1982 was a pretty stellar year for the horror genre, and especially for slasher movies. The big names were (sort of) out there with Friday the 13th: Part 3 and Halloween III: Season of the Witch but it’s the supremely saturated lower budget contingent that is more interesting. The Slumber Party Massacre, Visiting Hours, The New York Ripper, X-Ray, Pieces, The Dorm that Dripped Blood, and more all came out that year. But only one of them rises above the rest yet still – more than thirty years later – has yet to garner the following that it deserves. That film is Madman.
Before you get any further, just listen to the theme song for this. If that doesn’t have you purchasing this disc outright, there’s no hope for you. Madman is the product of writer/director Joe Giannone, who pretty much only ever made this movie. And if you’re going to have one major credit to your name, it may as well be this. The film opens up with a garish red and black screen, clad with silhouettes of trees and titles appearing – at a seeming crawl – for a couple of minutes. It’s basically the opposite of cinematic and truly sets up how batshit (or backwoods) fucked Madman will end up being for the next 88 minutes.
Madman takes place at a summer camp, much like Friday the 13th and The Burning before it. Everyone from the counselors to the “kids” appear to relatively be the same age, or lost in time like its titular, murder prone character appears to be. Like the majority of summer camp slashers – with the Sleepaway Camp films and Summer Camp Nightmare arriving later in the 80s – this one heavily involves stories told around a campfire. Apparently anyone who works at or attends a summer camp is just intent on scaring the living piss out of everyone else around them, and that really works as a good catalyst for a film like this. And Madman does not take a while to get going either. The story almost doesn’t need explaining – some mythological man/beast starts killing kids and counselors because he’s evil as shit – and it really isn’t what you’re watching this for anyway? So, why is this the best slasher film of 1982? For starters: the kills. Madman is seriously vicious cinema – maybe not as exploitative as something like The New York Ripper or as flat out gross as Pieces – and it really has no qualms about killing off just about anyone. And it has a great sense of humor about itself too. For something so seemingly in line with genre conventions, it has a really wacky sensibility that could be best compared to another woods set Vinegar Syndrome release – Don’t Go In the Woods. Giannone and James Bryan’s films have a good deal in common, actually. They both feature great theme songs, feel as DIY as they can with some sort of budget and both feature a villain that seems spawned out of Yeti and Charles Manson. Madman may not have the reputation that some of its contemporaries has, but it has a memorable killer with really gross feet, proper use of axes/rope/car hoods and at least one instance of well timed gratuitous nudity. It’s basically everything that you could expect from a slasher film released in 1982, only with much more sincerity and a much better theme song.
Vinegar Syndrome have brought Madman to Blu-ray for, what I can tell, is the first time (it will be released in the UK by Arrow later this year). And, as expected, the results are awesome. This is a 4k restoration that a lot of care clearly went into. My favorite thing about how VS handle restorations is that they go about it like archivists rather than just distributors. This – like everything else that they touch – is faithfully film like, with a healthy layer of grain present throughout and signs of wear and damage sporadically present. This isn’t “cleaned up” to an extreme, allowing the messy nature of the medium to be apparent. Let’s face it, film has never truly been “clean.” It gets dirty, damaged, greasy and does really gross shit (and smells awful) when it eventually decomposes. What I want – and hope – to see in a quality restoration, is the closest approximation of what it would look like to run a release print in my living room. And VS give me just that with this release. Colors are sharp, those reds! Blacks are black and the damage is relatively minimal (mostly in the form of vertical scratches that appear in the center of the frame once in a while). I never thought that I’d see Madman looking this good, let alone did I think that someone would take the time and care to make it so. Exemplary work here, yet again, from Vinegar Syndrome. Audio fares similarly with a faithful 1.0 DTS HD track. Mono has its limitations and those are obvious from the beginning, but once I had my volume set, it didn’t change. Solid work all around.
I thought that it couldn’t get much better after that transfer, but it does! VS really went all out for this release and I can’t imagine that any fan is going to want to know more about Madman after going through all of this. The biggest feature – which a lot of fans have likely already seen – is “The Legend Still Lives,” a 90 minute documentary (longer than the film!) about all things related to the movie and the fandom it has spawned. This feature was previously on the 30th Anniversary DVD, but its inclusion here is much appreciated. From what I can tell, everything else from that edition is carried over which includes: about 7 minutes of marketing materials, an “In Memorium” tribute to passed players, a “Music Inspired By Madman” feature and the trailers and TV spots. We also get a bunch of new stuff too! Starting with “Madman: Alive at 35” which is a 20 minute feature with the principal players of the film discussing its legacy and fans, it’s more personal rather than professional and gets rather touching at times. Next we have the 15 minute “The Early Career of Gary Sales” which is a talk with the producer of the film, who talks more about his XXX career and early days rather than this film itself. And then there are two commentary tracks, one with The Hysteria Continues – who have provided tracks for VS before – and another with Madman cast/crew that I can’t tell if is the same from the 2010 DVD or not. Both are definitely worth a listen for fans – with the cast/crew one naturally being of more informational value – and add only more content to an already exhaustive package.
Whew! It’s safe to say that I never really saw this coming. Vinegar Syndrome have seriously outdone themselves with this release. The transfer is film like and striking in all of the right ways, the supplements hold nothing back and the packaging even boasts reversible art! I can’t imagine that there’s a fan of the film out there that could be disappointed by this package. And if you aren’t a fan yet, change that. Buy this one ASAP.