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Of the films produced in the early eighties inspired by the “Cropsey” legend, Madman (1981) is the most unique and, in many ways, the most effective. The film opens on a cold autumn night with the legend of “Cropsey” (here styled as “Madman Marz”) being recited to scare the younger campers. Immediately Madman deposits the viewer in a familiar childhood setting while also evoking the menacing wonder of the fall. Setting adds power to the recitation of urban legend effectively outlining the thrills to come without giving any of the plot away.

Madman, unlike so many similar films in the Friday The 13th (1980) vein, focuses on the adults rather than the teens or children. Madman invests in the metamorphosis of what scares people as they grow from youngsters to mature adults. The fear reaction provoked in the children spectators during the opening campfire story is gradually transposed to the adult characters as well as the audience as “Madman” Marz (Paul Ehlers) begins his reign of terror.

The dramatic structure of the film is based around the ebb and flow between panic and rational calm as scenes of gruesome mutilation are juxtaposed with soapy or erotic scenes between couples. The assuredness of the adult characters as they hook up with one another is constantly subverted by the unknown threat that Marz poses to their safety. It is the rational thinking of adulthood and responsibility that inevitably places these mature characters in Marz’s bloody path.

The style of Madman is dictated by the low budget of this regional classic. Madman is writer and director Joe Giannone’s only feature film yet his work reveals a restraint and an embrace of minimalism. Madman benefits from both Giannone’s vision and economic circumstance with the on location photography lending a unique sense of authenticity to the proceedings. It also helps that the killer Marz has such an iconically singular design.

Madman also has something that The Burning (1981) and Friday The 13th (1980) lack; and that is a theme song. After all of the gory, inspired kills that have peppered the ninety minute runtime of Madman there’s a synthy, funky little ballad played over the end credits that covers everything there is to know about “Madman Marz”. The theme song is fun and comes totally out of left field but it is the suspenseful synth music of Stephen Horelick that adds a gravitas to the horror.

Madman had a rather checkered theatrical release back in the early eighties so the film didn’t really gather a sizable following until later. The gradual elevation of Madman from forgotten gem to full blown cult classic came about because of video stores and the cinephile culture they nurtured. Despite a loyal following and some vocal champions, Madman is still criminally unknown. Madman deserves its rightful place in the canon of classic eighties horror movies.