Every so often a modern slasher will come along that promises to hark back to the early 80's heyday of the sub-genre and deliver the gruesome goods while not pretending to be anything more that it sets out to be. Independent production ‘Madison County’ is one such effort that does not strive to be anything different other than trying to introduce a new horror icon to the genre and simply tries in homage to replicate this era. An era of cinematic terror that’s main goal was to shock its viewers with its exploitation showcasing of gorily horrific and creative murder set-pieces along with generous doses of naked female flesh injected into the sure fire box office winning formula. These films were largely and purely geek shows for an audience that lapped it all up with much glee as they watched young attractive people getting cut up for their own pleasure.
Hey, I am not judging, as I am part of the demographic who loves to curl up in front of a good slice n’ dicer. It is just that good ones are hard to come by. Even thirty odd years ago when the slasher was at its peak of popularity the quality control was very sparse as only a handful of these movies falling out from the cookie cutter constantly year after year were decent while most of them turned out to be just complete and utter dreck. One of the biggest problems with most of the films in this sub-genre from any decade is the terrible characterization of the soon to be victims who are usually just hateful obnoxious one-dimensional caricatures. This cancels out any possibility of real horror in inducing our fears instead just making us root for the killer to do in these stereotypes in the nastiest ways possible rather than caring about them and being scared for them. From the early 80's golden age that this retro throwback tries so desperately to recall I can only think off the top of my head just a few odd titles that got it right with their cast of characters - ‘My Bloody Valentine’ (1981), ‘The Funhouse’ (1981), ‘The Burning’ (1981), The Prowler (1981), ‘Madman’ (1982) etc.
This backwoods slash em’ up gets this right but fails miserably on every other level not living up to its promise in trying to relive the slasher’s glory days throwing away a good idea on a piss poor script that is just too concerned with creating a new movie maniac rather than telling a good story. Although, the antagonist’s look is certainty not new at all as this pig head killer is lifted straight out of ‘Motel Hell’ (1980). Piggy is played here by Nick Principe who you may remember being extremely effective as Chromeskull the villain of the thoroughly entertaining slasher entries ‘Laid to Rest’ (2009) and ‘Chromeskull: Laid to Rest 2’ (2011). He does his best here too but you just cannot get over the stupid look of the madman he is portraying.
‘Madison County’ starts promisingly enough as the set up teases us with potential hack n’ slash mayhem. It opens with the abduction of a young woman in the back of a pick-up truck and we are then introduced to a group of college students that set off to rural country for an interview with the author of a book that covers a series of grizzly real life murders that happened there. Writer and director Eric England lets us get to know a bunch of likable teenagers that I really did not mind spending time with during the first act. Being a slasher, obviously, this is no deep character study and their development is minimal but they just come off as immensely nice people. The acting by these principle players is competent enough in getting the job done in what is asked of them.
When they get to “Madison County” though, this is where the movie and its pacing quickly fall apart. The group find out that the writer of the tell all book has gone missing and the town’s people there - the clichéd hostile redneck types - are clearly in the know about what happened but are covering it all up denying that the murders even took place. The kills start to happen fast out of nowhere with little or no build up lacking any suspense at all and the actual murders are poorly conceived with no imagination whatsoever. In a sub-gene that is the most un-creative of all sub-genres in horror that’s only real outlet in most cases for doing anything remotely innovative is employing elaborate murder sequences this fails with its pay off. If any gorehounds are looking here for what they crave then look elsewhere. The DVD cover says “Unrated” but there is hardly anything here to cut down to a rated version anyway. There is a sole good kill here though involving a broken off baseball bat oral insertion.
There are so many pitfalls in logic also that even for a slasher it borders on the absurd. From the teens’ stupid decision making to the inconsistences in in the film’s narrative, it becomes mind-boggling stare inducing viewing. Produced on a mere $70,000 it is not the most horrible looking low-budget indie movie as the production values are quite high considering but I cannot help thinking they could not afford proper lighting as there is only a campfire scene that takes place at night (obviously) with the entire rest of the movie taking place during the daytime.
I am not going to criticize ‘Madison County’ for being generic as it was the filmmakers’ intension to recreate a period in the slasher’s history in which we horror fans turned out in our droves to get what we came for - mean spirited murderfests with T & A. It is just that the film fails on its word to give us that nostalgic bloodletting and only includes a couple of pairs of tits and furthermore it is all just so poorly executed. Two of the recent essential examples of the sub-genre ‘Cold Prey’ (2006) and ‘Cold Prey II’ (2009) both did not break any new ground either but they just did it all so solidly well with the sequel even taking a big cue from Halloween II (1981). England could have taken a note or two from these Norwegian offerings if he wanted to avoid the post-modern ‘Scream’ route and relive a more simple time when slashers were a fast food horror fix.
* out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
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