It’s no secret that the early 80s saw many fledgling filmmakers scrambling to become the next John Carpenter by capitalizing on the infamous slasher boom, and Madman’s genesis was certainly no different. And while it was one of four ‘campfire slashers’ made in 1981 (Friday the 13th, part 2, The Burning and The Final Terror being the others), it is perhaps the most distinct. From the invocative and unconventional opening credits (scrolling against an eerie, illustrated backdrop) to the expository campfire story told entirely in song (!), there’s enough happening throughout this visit to the ill-fated North Sea Cottages to recognize it as a standout amongst an overcrowded subgenre.
Our campers spin an uncomfortable yarn about a violent farmer called Marz, who butchered his entire family in a gruesome murder before being seized by an angry lynch mob. Disappearing from the makeshift gallows, Marz took to the nearby woods and became the stuff of legend. It’s laid out in the film’s ‘rules’ that you don’t say his name above a whisper, which is exactly what one of our ill-fated characters does at the outset. And it doesn’t take long for Marz to come stalking back to camp with an axe to grind…
Writer/Director Joe Giannone fashions a palpable atmosphere from the very first frame, and the dark recesses of the forest have perhaps never been as imposing as here. It’s impossible to avoid feeling the chills once Madman Marz begins stalking his prey, and our first full glimpse of him – cloaked in silhouette while watching from the trees – is nothing short of startling. Madman makes the viewer feel its presence, creating a wonderfully uneasy movie going experience.
And while atmosphere is an important part of any good slasher film’s success, it doesn’t work without the right villain to get the heart pumping. From his inhuman appearance to his unabashed brutality with an axe (or a truck hood), Madman Marz is easily among the most imposing slashers to ever grace the screen and actor Paul Ehlers plays him without a twinge of sympathy. Ehlers doesn’t get much screen time in order to convey Marz’s personality, but he succeeds in instilling a gleefully sadistic mean streak within the killer. Madman Marz seemingly kills for no reason other than enjoyment, and that’s the sense we get while watching him at work here.
If there’s one area in which Madman may falter, it’s in the occasional slack pacing that blemishes an otherwise stellar slasher experience. The first and third acts are terrific in their eerie build up and suspenseful climax, respectively. But it’s the sluggish second act that somewhat diminishes the proceedings: Characters wander off into the woods aimlessly, over and over again in search of missing people only to succumb to the killer who’s lying in wait. It sounds like an odd criticism to throw onto a slasher movie, but the filmmakers don’t bother trying to separate their cast with any creativity whatsoever. One person dies, another goes out looking for them. Add, rinse and repeat.
The gore FX are quite impressive but, more importantly, several scenes succeed with both scares and intensity despite the occasionally overlong set-up. Composer Stephen Horelick’s pulsing, electronic score makes some of the jump scares doubly effective while some of the most action-oriented moments are enhanced because of it. In the best scenes, the hulking killer chases female counselors through cabins, throughout the woods and even onto a school bus. The film’s main strengths are here and, surprisingly, these bits are quite bloody. This was the era in which the MPAA scarcely let so much as a spurt of blood glimpse the screen, so Madman’s welcome viciousness is both surprising and appreciated.
It’s also host to a number of strange and/or unique touches that help separate Madman from the rest of the flock. One doesn’t mention this without referencing the brilliant ‘Song of Madman Marz’, which haunts the viewer over the end credits. Just try getting it out of your head once the film has finished! Also odd is the film’s setting, which the opening credits identify as being a camp for “gifted” children. Much debate has raged over the years regarding whether or not the North Sea Cottages are a camp for the mentally challenged, but the bizarre behavior of the film’s featured camper, Richie, certainly seems to corroborate this theory. You’ve also get a lead counselor, TP (the late Tony Fish), whose initials are branded onto the biggest damn belt buckle ever. Last but not least, there’s an incredible hot tub love scene which simply has to be seen to be believed.
But one of Madman’s strongest elements is its unpredictable nature. Refreshingly, it’s never obvious who is going to survive the onslaught of murder. Those who appear to be main characters at the outset are dispatched rather quickly while some of the seemingly lesser folks stick around well into the proceedings. Even better is the downer ending that draws things to an absolutely pitch-perfect close. From the outset, Madman wants nothing more than to be a spooky campfire story, and its conclusion solidifies its success in doing so.
It’s also worth noting that Madman boasts a late November setting, making it one of the precious few Thanksgiving season slasher flicks. By the time this was released in January of 1982, the subgenre was already being run to ground, but there’s enough style, skill and innovation throughout Madman to ensure its continued cult following. Scary, goofy and always fun, no slasher collection can ever be complete without it.
And remember, ”He’s real.”
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Victor Crowley Blu-ray Review – Killer Special Features Make This a Must-Own
Directed by Adam Green
Distributed by Dark Sky Films
Like many of you horror fans out there, I was surprised as hell when Adam Green announced that there was not only going to be the fourth entry in his famed Hatchet series but that the movie had already been filmed and was going to be screening across the country.
Of course, I wanted to get to one of those screenings as soon as possible, but unfortunately, there were no events in my neck of the woods here in Gainesville, Fl., and so I had to bide my time and await the Blu-ray.
Then a few days ago, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley landed on my doorstep and I jumped right into watching the film. Short story, I loved it. But we’ll get into all of that more in-depth below. For now, let’s do a quick rundown on the film for those two or three horror fans out there who aren’t familiar with the film and its premise.
Victor Crowley is the fourth entry in the Hatchet series, a franchise that follows the tale of a deformed man that accidentally met the wrong end of his father’s hatchet long ago and now roams the Louisiana swamp each night as a “Repeater”, aka a ghost that doesn’t know it is dead and thus cannot be killed. Ever. Well, maybe not ever. After all, Victor was supposedly killed at the end of Hatchet III by a combination of Danielle Harris, his father’s ashes, and a grenade launcher. Dead to rights, right? Not so much.
In this fourth entry/reboot, a group of indie horror filmmakers, lead by the adorable Katie Booth, accidentally resurrect Crowley just as the original trilogy’s lone survivor (Parry Shen) is visiting the swamp one final time in the name of cold hard cash. Long story short, Shen’s plane crashes with his agent (Felissa Rose), his ex-wife (Krystal Joy Brown), and her film crew in tow. Some survive the initial crash, some don’t. As you can imagine, the lucky ones died first.
Victor Crowley is a true return to form for Adam Green, who sat out of the director’s chair on the third film. As always, Green doesn’t shy away from the over-the-top comedy and gore the franchise is well known for. The blood rages and the sight-gags hit fast and unexpectedly. And, speaking of the sight-gags, there’s evidently a shot in this Blu-ray version of the film that was cut from the “Unrated” version released on VOD. The shot is one I won’t spoil here, but for the sake of viewing Green’s initial vision alone, the Blu-ray for Victor Crowley is really the only way to own this film. Don’t get me wrong, there are (many) more reasons to shell out the cash for this Blu-ray, but I’ll get into those soon.
Back to the film itself, what makes this fourth entry in the series one of the very best Hatchet films (if not THE best) is Adam Green’s honesty. Not only does he conquer a few demons with the ex-wife subplot, but he gives us a truly tragic moment via Tiffany Shepis’ character that had me in stunned silence. Her death is not an easy kill to pull off in a notoriously over-the-top slasher series, but it earned mucho respect from this guy.
Basically, if you loved the original trilogy, you will love this one as well. If you mildly enjoyed the other films, this one will surely make you a fan. Slow clap, Adam Green.
Let it be known that I’m a massive fan of fly-on-the-wall filmmaking documentaries. Like many of you out there, I find film production to be utterly fascinating and thus have grown a little tired of the typical making-of featurettes we get on Blu-rays. You know the ones. The director talks about his vision for the film, the cast say how much fun they had on-set with the other actors and crew, and we get cutaways to people dancing and trying to kiss the behind-the-scenes camera – all usually set to upbeat music.
While I’ll take what I can get, these kinds of behind-the-scenes features have grown to be little more than tiresome and superficial. But no worries here my friends as Adam Green has pulled out all the BS and given us a full-length, 90-minute behind-the-scenes feature called “Fly on the Wall” that shows it how it really is on the set.
Highlights include new Hatchet D.P. Jan-Michael Losada, who took over for Will Barratt this time around, who is little less than a f*cking hilarious rockstar, a front row seat to the making of Felissa Rose’s death scene, a creepy-cool train ghost story prank by Green, a clever impromptu song via Krystal Joy Brown (Sabrina), and a fun bit towards the end where Green and the SFX crew create the “gore inserts” in (basically) the backyard after filming. Good times all around.
The documentary then ends with the Facebook Live video of Adam Green announcing Victor Crowley‘s surprise premiere at that Hatchet 10th Anniversary screening. A great way to end a killer making-of documentary making his disc a must-own for this special feature alone.
But wait, it gets better. On top of the film itself and the above-mentioned “Fly on the Wall” documentary, the disc features an extensive interview with Adam Green called “Raising the Dead… Again.” This interview is basically Green going over the same speech he gave to the crowd at the surprise unveiling shown at the end of the “Fly on the Wall” doc, but that said, it’s great to hear Green tells his inspiring story to us directly.
So while this feature treads water all of us have been through below (especially fans of Green’s podcast The Movie Crypt), Green is always so charming and brutally honest that we never get tired of him telling us the truth about the ins-and-outs of crafting horror films in this day and age. Again, good stuff.
Additionally, the disc also boasts two audio commentaries, one with Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan, and another “technical” commentary with Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft.
Add in the film’s teaser and trailer, and Victor Crowley is a must-own on Blu-ray.
- Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green and actors Parry Shen, Laura Ortiz, and Dave Sheridan
- Audio commentary with writer/director Adam Green, cinematographer Jan-Michael Losada, editor Matt Latham, and make-up effects artist Robert Pendergraft
- Raising the Dead… Again – Extensive interview with writer/director Adam Green
- Behind the Scenes – Hour-long making-of featurette
One of the best, if not THE best, entries in the Hatchet series, with special features that are in-depth and a blast (and considering all other versions of the film have been castrated for content), this Blu-ray is really the only way to own Adam Green’s Victor Crowley.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 152 – Cloverfield Paradox & The Ritual
Last week Netflix shocked the world by not only releasing a new trailer for Cloverfield Paradox during the Superbowl, but announcing the film would be available to stream right after the game. In a move no one saw coming, Netflix shook the film industry to it’s very core. A few days later, Netflix quietly released horror festival darling: The Ritual.
Hold on to your Higgs Boson, because this week we’ve got a double header for ya, and we’re not talking about that “world’s largest gummy worm” in your mom’s nightstand. Why was one film marketed during the biggest sporting event of the year, and why was one quietly snuck in like a pinky in your pooper? Tune in a find out!
Meet me at the waterfront after the social for the Who Goes There Podcast episode 152!
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The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
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