Madman (1982) Retrospective

A group of senior counselors and campers, T.P., Betsy, Ellie, Dave, Stacy, Bill, and the middle-aged head counselor Max, are gathered around a campfire and tell the legend of Madman Marz, who murdered his wife and children with an axe. He was set to hang, before he mysteriously broke free, escaping into the woods. Max explains that anyone that says his name will awaken him and he will attack that person.


Richie, a cocky teenager, awakens Marz by shouting his name and throws a rock into his old home. Annoyed, Max ends the campfire session sending everyone to their cabins while he goes into town to stock up on supplies. Richie stays behind, and he sees Marz hiding in a tree, and sneakily follows him back to his house. While everyone is inside their cabins, Marz kills Chef Dippy. After the kids have gone to sleep, the rest of the counselors go to the rec room to relax; T.P. and Betsy kiss in a hot tub, unaware that Marz is watching them from outside. Meanwhile, Dave finds out that Richie didn’t follow them back, and informs the counselors about this. T.P. searches the woods for Richie, and is hung by Marz with a noose up on a tree. T.P. is killed when Marz pulls down his legs and the noose snaps his neck. Marz later returns to the camp and grabs the axe out of the log.

While Richie tries looking for a way back to camp, Dave ventures out into the woods due to Betsy worrying about T.P.’s disappearance. Dave is decapitated by Marz. Stacy tells Betsy to watch the kids in the meantime, and gets Ellie and Bill back to the camp due to the disappearances. Stacey drives out into the woods and, panicking from discovering Dave’s headless body, tries to escape in her car in which stalls.

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She opens the car’s hood, and Marz stands on top of the car just before he jumps down onto the hood, decapitating Stacy. Later, Ellie finds Madman Marz and screams, prompting Marz to flee and bringing Stacy’s body with him. Bill soon arrives and consoles her while they try to head back to the camp using Stacy’s car. Marz appears, and drags Bill out of the car to snap his back. Ellie is then chased back to the camp by Marz, and murders her with his axe.

Unable to find a way back, Richie goes back to Marz’ house and is horrified when he discovers the corpses of Marz’ victims stashed in the basement. Meanwhile, Betsy arms herself with a double-barrel shotgun upon seeing Marz running through camp, and quietly makes her way to the kitchen cabin. Marz then slams an wounded Ellie into a window, and Betsy accidentally shoots her. The gunshots awaken the children, and she tells them to pack up and get on the bus they took to camp to escape.

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Marz briefly tries to get into the bus with Betsy, but she wards him off. She tells the bus driver to drive them out of the camp, and she chases after Marz to his home. Inside, Betsy is disarmed and attacked by Marz, who drags her down to the basement and impales her on a coat rack. She pulls out a hunting knife and stabs Marz in the shoulder, causing him to knock over a candle which sets the house on fire, including the bodies of his victims. Marz escapes, however, and disappears off into the woods. Max drives to the camp, and almost hits a shaken Richie out on the road. He gets out to console him, and Richie tells him that Marz is real.

In 1979, filmmakers Joe Giannone and Gary Sales, both graduates of Richmond College, were inspired to make a horror film after the commercial successes of recent low-budget horror films. In developing a screenplay, Sales recalled the urban legend of the Cropsey maniac which he had heard as a child, and suggested it as a possible basis for the story. The two devised the working title Madman: The Legend Lives, with Giannone writing the screenplay, while Sales attempted to find an investor to help fund the production. After numerous failed attempts at attracting an investor, producer Sam Marion agreed to help fund the picture. By 1980, Giannone and Sales had secured enough financing to enter production; it was during this time that the filmmakers became aware of 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 and rewrite the script. The idea of Cropsey was changed to the fictionalized “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 Frank Sinatra tour entitled Frank Sinatra: The Legend Lives being produced around the same time, the filmmakers also decided to alter the film’s name to simply Madman.


 Interview with Actor Paul (Madman Marz)Ehlers

 How did you get the part of Madman Marz and did you have any input as to the look of Marz?
Paul Ehlers: At the time, I was working as an illustrator/designer. I am a graduate of the Visual Arts Film School, but as fate would have it, I was drawn into the art field. I saw this opportunity to get involved in movies, and took the assignment. When I found out it was a horror movie (my life-long favorite), I was psyched! By this time director, Joe Giannone and producer, Gary Sales, had interviewed several potential actors to play the Madman. They were not convinced by any of them. During a meeting, something clicked!  I did some original drawings for Marz, what he could look like with the eye gone and the nose gone, and it was all really cool. We had a guy, I think named Rich Alonso who did the mask for Marz and he did a casting of my head. I had this beard forever at the time, and I didn’t remember what I looked like without it until this guy shaved me to do a head cast. I remember at the first read-thru, I was telling everyone “This isn’t what I really look like! I usually have a beard and I look a lot different!” When they did the scene where the townspeople dragged me out, they put a beard on me. I made sure the cast saw me with it so I could say, “See? This is what I really look like! Don’t I look so much better?”  The famous stories regarding the face of Madman Marz, we’re on the set and we get a package in and it’s Marz’s left hand. We get the hand, but only the left hand comes in. That’s lovely? But where’s the rest? We only had the left hand, but we had to shoot. So, I would do the best acting that I could do with the one hand. Everywhere where that hand is coming around trees is because that’s all we had….they took a shot of me walking towards the camera and I heard the crew laughing behind the monitor, which of course is never a good sign. The problem was I have 9 and a half inch feet. I’ve got little feet. So, madman had these little graceful feet marching along, so we had to order feet. They were funky feet, they looked like flippers. They were fused, which is ok if he’s meant to be inbred. You see them in a few shots, but if you look at them, they’re pretty disgusting.

How was it working with director Joe Giannone?
Paul Ehlers: Joey was a feisty and extremely focused director. He knew what he wanted. My first time, I tried very hard to give him everything he wanted, and then some. For some of the actors, it was their first role. For me it could have been my first and last! I had to try harder, so I bashed and smashed my way through it!

What was the inspiration for the movie?
Paul Ehlers: As New Yorkers, we all grew up with the upstate New York legend of the Cropsy maniac. Joey and Gary thought it was high time to bring him to the screen. Unfortunately, we were not the only ones, and we were in an “axe-off with the folks doing The Burning. Turns out Joey and Gary had to scramble for a new story. Enter the Madman Marz. Frankly, I think he’s much prettier than Cropsy!

The story with THE BURNING was that it was based on the same thing that inspired MADMAN though, right?
Paul Ehlers: The filmmakers didn’t know each other, it just so happened that they were both scripts about the “Kropsy maniac”. The freaky thing that nobody knows about – my son when he was in elementary school back when we were living in Queens, he had a friend who’s dad played the Kropsy maniac in THE BURNING. Lou David. It was really odd picking up our kids from school and its like “Hey, there’s Kropsy!” and “Hey, that guy played Madman Marz!” (Laughs) “Do you know who these guys are?” (Laughs) All I know is there were a lot of changes made on MADMAN, early on.


When you became involved in the project, was it was already financed?
Paul Ehlers: It was financed. Everyone was pretty much on a salary by the week. Locations were all picked out. It was just about ready to go when I got involved. We all appeared in Fish Cove, which is kind of in the Hamptons. When you’re heading out to Southampton, there’s a cut-over that says North Sea and its inside that part of the island. The place was terrific. The woods were not huge, but they certainly made it look that way and we were able to get a lot of great stuff out there.

Were the campground and the house of Marz real places?
Paul Ehlers: We were there on the location in Fish Cove, which they scouted out and found – it was a conference center with great cabins, and an old style kitchen. We filmed that whole movie at night, so it’s really night in all those shots. I’d get up around 4-4:30pm as it was getting dark, I’d go in for make-up. A couple of hours in there, they’d hot glue the feet on me. We filmed at night, over and over again, and we’d break at midnight for lunch, which was always freaky. Madman’s house was in East Quogue. We didn’t have to dress that house at all! I don’t think they added very much to it at all. Except the basement was actually the basement to the Fish Cove house. That they did dress. I remember we had this “rat” scene with Marz in the basement and I was talking to the guys about rounding up some brown or gray rats. So they come in with white rats instead and I ask, “What did Marz work in a lab?!”

You were initially scheduled to shoot for a month, but then the shoot lasted a few months. Overall, what was the shooting experience like? Since it was an independent production, were there any production snags? Or was it fairly smooth?
Paul Ehlers: We were way over-schedule. They originally planned to shoot for a month, then it became two months. Then it became December and we started in October? A few things would occasionally go wrong. We didn’t have a lot of stunt people, so since I used to do the martial arts, I used to come real close to people heads with the axe and the actors didn’t know that. They thought maybe it was a filed axe. Oh and the hot tub! There were probably these weird communicable diseases floating in that hot tub. I’m sure if you turned off the lights, the water would glow. The camp was kind of off season, so they weren’t cleaning it.


I heard they had to paint leaves green?
Paul Ehlers: That’s true. We did scenes where they were brown, and we had to paint them green.

Can you tell us about working with Alexis Dubin?
Paul Ehlers: It’s funny. When we had the first meeting with the actors, we were all sitting down having dinner. And I was sitting with Alexis Gaylen. You know Alexis Gaylen? (Laughs) She was with those dead guys in Romero’s movie. (Editor’s note: Gaylen Ross did MADMAN under the name Alexis Dubin for unknown reasons) And I remember I was talking to her about something really serious, trying to be sexy without my beard. And I’m eating French onion soup with cheese, and as I’m talking to her, the cheese remains in my mouth, but three-quarters of it goes down my throat. And she’s going on about being so excited to working on the film, and I’m trying my best not to choke to death. That was a great start. A nice weird, embarrassing moment right off the bat.

Was she really referred to as Alexis on the set?
Paul Ehlers: Yes, she was Alexis Dubin. I never quite understood that.

Well Dawn Of The Dead was big at the time, no?
Paul Ehlers: It was!

But you knew obviously that it was Gaylen Ross from Dawn Of The Dead though, right?      
Paul Ehlers: Yeah, everyone knew. But we were all cool about it. We figured there must’ve been a reason for it. She was great and always nice. I never had trouble with her, ever. She was very kind and I have a cute card that she gave me for my birthday on Halloween which she signed as Alexis.

How soon after production wrapped was MADMAN released?
Paul Ehlers: It looks like we were the first trailer shown on TV in January of 1982, I remember we were at a New Years party. Someone said “It’s MADMAN, it’s the trailer!” And we all got very excited.

Do you recall any scenes/footage that did not make the final cut?
Paul Ehlers: Yes, there was more shot. I would be on set but not constantly, but I know that Joey wanted to shoot the “madman at home” sequence. There’s a scene I know he shot where he does this wonderful Michael Myers-style sit up, turns to the camera. Then there’s a scene where he’s got this box, and he’s playing with dolls and stuff. It’s the only time where Joey said talk, but make it unintelligible. So, I was holding the dolls and growling something bizarre. It was really freaky, but you now what? It slowed down the pacing. It’s probably a good thing it didn’t get into the film, but it exists somewhere. I don’t know where, but I would love to see it!

Interview with producer Gary Sales
 What was it about Paul Ehlers that convinced you that he was right for the role of Madman Marz?

Gary Sales: His passion for the genre and the project. In addition, he was over 6’3”, 250+ pounds and a martial artist, adept with knives, swords and axes. He was made for the part.

Do you recall why Gaylen Ross decided to be credited under the pseudonym Alexis Dubin and did you reference that she had previously been in Dawn of the Dead in the marketing of Madman?
Gary Sales: She may have been in the union at the time. Actors have been known to use pseudonyms when they feel compelled to do a non-union role for either love or money.


Having shot Madman on very modest budget, what advice would you give to independent filmmakers on how to produce a professional looking film with little funds?
Gary Sales: You can make a great movie using a cell phone camera if that’s all you have. Bottom line is: content is king. That translates into: great story and/or great style and preferably both. Audiences don’t care that much about technical quality as long as you engage them emotionally and take them on a good journey. And here’s a big tip: audiences will forgive poor quality visuals when watching a well told tale, but they absolutely will not forgive bad sound.  Don’t skimp on sound. Do it pro or be a shmo, and don’t take this the wrong way: always shoot the best footage you can afford to. Make your first movie with whatever money and gear you’ve got. It’s better to make yourself crazy from the act of making a film and ending up with something to show, than to make yourself crazy about raising big money for grand ideas and possibly never make a film at all. On this subject, I think Spike Lee once said something like, ‘Make your film by any means necessary!’ Actors, money and services will jump aboard your moving train, but are less likely to do so when you’re sitting at the station. This means that people will help you out with money and services when you’re actually in production on the film. Even hard to get actors are willing to give you a couple of days for scale, if you can say something like, ‘I’m shooting next week and I only need you Monday and Tuesday.’ It’s reasonable, it’s finite and it’s better than asking them if they’d be around when you get the money six months from now.


Without the backing of a major distributor how challenging was it for Madman to find its audience against other horror movies released at that time?
Gary Sales: It really wasn’t our job as filmmakers to find our audience. Our job was to find our distributor. As I said earlier, driven by hits like Halloween and Friday the 13th, the studios were rushing out to get product to supply the audience’s sudden appetite for slasher horror. When we began shooting The Legend Lives in October 1980, there were about fifteen pictures that I knew about that were in production. When we got to the American Film Market (AFM) around January of 1982, there were over a hundred and thirty-five horror genre movies for sale and it was clear that the majors had enough horror product on their shelves because neg pickup prices were dropping and buying frequency had diminished considerably. We weren’t thrilled by this and combed the halls at the AFM pitching our movie over and over.


Enter, Jensen-Farley Pictures, the distributor who picked us up. They just had a big hit with a little, R-rated coming of age sex movie called Private Lessons. They were classic four wall marketers who knew how to roll out a movie regionally. They’d squeeze every dime out of each release flat-rate-renting a bunch of theatres in a region, back in those days theatres weren’t doing so well and you could rent a house for a flat rate. They utilised saturation TV and radio ads to inundate the region serving those theatres. Simply put, any time people turned on their TV or radio they’d see an ad for Madman. After opening night, they’d cut off the ads because this saturation technique made it rush hour at the box office for opening weekend. After a week or two as the grosses fell off, move on to the next region and repeat the process. This technique grossed a lot of money but the, we, the producers, paid for that air time because those media expenses came off the top before we could see our share. However, the technique did give Madman great notoriety throughout the country. In fact, when we broke New York with the first TV spot after the ball dropped on New Years Day 1983, Madman was in seventy-three theatres and we hit number 10 on Variety’s Top 50 Grossers Chart. Spielberg’s E.T. was just above us at number 9.

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The special effects in the film were created with practical methods, some of which were dubious and demanded the scenes being filmed quickly: 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 counselors, as the prosthetics for Madman Marz were late arriving on set, and the director was forced to rethink his shooting schedule. Other practical effects included dummy heads made of condoms with fake blood, which, when hit with an axe, created the image of a skull being crushed.

Directed Joe Giannone
Produced Gary Sales
Written Joe Giannone
Gaylen Ross
Paul Ehlers
Music Stephen Horelick


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