In many ways the 1970’s and ‘80’s were a simpler time in horror cinema. Films passed through the newly developed multiplexes with a lot less labels and a fair amount of lower expectations. It was a time when horror hybrids like CRITTERS or ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOS! offered little more than a good time to be had for a $2.25 ticket price. Take pot shots where you will. Cast the blame on the barrage of self-referential cinema that proponents like Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Williamson peppered the cinematic landscape with in the 1990’s. Sling your arrows at the birth of us, the Internet film pundits, for taking the over-analysis of movie making far beyond the poignant prose of Pauline Kale. Perhaps, even this opening paragraph is to blame—too much thought and effort put into prologue for another direct-to-video Zomedy. So, I’ll take my medicine with the rest of you as I opine on the merits of THE MAD.
THE MAD is all about killer cuisine, as tainted ground beef turns hapless small town consumers in to flesh crazed madmen. “Mad Cow People” as Dr. Hunt (Billy Zane) so eloquently puts it. The fact that this revelation comes about as the surviving protagonists are held up in a diner debating whether or not the moaning monsters outside the windows are in fact actual zombies demonstrates exactly where the film falls on the scale of seriousness. Director John Kalangis is making a comedy—granted his comedy is saturated with gallons of sticky arterial spray.
Dr. Jason Hunt (Zane) is out for a weekend getaway with his new girlfriend Monica (Shauna MacDonald), his daughter Amy (Maggie Castle, DEAD MARY) and Amy’s daft boyfriend. It’s Monica’s bright idea to take a quick detour into the rural community for a bite of food and some pastoral ambience. Once the gang arrives at the local diner they soon discover that a nefarious farm has delivered the bastard burgers of doom and infected the entire populace of the tiny backwoods hamlet. From there on out the catch phrase “Where’s the beef?” takes on a whole different meaning as the family flees a flood of demented cannibal maniacs.
The premise is ridiculous, so right off the bat “flying patties of death” leads the viewer to believe that everything in THE MAD is far from kosher. The debate over whether or not the infected are in fact the living dead makes for a defining moment in the tone of the production. It’s at this juncture that Kalangis along with co-writers Kevin Hennelly (DEAD MARY) and Christopher Warre Smets (LIVING DEATH) clue you in on the joke. All the hammy acting and over the top antics are justified in one simple moment of spry deliberation. Unfortunately, that sequence is the best that THE MAD ever manages to be.
Even in the film’s utter stupidity and inherent unevenness (the ending it way too long) the film manages to capture a sparkle of wit and a wisp of what could have been. It’s late night cable fare that rightfully bypassed the box office. The cover art belies the film that lay beneath it, making the production look like an outright genre film. The truth of the matter is that—as throwback to those unsuspecting classics of the 80’s—THE MAD works well in the confines of hapless horror cinema. It never takes its pop culture conjecture too far into self-awareness and it still manages a few solid chucks of chewed flesh and gruesome gore. Not a movie for everybody, THE MAD may still draw a smile across the faces of viewers raised on a diet of USA: Up All Night, Elvira and MST3K.