FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jun 13, 2005

They thought they were alone...


This is a movie I missed during its original run, and saw for the first time a few months ago. With Joe Bob Briggs himself hailing it "One of the all-time drive-in movie classics", how could I go wrong?

Released in 1981 to cash in on the success of the previous year's hit Friday the 13th, Madman centers around the campgrounds at North Sea Cottages, a camp for "gifted children" (all 6 of them) and the horny counselors in their charge. It's the night before camp closes for the season, and everyone has trudged out into the woods for one last session around the fire.

The movie opens as counselor "TP" is singing a vague song about someone scaring somebody or something...I don't know. The sound quality was pretty bad, and I was still recovering from the shock of the movie opening with a song to understand all the words. Doesn't matter, though, because after TP has gotten his applause and taken a seat, we get the spoken-word version from the camp's head honcho, Max. He tells the spooky tale of a crazed farmer who enjoyed drinking, getting into bar fights (said farmer had his nose bitten off in one of those that's hardcore), and chopping his family up with an axe, though not necessarily in that order. When the townsfolk discovered the farmer's grisly handiwork, they strung him up a tree and hacked his face with an axe for some good ol' country justice. Upon returning the next day to cut the body down, however, the Justice Mob found the farmer gone. Now he stalks the woods, looking for heads to chop off and bodies to hang. Oh, and by the way, he lived in that farmhouse right over there! Don't say his name above a whisper, or he'll hear and come after you. His name? MADMAN MARZ! Upon hearing this, the obligatory annoying kid in the group- Richie- stands up and, in his best Arnold Horshack voice, yells "Marz! Hey Marz! We're over here! Come and get us!". Uh oh. I smell trouble...or is that Madman Marz? You see, you can smell the ripe old farmer coming when he's got you in his sights. It's the "smell of death", which I understand is remarkably similar to Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds.

I think we all know where this is going, yes? But the fun, dear reader, is in the getting there.

Our group very responsibly puts out the fire and heads back to the cabins. Richie, the last in line, looks up to see the silhouette of a very large man in a tree above, peering down- very creepy. But does Richie scream out? Does he point? Does he slap his own face Curly-style and say "Woob woob woob"? Nope. He remains behind while the others march off...he watches the figure climb down from the tree, and he follows it back to the dilapidated Marz farmhouse. Oh, Richie. You are a moron.

Back at camp no one notices that Richie's gone. Oh well. At least TP and Max are setting up a nice plot device for us- there's an axe deeply embedded in a tree stump that no one has ever been able to pull it out. In fact, there's a reward offered to the he-man who can extract this modern-day Excalibur! Our boys pull on the axe together to no avail. Max is willing to give up, but not TP- he can't stand losing. As TP still pulls on the axe and turns red from the effort, Max offers these words which should be printed on a daily inspirational calendar:

"Losing, winning, what's the difference? Play the game with a fair heart, and you'll always be able to look at yourself in a mirror. Play too hard to win, and you might not like what you become."

To this, TP replies heatedly, "You become a winner! That's what you become!" He smacks the stubborn axe handle and storms off. Future Little League Parents of the World, UNITE!

Out of a cabin door stumbles who I assume to be the camp's chef. He's got on a filthy apron, and he slides down the wall to pass out with an empty bottle of Southern Comfort resting on his belly. A counselor wakes him up and tells him to go do somthing or other somewhere dark...ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Victim Number One! It's a good thing, too, because from the looks of him, this guy would've done more harm to the kids with Ptomaine than Marz ever could with an axe. Are there no cleanliness standards at summer camps? Hmm, perhaps I've stumbled onto Madman's deeper message: a call for health inspection reform. Anyway, throat slice, squirting blood, blinking after death.

Back at the farmhouse, Richie is...well, what is Richie doing? He's just sort of hanging out. Marz enters, lights some candles, puts them out, and leaves again. Oookay. As he runs from the house though, we do finally get a decent look at him from the back. He's a big fat barefoot dude with damaged hair, wearing overalls. I'd steer clear of this guy, but our Richie decides to follow.

Now comes the moment we've all been waiting for- a little of that sweet sweet lovemaking. We've got body parts being de-clothed...and we know one of them is TP when the oversized "TP" beltbuckle gets unfastened. The chicky-poo is Betsy, who at this point we assume will be our "final girl". Through the whole movie, I kept thinking, "Well dang if'n that Betsy don't look like Gaylen Ross from Dawn of the Dead," but no matter how many times I checked the DVD box (and yes, I was stupid enough to check it multiple times), she was listed as Alexis Dubin. So, I eventually checked and Gaylen and Alexis are, in fact, one and the same. Forgive me if I was the last to know. OK, now, back to the nookie. We've got our nude lovers in the hot tub now, and they're....on opposite sides, twirling around and around the tub, while we listen to an entire song that sounds like a reject from Time Life's Singers and Songwriters series.

"Please, let your feelings throoooough...tell me what you knoooooow!"

Finally, after the second verse, TP n' Betsy lock eyes, smile, approach each other, and get on with it. By "it", I mean "the sex". As they fog up the windows, we get a glimpse of them through Marz-O-Vision as he stands outside watching, breathing like Darth Vader. Marzie like da nekkid!

Now we get a few random scenes: Richie is still lost in the fucking woods, a female counselor is sitting in a rowboat playing the recorder, Marz pulls the axe out of the stump with one hand and a grunt- the man deserves that reward money! At long last, despite the haze of post-connubial bliss, TP notices that Richie never came back from the fireside chat- so off he goes, alone, to find him. TP makes his way back to the fire site and scans the bushes with his flashlight. Here we get a nice little scare from Marz, peeking out from the shrubbery. Finally we get to see what his face looks like- he's badly in need of a nose, an eye, and an Alberto VO5 Hot Oil Treatment, though not necessarily in that order. TP, however, thinks it's Richie behind the bushes, and goes to get him. When he discovers no one behind the bush, our brave counselor stands looking around...then his face changes expression from "Where's that Richie? I'm worried!" to "Who cut one?" TP, the stench of Marz is upon thee! He gets a noose around the neck and he's dragged and strung up a tree. Marz, surveying his own handiwork, says "Brammllrrr" and splits.

Yo, Marz- we've still got 4 more counselors to dispatch, plus our Final Girl to deal with! Get on with it, man! Here are the untimely ends of the remaining counselors, in order. These are, however, names I assigned them during the movie, not the actual character names.

  • WEIRDO: head chopped off by axe while looking for TP.
  • CURLY SUE: head chopped off by hood of truck while looking for Weirdo.
  • Yes, I said head chopped off by hood of truck.
  • JOHN OATES: umm, I'm not exactly sure how he died. Marz held him aloft, and then...broken back, maybe? At any rate. he died while looking for Weirdo and Curly Sue.
  • FRIZZ POP: Let's talk about Frizz Pop...

She accompanies John Oates on his search. She sees him die. She takes off running back to camp. She is screaming and yelling. Marz is in hot pursuit...oh no, wait. He's going back to the farm house. Then suddenly we see Richie stand up, covered with dirt. Apparently he had been napping in the bushes. He...decides to follow Marz to the farmhouse again. By "Camp for Gifted Children", did they really mean "Camp for Stupid Fucking Idiot Children"? As Richie waits by a tree, Marz goes by again, back towards camp. You know, that crazy ol' farmer'd save himself a whole messa time if he'd simply do all his errands at once. Anyway, Richie goes into the house, down to the basement, where he sees Marz's special Dead Body Party. Richie is shocked and appalled, and he opens his mouth to prove it.

OK. Frizz Pop is now back at camp, whimpering and whining like a petulant 3-year-old. Marz, I beg you- please get rid of this one quickly. Oh good, here he comes. Frizz Pop the refrigerator. Hold on, I need to type that again.

Frizz Pop hides in the refrigerator.

She finally shuts up, and it's all quiet she leaves her hiding spot right away. HACK! Axe to the chest. So long, Frizzie.

Meanwhile, Betsy is finally growing concerned that she's the only adult left. She heads outside to take a look around, and sees Frizz Pop's dead body through a window. Betsy runs to a phone- the phone here actually still works- and calls...not the police, but Max, who's off at a card game somewhere. Dear lord. Betsy, think, woman! Despite the fact that Max is now on the way, she decides to round up the kids and leave. She grabs a shotgun off the wall and sets out to kiddie wrangle. There's a strange moment when Betsy walks by a cabin window and suddenly Frizz Pop jumps up- is she still alive? Was she thrown against the window? No matter, because Betsy blows her head off.

To sum up the next sequence: Kids on bus. Bus actually runs. Marz attacks bus (heh, "Marz attacks"). Betsy no shoot Marz- hit him fingers with stick. Marz run away like big baby.

At this point, would you leave the campground? Yes. Yes, you would. But Betsy sees Marz carrying Frizz Pop's body off, and decides to look for survivors. Sigh. The kids drive off to safety. Betsy makes her way to the farmhouse. After a struggle with Marz, she ends up on a meathook. Yes, the movie's one true surprise: they've killed the final girl. But not before she utters "Son of a-" and stabs Marz in the back with a knife we didn't know she had. The oafish farmer knocks over a candle, the hay ignites (I know it's a farmhouse, but keep your hay in the barn, idiot)...

...and we cut to Richie stumbling out onto the road, into Max's headlight beams. He's flipped his wig, and can only utter, "Madman Marz...he's real." Well, no shit, Richie. You followed him around all night! Max should've just run you over. Cue music, the end.

Because we never saw whether Marz died in the fire or escaped, we can assume the filmmakers were hoping for a sequel. According to the DVD liner notes, Madman is based on an urban Legend called The Kropsy Maniac. Info on this is very scarce, though, so if anyone out there has heard the tale, then...

Please, let your feelings throoooough...tell me what you knoooooow!

This movie was a little slow, but enjoyable with a few eerie shots as well as some laughable moments. Lots of blood, decent effects. According to the credits, there was a song in there somewhere called "Destructofunk". I wonder if it's the theme song, which has been stuck in my head for two days now. But was it a classic? Oh, Joe Bob. Let's just say I'd give it 6 out of 10 oversized monogrammed beltbuckles.


Dorian said...

That's an exhaustively thorough and entertaining review.

Stacie Ponder said...

I also Googled Cropsy and checked out just about all of the hits. Apparently The Burning, (which was in production at the same time as Madman) had a killer named Cropsy and was also loosely based on the urban legend. Cropsy was a gardener out for revenge against campers that had burned him, leaving him horribly disfigured. Most links seemed to be discussions of The Burning or Madman, but I could only find one entry that claimed to tell the tale. It was the typical campfire story- a weird camper named Bill Cropsy mutilated and killed some squirrels, and when the counselors discovered this, he disappeared into the woods. Years later, campers who ventured into the woods would be found mutilated in the same fashion. Doesn't sound like an origin for The Burning or Madman to me, though. And this tale originated in Maryland, while both movies claim the tale originated in upstate New York. That's the nature of these stories, though- mysterious!

Anonymous said...

I love Madman. I think it's beautifully shot and really, really creepy. I'm one of the few that think it's better than the Burning (though I adore that one too). It's just so minimalist, goes right for the jugular and tell me you didn't get a chill when Ritchie first discovers what's in Marz's cabin!

I have not only the theme song, but the hot tub song as well. I know, I'm kind of creepy myself!

Great review. Frizz pop is one of my favorite, albeit stupid murders in the annals of slasher history. I mean, she ran around a corner, like he wouldn't hear her throwing crap out of the fridge. She should have suffocated in there... it would have served her right!


Amanda By Night

Anonymous said...

For a version of the Cropsy urban legend, read the story, "The Summer of Cropsey," in one of my favorite collections of urban legends, Bloody Mary And Other Tales for a Dark Night by Stefan Dziemianowicz.

Phantom of Pulp said...

Based on The Kropsy Maniac?

There seems to be some confusion.

The killer of The Burning is Kropsy.


Mr_v said...

Fantastic review (as always). Just watched the damned thing and had to check out your review after I´d seen it, and I laughed and slapped my forehead at exactly the same things. Fun little flick. Need to fins the soundtrack.