Madman

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BOOM! RIGHT INTO THE CREDITS with a low, weird organ on the soundtrack, a wild musical sting appears as the title zooms up to the screen:

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Na na na na na na na, Madman!

The credits scroll quickly on the screen as a demented instrumental that sounds like a mix between the Clockwork Orange score and a John Carpenter track plays, and then zippity-doo-dah, we are into the movie, starting with a helpful exposition card:

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The soundtrack sounds like Vitalic, which is cool, but I’m worried because–once again–we’re around a goddamn campfire. Was there a federal law that Reagan put in place that required all horror movies to have at least one campfire scene in the 1980’s? Based on my recent experiences with camp-based horror movies, I’m a little wary but will try to stay strong. For you, my beautiful, smart reader.

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Da Vinci’s early draft of The Last Supper left much to be desired.

So tales of past glory and scary ghost stories are being told, and the chump telling the tale sing-speaks using a sPoOoOkY VoOiIiCee like he’s Jacob Marley’s ghost. Is this an unused track from the old Disney headless horseman cartoon? Philip Seymour Hoffman’s father starts telling his story, which is about a farmer man who was evil (he beat his wife, get drunk, and got a piece of his nose bitten off [!]). He chopped his wife into pieces, then walked on down the hall to kill his son, then walked on down the hall to give his daughter the chop, and then he rode the snake to the lake. The Mad Farmer is then caught by a local mob and they give him a taste of his own axe to the face. This bit is shown in gory detail and indeed, they chop like half his face off.

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It looked nothing like this adorable kitten.

They left him there for dead, but when they went back the next morning, he was gone, along with his family’s bodies, which were never found. Apparently, “on certain nights, when the moon is full,” he takes a stroll through the woods to chop peoples’ heads off or hang them from a tree. Smartmouth Richie asks what his name is, and PSH’s Dad says they shouldn’t say his name above a whisper, or he’ll come to get you. This guy seems pretty stoked about this fact. Our monster’s name is Madman Marz, so of course screwhead Richie stands up, throws a rock through a nearby house’s window (either Madman’s or just some innocent person’s; Richie don’t care), and screams his name, taunting him to come get them. You know, this is why people in slasher flicks get murdered so often: they taunt unknown forces and spit in God’s face at every turn.

So I guess here we go: because Richie the Problem Child didn’t get his nap today, everyone has to die. Way to go, dipshit. Also: isn’t this a school for the gifted? Or was that just an early-80’s way of saying “special” that means “impaired’ nowadays?

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Pictured: A dipshit.

PSHD echoes what I was just saying (re: messing with forces way beyond their control) and tries to apologize to the house. If he knew this, why would they camp so closely to Madman’s place? Anyway, PSHD thanks the kids because their folks are coming to scoop them up for Thanksgiving and he’s beating cheeks to the south for, I don’t know, diabetes? He reminds them not to walk in the woods alone because the Madman will get them, and everyone applauds this for some reason.

Anyway, this school for the “gifted” only has, like, 12 kids in it, and range in age from 7 to 17. If my hunch is correct about the code-switching term “gifted,” they’re also all in the same grade. We get an exchange with some fuckrat that zips over to hit on Betsy, who doesn’t like that he scared all of the little kids with his bullshit attitude. He gets fresh with her about how she’s not going to want to see him after they get back to the city (correct), and she’s like, fuck off, fuckrat. Another gal that looks like Nora Dunn goes up to him and says he should play it a little cooler, but he’s a fuckrat so that’s probably not going to happen.

Fuckrat’s in charge of the boys to get back, and Richie the Fink sees a figure standing in one of the trees. Because he’s constitutionally unable to follow any sort of dire warning, he quickly splits off from the group to investigate old Madman Marz’ house by himself. He even goes inside! See what I’m saying about how “gifted” can mean many things to many people?

Back at camp-school (what is this place? Some low-rent Professor Xavier’s School for the “Gifted”?) Nora Dunn checks in on Betsy, and they jib-jab about how Fuckrat’s an unrelenting pervert, and they seem like they’re going to make out with each other at any moment. Nora’s one of those boy-crazy female characters in 1980’s movies, so that’s something. Betsy gives some exposition about what a good friend Nora’s been so the audience feels something when she gets shanked later. Anyway, they don’t make out and the scene ends.

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“Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!”

Fuckrat and PSHD are trying to get a darn axe out of a stump, but it ain’t budging, and it also seems like they’re going to start making out. I guess everyone’s so close to each other for blocking purposes and so that everyone’s in frame, but still. PSHD tells Fuckrat that if he tries too hard, he may not like what he becomes. So I guess they’re going to make out, right?

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“Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!”

Nora wakes the cook up, who’s drunk and asleep with an empty whisky bottle on his big ol’ belly. He stumbles to the pantry, where inside what sounds like a baby bear growling gives him the ol’ Neckhole Special. So hi and bye, cook!

Richie hasn’t shown back up yet because he’s just enthralled with this old, abandoned house. Again: “gifted.” Madman Marz is back in the saddle again, collecting his nooses for the evening’s grisly work, and he really does sound like a bear. So Richie splits from the house. Back at the school, PSHD and the older kids (I guess they’re counselors at this school? Or older students? I have no idea, and the movie’s not providing me with answers, dammit!.) Betsy says hey PSHD, can you stop scaring the shit out of the kids with your wack stories, yo? PSHD’s like damn, playa, you right, you right. Then he throws down the cardboard and breakdances his way out of this movie.

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And leaving them with these words of wisdom: Tonight is full of hoes and the flyest playas/Can’t forget the jackers and the playa haters/And shady hoes can’t wait to be-tray ya/It’s hard to tell which one is here to slay ya

Now The Goontown Gang has to listen to Fuckrat apologize for getting fresh with Betsy earlier. This guy is really unappealing. He’s like an unfunny Garry Shandling, which just makes him a rat of fuck. A “fuck rat” if you will. So after this BETSY GETS DOWN WITH HIM in a Jacuzzi (ewwwwww) and we have to watch him undress (barf) and see his ass (*blinds self*). Again: What the fuck kind of school is this that has an extra-large private Jacuzzi that can only be for sexy times? Answer: a really, really good one.

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It’s perks like this that inspired me to go into teaching.

But wah-whoaaooah goes the soundtrack, and we have Stalker Cam at the door of the Jacuzzi. We get a glimpse of Madman Marz and he looks like how Neil Young looks now. Anyway, Richie Fink is in the woods still, now hopelessly lost like a gifted person would get. And Nora’s sitting in a docked boat playing a wind instrument by herself because there just isn’t enough Fuckrat to go around. She heads back, can’t get up a slippery slope, and just barely misses being grabbed by Madman Marz.

So an artsy-craftsy shot has a bunch of the older students/counselors/teachers/reprobates laying down with their heads right next to each other. I guess they did drugs? But why show or tell when we can just randomly guess what’s happening. Maybe this is what these “gifted” students think is an orgy.

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It’s also like that shot from “Can’t Buy Me Love” in A Hard Day’s Night, only not wonderful.

One of them picks up a knife and starts acting like a theater student giving a crappy monologue. He thinks he’s being deep and interesting, like a lot of people on drugs do, and they all have a pile-on of giggles. “Gifted.”

Richie’s on the fucking moon at this point (speaking of which: look at the moon’s position in the sky for orientation, you gifted moron!) and Fuckrat’s headed out to look for Richie, AKA If Einstein and Voltaire Had a Child. But bwuah-wah-owww goes the horror synthesizer, so evil doing’s afoot.

More stuff happens, including looking in on two wildly unattractive counselors/tall children that are camping in the woods. They engage in snu-snu while Fuckrat continues to call out for Richie Rich. But bwoaaoow he glimpses something in the woods and apparently also hears the sting in the soundtrack, so he quickly turns around. Stalker Cam’s clocking him, and he receives a noose necktie and is strung up right quick, doing a freestyle jig in mid-air.

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“Whee!”

Madman Marz takes a minute to look upon his macabre artwork, and Fuckrat figures he can just grab onto the branch above him and hang there forever, but Madman yanks down on his belt and his spine takes a trip to Snaparoonie Town.

Betsy’s getting worried because Fuckrat’s not back yet, and now I guess she loves him or some shit. She also mentions that she saw some creepy dude outside but the theater student gets pissy like theater students do and he goes out to die in the woods, as well. Nora still looks like she’s going to make out with Betsy in every scene they’re alone together, but they still don’t, so I guess that’s also part of the horror.

Out in the woods, Theater Major looks for Fuckrat and Richie but instead has to play “Dodge the Axe” with Madman Marz. He loses. You know, I’m making a guess that PSHD is actually Madman Marz, since the killing started right at the same time as he left for the evening. Just calling it now. Maybe I’m wrong! But I’m not.

Nora’s a fucking creep and busts in on the two gross people smashing their ugly bodies together in a tent in the woods to tell them to get to fuckin’ because they have to get back to the main house. So they do and sit around worrying with Betsy while gazing into each other’s hideous realities. They decide to go out and die look for all of the dead missing people while Betsy hangs back to be the Final Girl.

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Look, I’m sure they’re nice people, but they probably shouldn’t procreate, for the good of the gene pool.

Nora’s out in the woods, calling the now-lengthy list of names that belong to the dead missing people. She finds Theater Major, who has no goddamn head anymore (ACTING!) and goes off her chump, running screaming into the woods. She jumps into a truck, whose engine won’t start of course, and goes out to fix the engine and remain stationary instead of just continuing to run back to the school for dear life. Whaaaoooaawwwhh goes the soundtrack, which means MM is movin’ and groovin’ her way. Anyway, she gets her head chopped off, as well, and a squirting, bloody stump is the last you’ll see of her.

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Don Pardo: Noooora Duuunn!

Anyway, The Ugliest Couple in the World decide to split up to search and kiss each other goodbye because they have already read the script. Anyway, the girl sees Monster Mash standing over Nora Dunn’s body and she runs back to her abomination of a boyfriend. He suggests they check it out at the library, and when they get to the truck Nora Gunn’s gone.

These fucking Gomers get into the truck, which is still not working, and her porn ‘stache boyfriend gets out to look at the engine to see what’s the fucking holdup. The problem turns out to be Nora Dunn’s head being jammed between the carburetor and battery. The mouse-faced woman freaks out and the guy actually takes the head out of the truck’s engine and dumps it somewhere. And hey! The truck turns over because of it! But he gets ganked out of the cab by Madman Marz. The truck rolls to a shitty stop; she falls out and witnesses MM holding John Oates aloft like he’s Kunta Kinte as a baby or something.

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“Behold the only thing greater than yourself!”

Anywhoo, we see goddamn Ritchie Valens is still alive, unfortunately, and he’s like The Great Mouse Detective the way he’s investigating Madman Marz. Back into the murder house he goes, where he sneaks into the basement and gazes in horror at…something. I don’t know what because the movie neither shows nor tells, but instead cuts to the human disaster of a woman whose boyfriend was just blessed under the stars crying and freaking out as she arrives back at the school.

She hears the soundtrack as she runs around the completely empty school and knows that’s shit’s going down in Chinatown. I hate to keep piling ad hominem attacks on this woman, but film is a visual medium and this woman looks like if Jennifer Grey got her face stuck in a press and turned into a mouse afterwards. Anyway, The Madman chops his way in and sashays his way towards her. She hides in a fridge (Nooo! Didn’t you see that episode of Punky Brewster about the dangers of doing that??), but since the murderer is probably PSHD, he knows this school’s layout pretty well. He fucking trashes the place for shits and gigs, and she limps around the place unappealingly and has the mouth of a dolphin. Also, she gets hacked in the chest and we won’t be seeing her no more, thankfully.

Meanwhile, Betsy casually roams the grounds, probably enjoying the peace and quiet for once, and looks in on a window and sees dolphin mouth’s dead body on the floor.

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“Wow, a Viewmaster! Cool!”

By my count, only her, Richie, and PSHD/Monster Mash are the only ones left alive. She does the first goddamn sensible thing anyone has done this whole movie and calls PSHD, telling him he has to come back. He looks like he’s in another location and is holding a hand of playing cards, so maybe he’s not the killer? Joke’s on me for getting ahead of myself and being so handsomely confident in my ideas.

She sees someone book it across the parking lot, takes a shotgun down off the wall, and loads it. Wait, they had a shotgun this whole time? Why the fuck didn’t they grab that a long time ago? So she’s now skulking around with a loaded shotgun and goes back to get that Viewmaster, but Dolphin Mouth’s head is shoved up to the window and she blows that away. Maybe that fixed that problem she was having with her face.

She starts evacuating the children (oh that’s right, this place is filled with children, but I guess playing grabass was more important to these horrible counselors/wards of the state). She gets them in the bus and starts driving, and Madman Marz runs in front of it and tries to get in. She starts smashing his hand with a stick (where’d that shotgun go?)  and he formally withdraws his complaint. She thinks it’s cool for a second and sees MM walking away. Entrusting a guy that I think only appeared in one scene before this to get the kids away, she stays behind to…finish off the serial murderer herself? Why not just leave and call the police? Damn you, horror movie logic!

So she goes into Madman Marz’ house (why?) and is hunting wabbits. But he’s sneaking around in the dark behind her. She starts going upstairs but hears the soundtrack sting and, being a vintage synth-head, turns around to investigate whether it’s a Jupiter-8 V or a Korg MS-20 making that sound. She hears a slight noise behind her and blows a shot at nothing. Behind her, Madman Marz slinks out of the shadows and we get our first good look at him.

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“Hey! Neil Young! Play ‘Powderfinger’!”

He winds up to take a swing with his axe and knocks the gun out of her hand. Then he slashes her face with his crusty fingernails and drags her into the basement. She gets jammed onto a hook and is in really poor condition at this point, what with her face ripped open and all. But she has a knife and stabs him in the back, which causes him to drop his lantern, and that starts a fire on the dry hay on the floor, and now you’re playing Mousetrap!

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 It looks like death down there, but I’d murder for this space. If he decides to sell, he’ll make a killing on the market. Oh God please stop me.

He roars and beats it out of there and I guess Betsy’s dead. Meanwhile, goddamn PSHD drives up the road and (finally) finds Richie, who’s all fucked up and traumatized from what he’s seen. Bet you believe in Madman Marz now, don’t you, New Fuckrat? “Gifted.”

Some bizarre song starts playing about Madman Marz as we watch him stalking around the woods with his trusty murder-axe like he’s a hero cop or something. AND THAT’S THE END OF THIS CRAZY FUCKING FLICK! ROLL THE GODDAMN CREDITS NOW NOW NOW!

Stray Notes

  • The soundtrack is great! It’s a top-notch ambient horror score that inspired the soundtrack of Grindhouse. Boards of Canada must have bought all of the synthesizers that were used in its recording. (Side note: if you like horror synth soundtracks, check out their album Tomorrow’s Harvest [not a paid advertisement, unfortunately]).
  • This movie was made as an original property to capitalize on the slasher film craze of the time, using the urban legend of the Cropsey maniac, but it took so long for the filmmakers to secure funding that at least two other films based on the same legend went into production around the same time, hence the change of the name to Madman Marz.

Conclusions

For this little endeavor, I’ve watched a lot of slasher flicks made during this time period (late 70’s to early 80’s), and some are good, some are derivative, and some are terrible. This one is actually not half-bad; not only did they succeed in pulling off an expectation subversion (I thought it would be the school’s director as the murderer, but nope, it’s just a murderer; likewise, I thought Betsy would be the Final Girl, but she dies, with Richie being the Final Boy), but the film itself is actually watchable. Unlike dreck like The Final Terror or Intruder, the filmmakers actually took the effort to make this film interesting, and it builds the suspense well without being too drawn-out.

Another surprisingly enjoyable approach in this movie is to not make anything too gross; unlike Intruder, which had a few gory, detailed practical effects (and little else), this film did well with the “less is more” approach; we see blood and viscera and other gross stuff, but the camera never lingers on it, and often the brutality that occurs is more than enough to get its point across. The cast did an admirable job for first-time actors (although, as you could tell by my rather mean-spirited attacks on a few of the actors’ looks, they weren’t exactly “Hollywood”), and for a small-budget indie movie, it carries itself well. In fact, it was a sleeper hit in the year of its release (1982), but has fallen into obscurity since.

I was most surprised by the score: it’s an excellent horror synth soundtrack that adds a layer of mystery and tension to the proceedings. I go into a lot of these movies having never seen them before, and certainly having not read anything about them, and when I find elements of these films (particularly the lower-budget ones) that are impressive, it goes a long way to help me find things to like about it. Especially since the last few low-budget horror flicks I watched for this blog were god-awful garbage, it’s refreshing to come across a little film that could.

Rating

I give the soundtrack an A; as for the film itself, I’ll give it 3 out of 4 Madman Marz. It’s not a great movie, but for a tiny slasher flick based on an original idea, that’s good enough for me.

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