"The Legend Lives" again in Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray/DVD combo release of the 1980s slasher sleeper MADMAN in a new 4K restoration.
On the eve of winter break for the North Sea Cottages camp for gifted children, senior member Max (Carl Fredericks) regales the kids around the campfire with the legend of Madman Marz, a farmer who drank heavily, brutalized his wife and children, and brawled with the locals. When one night he went mad and murdered his family with an axe, the locals lynched him only for his body and those of his family to disappear the next day. Legend has it that if you call Madman Marz, he will reappear in search of new victims for his axe. Young Richie (Tom Candela) rises to the bait and calls out for Madman Marz to come and get him. When he sees a dark shape in the trees, Richie breaks off from the group to explore Marz's abandoned house. As the frightened young campers settle in for the night, T.P. (Tony Fish) goes off in search of Richie after a hot tub tumble with fellow counselor Betsy (DAWN OF THE DEAD's Gaylen Ross, billed as "Alexis Dubin") who is glimpsing the kind of strange sights final girls see in slasher films, and stoned counselors Stacy (Harriet Bass), Bill (Alex Murphy), Dave (Seth Jones), and Ellie (Jan Claire) each go off in search of T.P. when he fails to return. Meanwhile, a hulking, disfigured mountain of a man has made his way to camp with an axe and a noose.
Made in 1980 at the same time as THE BURNING and FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II (and sharing the Cropsey legend with the former), MADMAN was not released until 1982 when the slasher genre was already looking for novel variations. While poorly received upon that late release, MADMAN has gained its cult adoration on VHS tape from those either too young to see it theatrically – being particularly popular in the UK where it was briefly considered a "Video Nasty" – and those in territories where is just was not released. While not as vicious as THE BURNING, MADMAN remains the more ambitious entry in terms of style and the crafting of atmosphere. Although Giannone did not have HALLOWEEN's Dean Cundey at his disposal, he and cinematographer James Lemmo (who lensed Abel Ferrara's MS. 45 as well as Bill Lustig's VIGILANTE and MANIAC COP) do keep the compositions menacing with camera movements and shifting light and shadows revealing Marz lurking in the foreground or backgrounds of shots (and the understated electronic score effectively suggests Marz's presence even when he is not on the screen). The personably performers also give us characters that are far more warmly human than some of their slasher counterparts – even with a minimum of character development – and the filmmakers usually do not skimp on the splatter (however technically primitive). The gore and Marz's prosthetic make-up was created by Richard Alonzo who worked for Craig Rearden (THE BLOB) in the eighties and then Stan Winston from the nineties onwards (WRONG TURN). Producer Gary Sales also served as music director and penned the lyrics to the TP's opening song, the "Madman Marz" theme (as memorable as the ballad from MY BLOODY VALENTINE), and the easy listening song for the hot tub scene while composer Stephen Horelick went on to scoring the READING RAINBOW educational television series.
Released theatrically by Jensen-Farley Pictures (CURTAINS) and then on Thorn/EMI VHS in a murky transfer, MADMAN first hit DVD in 2001 via Anchor Bay in a non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer with an audio commentary (see below), the film's trailer, and five TV spots. An extras-rich thirtieth anniversary two-disc edition followed in 2010 – produced by Gary Sales and distributed by Code Red – utilizing an HD master struck for Monsters HD that drew criticism because it was lacking the film's distinctive blue tint (this transfer has also been available on Amazon Instant Video). Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is derived from a new 4K restoration, and the new transfer is thoroughly gorgeous. The blue tint is present, although not slathered on as it was on the Anchor Bay transfer where the tint washed out what available detail there was in the night shots. The heightened resolution does reveal during some of the brightly lit camp interiors (the office and hot tub scenes) three vertical scratches in the center of the frame which presumably happened in the camera or during the processing of these reels (these were also visible on the Anchor Bay presentation but the darker image better concealed them in some shots), as well as some night shots where the focus is slightly off.
Carried over from the Anchor Bay DVD is the audio commentary by director Joe Giannone, producer Gary Sales, and actors Paul Ehlers and Tony Fish; which is a major addition since Giannone and Fish are no longer with us. Giannone and Sales discuss the influence of HALLOWEEN and THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK but how Warner Bros. acquisition of FRIDAY THE 13TH and its box office success meant that low budget horror films became more attractive to distributors. They discuss the learning experience of pitching their project unsuccessfully to investors for eight months, and how that ultimately served as rehearsal when once they actually found interested parties, notably executive producer Sam Marion who agreed to bankroll the entire thing. Sales traces the origin of the story to the Cropsey legend he heard at his summer camp as a child and that they kept it under wraps until an actress on the production told them that one of the scenes played exactly like a scene in a film her boyfriend was doing which turned out to be THE BURNING. After getting a copy of the script through the film's production manager, they halted production and restructured their script and changed the character to Madman Marz. They recall the luck they had scoring a location that had everything they needed – including the hot tub – and could house the actors since it was so far away from the city. Ehlers recalls how he was initially hired to do the poster and graphics (including the opening titles border) as well as working in the prosthetic make-up (and how they had to delay shooting some of the scenes since they had to order some prosthetic feet because the cameraman pointed out that he had ballerina feet).
The audio commentary by The Hysteria Continues! is rather atypical in that their brand of comedy is restrained, firstly by a few of them being under the weather as well as their obvious admiration for the film's achievements in terms of style and effective chills. In addition to discussing the ways in which they each first encountered the film, they cite similarities to FRIDAY THE 13TH II and THE BURNING made the same year (specifically the legend told around the campfire and the false scare) as well as how the film may have influenced the more recent HATCHET. They discuss Ross' po-faced performance and how Bass' sympathetic and wise character seems like more of a happy medium – between Ross and Claire – for a final girl.
Also ported over from the Code Red DVD is the feature-length thirtieth anniversary documentary "The Legend Still Lives" (91:41) featuring producer Sales, actors Ehlers and Bass, key grip Claude Kerven, Ehler's son Jonathan (who was born during the production of the film), as well as a number of super fans. Sales overlaps quite a bit with the commentary when it comes to the origins of the project, finding out about THE BURNING, scoring the film's locations (which they visit later on in the documentary to find them completely changed), and the film's poor reception. Ehlers expands on the story of how he was hired to play Marz once he explained his concept to Sales for the character as depicted in the artwork. Bass talks about the congenial atmosphere on the set with the cast and crew living in such close quarters as well as her death scene. Kerven talks about how his first job out of film school here lead to connections that kept him working afterwards (including SNL shorts and ABC AFTERSCHOOL SPECIALS). The latter half of the documentary following discussion of the film's theatrical reception leads to a series of interactions between Sales and Ehlers with various fans of the film who have created artwork, collected memorabilia, and discuss here how they first encountered it and later rediscovered it (most of them pre-Anchor Bay DVD). It's a pretty comprehensive piece, although possibly more than most viewers will require.
The primary new extra is "Madman: Alive at 35!" featurette with Gary Sales, Paul Ehlers, and Tom Candela (20:58) is a rather loose interview with Candela intercut with his reunion with Sales and Ehlers after thirty-five years. It is not particularly informative, but Candela does reference a scene that did not make the final cut because he had tired himself out while attempting some "method" preparation. Besides an optional introduction to the film by Sales (0:50) in which he touts the new restoration, Sales also appears in "The Early Career of Gary Sales" (14:15) is the only other newly-filmed extra. Sales discusses his education in film and stumbling onto a job on the XXX film IT HAPPENED IN HOLLYWOOD as a production assistant followed by transportation for the R-rated CHERRY HILL HIGH, but it is not long before he rehashes the conception and funding of MADMAN. In Memorium (5:44) is an audio extra in which Sales discusses his friendship with the late Giannone while "Music Inspired by MADMAN" (13:14) has Sales presenting some fan music inspired by the theme song (headlined by a piece from C.K.Y.'s Deron Miller, also a DON'T GO IN THE WOODS fan). Also included is the original Jensen Farley theatrical trailer (1:47) and a series of neat TV Spots (1:59) as well as a still/artwork gallery.
New to the set are a pair of 2007 Deadpit interviews with Gary Sales (3:37) – in which he discusses the remake – and with Paul Ehlers (5:13) who reveals that his son Jonathan has penned the remake script. The only real gap in the extras is the absence of Gaylen Ross or some discussion of why she has not participated in any of the extras (she reportedly does not talk about the film for some reason, and presumably Sales and others do not want to alienate her in the case that she does consent to speak about it some day), but Vinegar Syndrome's release is otherwise as comprehensive an edition as we are likely to have stateside (Arrow have announced a UK Blu-ray/DVD combo but the extras announced so far appear to replicate the ones here including those produced by Sales and the Hysteria Continues track). (Eric Cotenas)
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