We're sticking with the summer camp theme for the latest installment in our ongoing slasher series; last week we visited the 1981 cult fave The Burning (which is about to receive glorious Blu-ray treatment; check out the details here), and today we're headed back to the forest to face another mangled maniac – this time the undead redneck behemoth known as “Madman Marz” – the title nemesis of Madman, released one year after The Burning at the peak of the slasher cycle.
Conceived by producer Gary Sales and director Joe Giannone, Madman is actually loosely based on the same urban myth that inspired The Burning: the story of “Cropsey,” an inhuman killer who – as many a campfire tale would have it – stalks New York's Staten Island, seeking symbolic revenge for his own death and/or disfigurement. The films share much of Cropsey's DNA, all the way down to a lively retelling of the legend around the campfire (in Madman, the Marz tale also includes a nifty folk song), but diverge on the details of the legend, depicting Marz as a hulking hillbilly who murdered his family with an axe and was summarily lynched by local vigilantes. Elements of the “Bloody Mary” legend are woven in as well, so that the shouting of Marz's name summons him from the grave to take up the axe again.
Marz is actually one hell of an intimidating boogeyman, and is likely the main reason for the film's cult success, which seriously spiked when it was released to home video by Thorn EMI in 1983. Portrayed by Paul Ehlers (himself an artist and filmmaker, who was originally hired to do the promotional art and other visual concepts for the film), Marz is a grotesque, barrel-chested, fuzzy Neanderthal in overalls, his face horribly mangled, communicating only in animal grunts and howls. While the film's plot is pretty basic, even as most summer camp slashers go, the Marz character gives it a dark fairytale feel that really ups the entertainment factor... that, and some nifty decapitation effects when Marz finally gets that axe swinging.
Madman has other memorable points, including the casting of a beloved horror performer in one of the lead roles – although if you haven't seen the film, you may not know she's there: the lead actress “Alexis Dubin” is actually Gaylen Ross, who portrayed Francine in George Romero's zombie classic Dawn of the Dead. Another bit of trivia involves Ehlers, whose wife went into labor with their first child during the shooting of the film. The actor raced to the hospital in full Marz costume with his facial prosthetics still in place, and actually had to convince the hospital's admitting staff that he didn't actually need any medical help himself!
Another cool curiosity about Madman emerged just before Code Red released a 30th anniversary edition DVD of the film (it's still available on Amazon, by the way): acclaimed horror artist Bryan Baugh, known for his amazing renderings of classic horror film scenes, captured a great likeness of Marz and a nubile victim. The illustration above, which you can view at Baugh's official site along with his many other amazing originals, drew the attention of Ehlers himself, who soon befriended the artist and helped secure a monochrome version of the image for Code Red's DVD features.