him, and ah, here we go with THAT part of the movie, sending everyone out one by one until we reach Peak Corpse.
Meanwhile, Madman has found the axe in the stump, and easily yanks it out, arming up for fun times in the woods.
Dave does his take on the wandering namecalls, and eventually finds TP, but sadly someone has used up the entire roll. Madman naturally shows up and finishes off Dave.
Betsy and Stacy go and hang out in the office, until Stacy decides now it's her turn to go wandering the woods. There's a few other counselors out there who we need to collect so they can take their turns wandering aimlessly in the woods. You gotta delegate this stuff, and have a system.
She finds Ellie and Bill having sex in a tent, as one does in a summer camp slasher movie, and heads for her truck to try and get Max.
But surprise! The car won't start, so she gets out of the relative safety of her vehicle to look under the hood. The Madman somehow manages to come right up to the truck, grab the door handle, and NOT be seen in the well lit camp as she speeds off.
Ellie and Bill hang out at the office for all of five seconds, before deciding to go back out into the woods to look for Stacy. So, that's Ellie and Bill looking for Stacy who's looking for Dave who's looking for TP who's looking for Richie. This is a damned nesting doll of bad ideas.
Anyways, Stacy stops her truck to search the woods down the road a piece, and eventually finds Dave's body. And Dave's head.
But surprise, the car won't start again. And much like Home Sweet Home, while she's under the hood, Madman Marz dives off the top of the truck like he's a wrestler swooping in for a body slam, and slices her head clean off with the hood. Pretty sure that won't work, but it looks cool.
Ellie and Bill find Stacy's truck, so know she's nearby, and check out the nearby woods. Bill finds the severed noose, axe marks in the trees, drag marks along the ground... Do you know what this implies? SOMEHOW, Madman managed to kill everyone in the exact same spot. Or near enough for horseshoes.
While wandering, Ellie spies Marz trying to clean up his latest kill, and screams. Which naturally makes him look RIGHT at her.
She finds Bill, leads him back to the truck, but there's no body, and everything seems fine! Well, aside from the bloodstain on the front, but they miss it in the dark. Madman has taken his latest kill off to his secret trophy room already. He's quick, if nothing else.
The couple get into the truck and try to drive it back, but again, car troubles!
Bill hops out to check the engine, and finds Stacy's head sitting there waiting and being kept warm.
Once the head is removed, the car starts right up. Does this mean Stacy was keeping a head in there normally, causing her troubles? That seems weird!
Anyways, before they can drive off, Marz grabs Bill by the face and yanks him out the window, to his own horrific demise.
The car rolls down the road with no driver, and before Ellie can do anything, it crashes into a tree. Her door pops open and she rolls out onto the ground.
And this is when, of all people, Richie wanders back into he movie while somehow still being alive. He sees Marz drop off his latest kill, then skip merrily off with a burbly glee to kill some more.
Once Marz is gone, Richie sneaks back into the house, wanders down to the basement, and finds where all the bodies are...well, AREN'T buried, I guess. Which begs the question, the lore says Madman and his family's bodies were never found. I presume he stored them in the basement with the rest, and who wouldn't look for the Marzes IN THE MARZ HOUSE first?
Ellie gets back to the camp, crying and freaked out, trying to find Betsy in the suddenly very empty camp. She hears Madman's musical sting, stops, and turns around. She runs back to the door to see who's playing the killer's music, and discovers him standing right there.
And he doesn't just fuck one door. Ellie continues running, locks another door despite seeing him axe through the last one, and he just kicks that sucker out of the way.
She ducks around a corner just long enough to empty a fridge and hide inside it. So, she'll at least be safe if Marz sets off a nuclear device.
Ellie listens to him trash the kitchen, and when the commotion stops, she foolishly peeks out. Ellie at least gets points for giving him possibly the best chase he's had in years.
The girl manages to limp her way back towards all the busted doors, but finds Madman standing there ready to axe her. The movie literally just ran in a circle for a few minutes.
Which pretty much just leaves us with Betsy at this point, who is finally tired of sitting around the office. She wanders around the camp, and just so happens to look in the ONE window in the ENTIRE place to have a dead body on the other side.
Betsy rushes back to the office and calls the bar Max is chilling out at. She tells him that things aren't great, even though she's not seen much of ANYTHING. It's mostly just bad feelings, and some blood. But Max tosses his cards aside and rushes back. I bet he had a bum hand anyways.
It will be awhile before Max gets back from town, so Betsy grabs a rifle and gets ready for whatever might be out there. In some ways its the final girl trope, but something about this feels different. I love the proactive female character actually getting ready, instead of just lucking into a victory. She's locked and loaded, and ready to take out whatever may come along!
She creeps up back to where she saw the blood and body, and at the worst possible time, the barely alive Ellie pops up as a jump scare, and gets her face shot off. Oops?
The gunshot actually woke up some of the kids, and Betsy has them wake everyone else up, so they can pile into the bus and get the dodge out of hell.
Marz stops the bus and tries to get in, but after his hand receives the mother of all battings, he wanders off to go hang up his latest body.
Betsy knows she needs to find the rest and follows Marz, but not before having one of the older kids drive the bus to safety.
She follows Madman to his home, and after a lengthy silent wander with him lurking in the background, he finally confronts her. She misses with the shotgun, he smacks it away, and throws her around the room.
Remember what I was saying about loving a proactive character, gearing up and ready to take no shit?
He drags her down to the basement, and hangs her up to dry on some hooks. At least she manages to stab him in the back before the movie ends.
That doesn't seem to kill him, though at least he flails around a bit to knock over a candle and burn down the house, so there's...there's that?
Meanwhile, Richie is STILL ALIVE, when Max finds him on the road to camp. But he's in shock, staring blankly into the ROLLING CREDITS?! That's a hell of a way to end a movie. And yet weirdly satisfying? I should be way more upset at this non-ending.
Video: The recent Vinegar Syndrome release looks GREAT. I got another version just before that one was announced, and it looked okay, but was clearly inferior to the new one. There's some scratches here and there, but the images are sharp, and there's good separation between the shadows and colours.
Audio: It's a bit on the quiet side at times, but it sounded good enough. As a whole, it's solid, with all the voices clear and audible.
Body Count: Well, once we get past the hot tub, things take off nicely, and Madman Marz does not disappoint the body count gods.
1 - Four minutes and change, Marz's wife dies in a flashback.
2 - And then he chops up his son.
3 - And finally his daughter.
4 - 18 minutes in and there's the first proper real time death of Dippy getting his throat slashed by Marz.
5 - Marz hangs TP and snaps his neck for good measure.
6 - Dave takes an axe to the face.
7 - Madman dives off the top of the car and onto the hood, severing Stacy's head.
8 - Bill gets yanked out of the truck and his spine snapped by Marz.
9 - Ellie gets an axe to the chest, but what does her in is Betsy shooting her in the face.
10 - And finally, Madman hangs up Betsy on his wall.
Best Corpse: This time out, the award goes to Madman body slamming onto the truck's hood so hard it slices a head clean off.
Blood Type - B: The blood in this is great. It's never that bright cartoony red, there's quite a bit of it, and the effects are solid enough for this level.
Sex Appeal: The camp counselors get naked more than the kids in this movie.
Drink Up! every time someone wanders off to look for someone else.
Video Nasties: I fought myself on this one. I wanted to share a short, quick kill, I wanted to share TP's song, or this, or that...but I gotta go with Max's campfire story. It is GREAT. Every horror movie campfire tale should strive to be this good.
Movie Review: For a camp slasher, this is really good. For any other movie, well maybe not so much. The plot is straightforward, there's no mystery...you don't even have to wonder who's gonna die, since they flash forward at the start! It's very conventional filmmaking, but it works. It's rock solid, and while there's no big mystery, it still lays out its plot very well, and almost never drags. Save for that damnable hot tub scene. The characters are likable, the killer is great, if nothing special...yet he IS, in his way. He's very much that unstoppable Voorhees type, but just seems to be one tough bastard. Madman Marz is uniquely familiar, if that makes sense. The deaths are creative and fun. And I haven't even gotten into the score. Yet another wonderfully 80s score, with its over the top musical stings that are more of a warning for Marz than his stench, that starts right off with a moody, creepy tune over the credits, and followed up with another song about Marz over the ending, leading into more synthy music. This is just a purely enjoyable movie, and us right next to The Burning, as one of my favourite camp slasher movies. Four out of five rocks through the window.
Entertainment Value: Madman is equally amazing for entertainment. You gotta laugh at Madman's grunts. If the opening campfire scene draws you in, you are enrapt for the rest of the movie, and it's just such a thrill ride, once it gets going. Sure, the trope of person after person going off alone to die isn't new, but Madman does it wonderfully. I especially liked how Max was set up to have SOME larger role. Could HE be Madman Marz? Or associated with him? Maybe he was one of the people that hunted him down way back in the day? Or will he swoop in during the final moments and save the day? AND NONE IF IT HAPPENED. There's something about NOT paying things off, and somehow still working, that is a sight to see. The ending leaves something to be desired, but like I said, is still satisfying. There's a lot of silliness and campy moments, while still being a perfectly solid slasher flick. You're not watching Shakespeare, but for this genre, Madman is a standout entry for horror. Five out of five axes in a stump.