1982 – R – Code Red
Starring – Gaylen Ross, Tony Fish – Directed by Joe Giannone
Ah, summertime. I believe Will Smith said it best when he said, “Every moment frontin’ and maxin’, chillin’ in the car they spent all day waxin’. Leanin to the side, but you can’t speed through, two miles an hour so everybody sees you.” This has nothing to do with this review, but man wasn’t that a good song? Especially in the summer?
Alright, now that the joke is out of the way, summer holds a special nostalgic place in most of our hearts. For me, going to camp was one of the most exciting parts. Getting together with all the other kids to play games, learning survival skills and telling spooky stories around the campfire. And let’s be honest, you felt so accomplished when they would slap a badge for that on your shirt, but instantly demasculate you with a baking badge. Nonetheless, I love the old feeling I get when I’m up late watching horror movies based around summer camp. Brings me back to a time when it was okay for adults to scare the living pee out of children.
One such tale is the legend of Cropsey. An actual story I’m familiar with since it was most popular in the upstate New York area, where I lived when I was young and went to camp. In a nutshell, the story is about a man returning to his familiar grounds and murder anyone who dares to camp there. Of course, this all depends on who is telling the tale, since, as with most legends, there are several versions of it, but this one seemed to be the most popular. So popular in fact, that someone decided to make a movie about and call it The Burning. However, another movie using the same tale was being made around the same time, but the good ol’ Weinstein’s beat them to the punch, so a small rewrite later, writer/director Joe Giannone unleashed Madman.
It’s the last day of camp as a group of kids are being horribly scarred for life by a ghost story that camp counselor sings to them as he prances around the fire. Chuckling at his amateur kid frightening skills, head counselor Max decides to one up him and calmly tells the children in the most trusting and soothing voice a supposedly true legend that will make sure no amount of therapy will ever help these children. That tale is the legend of Madman Marz, who murdered his wife and child with an axe, where he was shortly hung for his crimes (this was back in the day when lynching was encouraged… or the South), but his body had disappeared! Concluding, his name is never to be said above a whisper or else he would return to his sacred grounds and kill anyone who is present. So of course, the first thing the mouthy little punk Richie (who must’ve been a top contender for Mouth in The Goonies) does is scream his name and unnecessarily throw a rock an unknown amount of distance, which I’m guessing is at least half a mile away, judging by his solo march there later on, smashing out a window on a vacant house. This house seems so far off, it may as well have been Jenny’s house from Forest Gump. All have a good laugh as Max says his goodbye and goodnight to the kids, but Betsy (played by Dawn of the Dead‘s Gaylen Ross) disapproves of the story frightening the children, forever spoiling spooky campfire stories for everyone everywhere.
Betsy has a thing for TP and your guess is as good as mine as to why, since he snuffs her affection before they all return to their cabin. He quickly apologizes to the group about his outburst and to Betsy since it’s probably his last opportunity to hook up, as Max leaves to head into town to get supplies… and beer. Can’t forget beer.
But that’s not why you’re watching this movie. Camp cook and professional whiskey drinker Dippie is the first to fall victim, as Marz tears out his throat. I know we are all attached to this character and you’ll be in disbelief when you see him die, like when you saw Steven Segal die in Executive Decision. Still brings tears to my eyes.
What follows next is perhaps one of the most drawn out, semi-underwater, slow motion love scenes between TP and Betsy and lemme tell ya, you will be reaching for that fast forward button. It seriously drags out for several minutes, which normally wouldn’t be a bad thing, but Gaylen Ross keeps her puppies well hidden the entire time, while TP flexes his cheeks before climbing into the hot tub. While these two are contaminating the water, Madman Marz watches from outside. It’s about this time TP realizes he should probably check on the boys and notices that Richie is missing and goes out looking for him… alone… in the dark woods. Betsy offers to come with him, but he declines, as she sees a lumbering, shadowy figure darting around, but shrugs it off. I’m sure TP will be fine…
Did I say fine? I meant strangled and hung up like a pinata. To the actor’s credit, he really pulls of the excruciating pain that one must go through when being hung, as he actually choked himself by tying a rubber band around his neck! Now that’s “dead-ication.” Meanwhile, Betsy is back at camp complaining to Stacy that TP only wants sex when they realize he’s been gone for quite some time. Dave volunteers to go out alone into the woods to get killed next, bumping into TP’s body along the way and manages to dodge a few of Marz’s axe attacks before one finally manages to decapitate him. He was way in over his head anyway…
So now Stacy think TP is playing a joke (cause that’s what you did back then, play ineffectual pranks) and takes the car down to find everyone. Investigating something going bump in the night, she bursts in on the other two counselors, Ellie and Bill, about to bump uglies. She leaves them to their session of foreignication and has either very keen senses to where the others may be or this is the smallest wooded area in the world. She literally stumbles on Dave’s headless corpse (you starting to see a pattern here?) and runs back to the truck, but unfortunately the she has fallen victim to horror cliche #14: the stalling vehicle. Using all her mechanic knowledge, which I’m guessing is about none, she sticks her head right under the hood so Marz can cleverly jump on the hood to take off her head. That’s yer problem right there!
Bill and Ellie are hot on her heels searching for her when Ellie spots Marz standing over his trophy, which immediately sends her dashing toward Bill where she pleads with him to do the most rational thing; LEAVE! But what good is that? Bill suggests the most facepalming idea in history, to go check it out. Yes, go right toward the lumbering, superhuman maniac with an axe. Stacy’s body and Marz are gone when they reach the truck and oddly enough, neither of them see the blood splashed all over the front of the truck and decide to drive it back to camp, but if you recall, the truck does not start. Daves finds Stacy’s head in the engine and tosses it aside like an unwanted soggy melon and the truck starts (that’s got ‘er!) and they start to speed back to camp, but not before Marz rips Bill out of the driver’s side and snaps his back like a twig. After the truck crashes into a tree, Ellie runs back into camp and very cleverly hiding in the fridge. Seriously, if I were a killer (I’m not, I swear!), I would never in a million years think to check the fridge for my victims. Fresh ones anyway. That’s where you keep the leftovers. Unfortunately, it’s all for nothing. Once the noise quiets down, Ellie pokes her head out and checks the place out, only to be stabbed. The scene is really well paced and actually made me nervous!
Cut in between all this is the adventures of our young hooligan Richie, who has now stumbled upon the house he threw a rock at, which happens to be the home of Marz. After poking around a bit, he finds the dead bodies of all of the counselors in the basement. Good luck with therapy, kid!
So, if you’re doing your math correctly, this leaves lonesome Betsy, who is unaware that her friends have been brutally butchered. She’s making her rounds like a prison guard, which I’m sure all campers are familiar with that feeling, when she spots Ellie’s body and dashes off to grab a shotgun. Seems like the only smart characters in this movie are gossipy girls. Guys take note; just because your girlfriend talks constantly about makeup and their friend’s current boy toys, doesn’t mean she can’t properly load your hunting rifles and outgun you. Just ask Ellie, who managed to survive her stab wounds and creeps up to the door, who Betsy mistakes for Marz and blasts her friend’s face off. Whoops.
Betsy loads all the kids onto the bus and tells the eldest to drive the rest into town as she searches for her friends, which, remember, she has no idea are already dead. It’s probably a good thing a panicked woman who just emptied a double barrel 12 gauge shotgun at her friend’s head, probably isn’t in the best condition to drive a bus full of scared, jumpy children. Marz attacks the bus before they can leave, but retreats once the non harmful, padded door is shut on his hand and Betsy knows she has to end it once and for all, chasing him down to the house from before that Richie somehow managed to bust a window out from several miles away. After some creeping around, Marz attacks her, slashing her face open and impaling her on a hook Texas Chainsaw Massacre style, but happens to be packing a hunting knife, stabbing Marz who accidentally knocks over a candle, setting the place ablaze. Who knew her inner-pyro would come in handy? All for nothing though, as Marz escapes into the night.
Coming back from a long night of drinking, Max who is surprisingly not swerving all over the road spots Richie who is riddled with fear. Max asks the Richie what’s the matter, to which he exclaims, “Madman Marz… he’s real!”
To the movies credibility, it does pace the tension and build up very nicely. The scenes that build up to a characters death are drawn out to the point where you will be on the edge of your seat just waiting for something to happen and when it finally does in a glorious, blood splattered death, it pays off. Unfortunately the same can’t be said about the scenes of the counselors interacting with one another. I would say it’s too close to real life, since they don’t really discuss anything interesting, but that’s what it is. Just conversations about things I don’t think people actually talk about or girls going on about guys and blah, blah, blah. Mostly, they serve as an excuse for one character to head out into the dark woods alone to find the previous character who went off into the dark woods alone, so at least at times it does get the plot moving along.
Also, for being a low budget horror film of the early 80’s, it does have some of the best atmosphere you can get out of a slasher. The scenes are dark and often backlit, filled with the wood’s cold fog that can make something as open as the outdoors feel claustrophobic and making Marz feel larger than life. Speaking of, Marz is a pretty interesting killer with a well developed back story. Some horror flicks take several sequels to build a character’s backstory and can’t even do as good of a job as this movie did in just a few minutes. I’m looking at you Saw! A sequel was actually planned, picking up shortly after the events of the first film, wherein Richie would be in a psychiatric ward and he and Max return to the camp ground to try and stop Marz, but sadly the movie was never made, most likely due to Madman‘s obscurity or maybe studios didn’t want to take a chance on a lesser known flick, since Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm St. sequels were the ticket.
I like to find any reason I can to talk about this film, as I mentioned Madman is one of my favorite slashers. Sure it’s filled with a number of cliches, but it’s fun. Heck, I even did a video review of it, which you can check out here. So join me next time around the campfire to tell more chilling ghost stories… and bring S’mores!
Camp Lost Highway allows peeing in the pool.