Madman (1982 film)

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Film poster
Directed by Joe Giannone
Produced by Gary Sales
Written by Joe Giannone
Starring Gaylen Ross
Tony Fish
Music by Stephen Horelick
Cinematography James Lemmo
Edited by Daniel Lowenthall
Distributed by Jensen Farley Pictures
Release dates
  • January 1, 1982 (1982-01-01)
Running time
88 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $350,000
Box office Unknown

Madman is a 1982 slasher film written and directed by Joe Giannone.[1] The plot follows a group of campers who are stalked and killed after summoning an axe-murderer of local legend.

Originally based on the upstate New York urban legend of the Cropsey maniac, the film's central premise and main antagonist was changed last minute due to conflicts with The Burning (1981), which was in production at the same time.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

The film opens with T.P (Tony Fish), one of the senior counselors at a camp, is telling a scary story around a campfire to the young campers and the other counselors - who consist of Betsy (Gaylen Ross), Ellie (Jan Claire), Dave (Seth Jones), Stacy (Harriet Bass), Bill (Alexander Murphy Jr.), and Max (Carl Fredericks); the late middle-aged head counselor. After T.P. finishes his story, Max begins to tell of a man named Madman Marz, who killed his whole family with an axe, was convicted and sentenced to be hung for his crimes, only to break free and disappear into the woods. Max continues by saying that anyone who says his name will awaken him and cause him to track down and kill that person. Richie (Jimmy Steele), a cocky teenager, stands up and screams Marz's name, smashing a rock into his old house. Max, annoyed at Richie, ends the campfire session and sends everyone to their cabins while he goes into town to stock up on supplies. Richie notices Madman Marz up in a tree and follows him to his house, where he investigates. As Max and Dave try to retrieve a felling axe that is stuck into a log, everyone heads inside their cabins. Chef Dippy (Michael Sulliva) is killed by Marz outside.

T.P. tries to get Betsy to go out with him, but she refuses. After the kids have gone to sleep, the rest of the counselors see Max off and go into the rec room to relax. T.P. apologizes for being rude to Betsy and she goes with him to the hot tub, all the while being watched by Madman Marz. After this, Dave is called out to Richie's cabin, and the boys tell him that Richie never came back. Dave informs the others, who have all joined up with each other again. T.P. decides to go and find Richie and he sets off into the woods. He finds a clearing and calls for Richie, who is wandering around the woods looking for Marz. Suddenly, a noose falls over T.P.'s neck and lifts him up into the air on a tree branch. As T.P. struggles, Marz pulls the noose and snaps his neck. Marz later returns to the camp and grabs the axe out of the log.

Back at the camp, Betsy and Stacy begin to talk about T.P. Betsy wants to talk to T.P. but finds out that he's still gone and begins to worry. Realizing that it has been a long time since T.P. left, Dave decides to go find him and Richie. Dave ventures out into the woods and comes across T.P.'s body. Panicked, he runs farther into the woods, where Marz chases him. Dave falls over and is decapitated by Marz's axe. Meanwhile, Richie is still out in the woods and is now looking for a way back to camp.

Ellie and Bill have gone to have sex in the woods, leaving a worried Betsy back at camp. Stacy tells Betsy to stay at camp to watch the kids and wait for the others to show up. Instead, Stacy goes into the woods to find Ellie and Bill and tells them about the recent disappearances. Afterwards, she returns to the camp, gets in her car, and drives off into the woods, just as Marz is about to grab the door handle. Bill and Ellie get dressed and take his car for the search. Stacy begins her own search for Dave, T.P., and Richie, but finds only a lantern at first, until she spots Dave's body on the ground. She screams and rushes back to her car, only to have her engine stall. She opens the hood, not noticing Marz on top of her car, and he jumps onto the hood, causing it to slam down on Stacy.

While searching through the woods, Ellie sees Marz at Stacy's car and begins to scream, causing Marz to flee (bringing along Stacy's body), and Bill heading to her location. She tells him that she saw Marz, and both of them investigate and decide to drive back to camp using Stacy's car. The car stalls and Bill investigates, finding Stacy's head in the engine, causing him to gag. Ellie comes out and screams, and Bill discards the head in a cloth. The two enter the car and begin to drive, only for Marz to grab Bill from the window and pull him out, causing the car to crash and Ellie to fall out. She looks up and screams as Marz snaps Bill's back, then she runs back to the camp.

Richie, still in the woods, heads back to Marz's house, only to come across something that horrifies him. Back at camp, Betsy is making up a bed at the girls' cabins and does not see Ellie coming back to the camp. Ellie goes into the kitchen cabin, looking for Betsy. When she goes outside, Marz appears at the door and continues to pursue her into the cabin until she hides in a refrigerator. Thinking he left, she climbs out and tries to leave, only for Marz slam his axe into her chest. Betsy finally leaves the cabin and sees Marz running through the camp; she grabs a double-barreled shotgun and quietly makes her way to the open-doored kitchen cabin. Marz slams Ellie into a window, causing Betsy to accidentally shoot her. Betsy then backs out and heads towards the kids, waking them up and telling them to get on the bus they took to the camp. They quickly obey and she joins them and begins to drive away, only to have Marz appear at the door, trying to enter. Betsy beats his hand with a broomstick handle, and Marz backs out and escapes. Betsy orders the oldest boy drive the rest to safety while she gets off the bus and follows Marz to his house in the woods.

Once inside Marz's house she begins searching, with Marz hiding in the darkness. An object falls, causing her to panic and shoot, and Marz appears. He disarms Betsy and cuts her cheek open with his clawed hands. He then drags her towards the basement, where he impales her on a coat rack. Betsy takes out a hunting knife and stabs Marz in the shoulder, causing him to knock over a candle, after which he escapes. The candle sets fire to the house and everything inside, including the skeletons of Marz's wife and two children. The ending shows Max driving back to the camp and almost hitting a shaken Richie, who now says that Madman Marz is real.


  • Gaylen Ross as Betsy (credited as "Alexis Dubin")
  • Tony Fish as T.P.
  • Harriet Bass as Stacy
  • Seth Jones as Dave
  • Jan Claire as Ellie
  • Alexander Murphy, Jr. as Bill
  • Jimmy Steele as Richie
  • Carl Fredericks as Max
  • Michael Sullivan as Dippy
  • Paul Ehlers as Madman Marz


In 1979, Joe Giannone and Gary Sales, two filmmakers hoping for a break, began to toy with the idea of making their own feature and, realizing that low budget horrors such as Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) were clearing up at the box office, decided to follow suit and began discussing potential ideas. Giannone and Sales had met at Richmond College where they had created several short films, which fueled their artistic passion. After witnessing the overnight success of Halloween in 1978 and 1979, they discussed the possibilities of making their own movie based on a boogeyman and looked at their options. Like Carpenter did with Halloween, Giannone and Sales realized that the easiest way to shoot a low-budget feature was to base the story in as few locations as possible. Sales remembered the urban legend of the Cropsey maniac, which he had heard as a child, and suggested it as a possible basis for their story. Enthusiastic, he and Giannone started to develop the idea, which would soon become Madman: The Legend Lives. As Giannone penned the script, Sales balanced his day job working in an office with the quest of finding an investor, using his employer’s facilities as a base of operations. Eight months and over a hundred attempts later, the project attracted the attention of Sam Marion, who immediately sensed the potential when he witnessed the continuing success of Halloween as well as other low-budget thrillers such as Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes.[3]

By 1980, Giannone and Sales had secured enough financing to enter production. It was during this time that the filmmakers heard about Harvey Weinstein’s The Burning (1981), also featuring the Cropsey maniac. Because the two films resembled each other too much — which would lead to a canceling effect for both projects — Giannone decided to halt production on Madman: The Legend Lives and rewrite the script.

The idea of Cropsey was changed to Madman Marz, a farmer who had massacred his family and lynched by an angry mob, whose presence is claimed to still haunt the woods near his home. With a script finally done, production was ready to begin. A deal was set in motion in August 1980, with the filmmakers demanding an advance of $20,000, which they used to rent out office space on 7th Avenue in New York under the name "The Legend Lives." With the summer drawing to a close and the weather rapidly changing for the colder, it was pivotal that filming commenced as soon as possible. The producers began location scouting, initially settling on a horse-riding ranch for children in upstate New York, whose owner had expressed interest in investing money into the picture. When that option fell through, the filmmakers were forced to search elsewhere for a suitable camp, with Giannone’s parents suggesting Fish Cove in Southampton, Long Island, which would provide the director with all of the required locations for the script.

With a location decided, casting began, with the first role being Paul Ehlers cast as Madman Marz. Ehlers had spent his childhood shooting super-8 James Bond-style shorts and drawing cartoons and comics. In 1979 he had taken a job as an illustrator and had befriended Giannone and Sales, who had begun to seriously consider the film industry as their vocation. His involvement in Madman: The Legend Lives had originally been designing posters and artwork for the movie, as well as the opening credit sequence. After providing suggestions on possible looks for the antagonist, a cast was made of his head by effects artist Rich Alonzo. As Ehlers was describing to the producer and director how the character could behave and move, Giannone and Sales saw potential in him as the titular villain and offered him the part. They had been considering another much taller actor but were unimpressed with his performance. Ehlers had trained in martial arts for many years and so had the requirements to play the killer.

For the role of Max, the middle-aged head counsellor, they had originally wanted to approach screen legend Vincent Price, but with the movie being non-union, they felt that the actor would decline the offer. The only recognizable face to grace the film was Gaylen Ross, who had previously starred in the zombie epic Dawn of the Dead (1978) and was cast in Madman: The Legend Lives under the pseudonym Alexis Dubin for unclear reasons. The rest of the cast were made up mainly of first-time actors, as the budget could not stretch to accommodate Hollywood stars (like Halloween had done with Donald Pleasence and Friday the 13th (1980) with Betsy Palmer). With the casting process completed and the actual shoot approaching, Giannone continued to rewrite the script, which would only serve - as with most slashers - as essentially a succession of gruesome set pieces, padded out with generic characters and soap opera-style melodrama. With a Frank Sinatra tour entitled Frank Sinatra: The Legend Lives being produced around the same time, the filmmakers decided to change the name to simply Madman.[3]


Principal photography commenced in November 1980 in Southampton, Long Island, for what was to be all night shoots. As the leaves were starting to turn brown and fall from the trees, the production were forced to find as many as possible and paint them green to give the impression that the movie was set in summer. Fish Cove not only provided a large house to film in but also twenty-five cabins that the cast and crew could stay in. As it was out of season, the filmmakers had to hire out the entire camp, meaning that they had the run of the place. For the room and board that the complex offered, the crew was changed only $25 per-head, with the staff having to work nights to accommodate for their guests.

For the opening scene, which sees Max tells the story of Madman Marz around a campfire, actor Tony Fish was given only one night to memorize the song that he sings in an effort to creep out his fellow counsellors, as the prosthetics for Madman Marz were late arriving on set and the director was forced to rethink his shooting schedule.

The effect of Marz crushing his wife’s skull with the axe was achieved by the makeup artists filling a condom with fake blood and then placing a wig over it, so when the blade was struck down onto the pillow blood would explode.

During the production, Ehlers and his wife had been expecting their first child and so Sales had supplied him with a beeper. One night he is informed that she had gone into labor and rushed from the set to the hospital, without changing out of character. Upon arrival, he asked a nurse at reception where he should find his wife and, believing that he had been in an accident, she tried to convince him to make his way to Emergency Room. His son, Jonathan, was born on November 15, 1980.

Whilst on set, Sales spent his spare time shooting production stills for press releases, but this relatively simple task almost spelt disaster for the writer. For a scene where Betsy shoots her friend, Ellie, through a window with a double-barreled 12 gauge shotgun, Sales had been above the camera taking shots himself, when a piece of the breakaway glass fired out and landed between his eyes. Luckily, only being synthetic, the glass did not dig too deeply into his forehead and Sales escaped relatively unharmed.

One night there was a strange figure in the woods that various people had claimed to see and, nervous as to who the intruder could be, Giannone asked Ehlers, who was in full Marz makeup, to head into the tress with his felling axe and look around. He was unable to find anyone and no figures were seen again for the duration of the shoot.

On December 8, 1980, towards the end of the shoot, filming was abandoned for one day when news came over the radio that singer John Lennon had been murdered in New York. This senseless act of violence, carried out by an obsessive fan, took the entire nation by surprise and so as a mark of respect the filming was put on hold for the day.[3]


Original music for Madman was created by Stephen (Steve) Horelick with Gary Sales filling the role as musical director.[4]


Madman was released in January 1982 and, over the course of the year, became a sleeper hit in the drive-in circuit. The film faced down rival horror films backed by major studios such as Paramount, Tri-star, and Warner Bros., succeeding through word-of-mouth, which was perhaps a movie’s most powerful marketing tool. The film quickly gained a cult following, eventually reaching new audiences on home video, which was a new format at the time. The film's home video success resulted in Madman becoming one of the most treasured gems of the genre’s heyday, and helped shift low-budget horror's eventual move in the mid-1980s from theatrical to home video.[3]

Over the decades, the film fell into obscurity as dozens of new horror movies were released and old VHS tapes were out-of-print and hard to find. Madman was released on DVD on February 13, 2001, by Anchor Bay Entertainment.[5] The DVD was non-anamorphic and has since gone out of print, and is sought by horror and slasher film connoisseurs.[6] The film was again released on DVD by Code Red studios on September 28, 2010. This version is anamorphic and with many extras made by the fans. This version has a weaker print than the Anchor Bay one, and many of the blue hues that made the film so atmospheric are now missing.[7] On 12 May 2015 the film premiered over Vinegar Syndrome on Blu-ray Disc with the full-length documentary film The Legend Lives as extra[8] and had a special screening on Hudson Horror Show on 13 June 2015 in The Alamo Drafthouse in Poughkeepsie, New York.[9]

Critical reception[edit]

Critical reception for the film has been mostly negative.

Allmovie called it an "unremarkable slasher film", writing "only genre completists with completely undiscriminating tastes are likely to be frightened or entertained".[10] Scott Weinberg of FEARnet gave the film a negative review, saying that Madman was "better left in the annals of your vague memory."[11] TV Guide gave the film a negative review, complimenting the film's photography, but also stated that the film was "predictable" and "boring" calling it "[a] wholly derivative splatter movie".[12]

It currently has a 17% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[13]

Influence of the film[edit]

  • New York deathgrind band Mortician used a soundbyte from one of the film's trailers for the song "Madman Marz" on their 2004 album Re-Animated Dead Flesh.[14]
  • This film inspired the CKY song, "Escape from Hellview".


  1. ^ Saturday Nightmares: Madman (1982)
  2. ^ "Madman (1982) - Trivia". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d Sellers, Christian. "The Making of Madman (1982)". Retro Slashers. WordPress. Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  4. ^ steveHmusic
  5. ^ MADMAN Review | Midnight Showing
  6. ^ The Terror Trap: Madman
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Madman Comes to Blu-ray! FINALLY!
  9. ^ NY! "MADMAN" plus guests, "MS. 45," "JAWS" and more at this summer’s Hudson Horror Show!
  10. ^ Robert Firsching. "Madman (1982)". Allmovie. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  11. ^ Weinberg, Scott. "Madman (1982) - Review". FEARnet. Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  12. ^ "Madman Review". TV TV Guide. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  13. ^ "Madman (1981) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 17 July 2015. 
  14. ^ Mortician - Re-Animated Dead Flesh review - Metal Storm
  15. ^ Ehlers, Paul (Madman) | Horror Movie, DVD, & Book Reviews, News

External links[edit]