Quantcast Paul Ehlers "Madman Marz" interview

Paul Ehlers!!!

If you've ever skimmed through the VAULT page here on Icons then you'd know that we're collectively huge fans of obscure cult horror classics. So, it came as a pleasant surprise to us when we learned that Paul Ehlers, the actor who portrayed "Madman Marz" in the 80's "slasher" gem MADMAN lived right here in New York! We caught up with the man behind the make-up who scared the pants off of us as youngsters! Check out our casual conversation with Paul about all things MADMAN and his fantasy knives. Jsyn even gets to debate with him the true meaning of the infamous "refrigerator" scene! Read on! - by Jsyn, Robg., Mike C., Chris Garetano- 9/07

*This interview is dedicated to MADMAN director Joe Giannone who passed away unexpectedly on December 10th of 2006.

Robg.: What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre? What was your first exposure to horror films?

God’s honest truth, the boogeymen in MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS. When I was really little, man, that was freaky! Films like Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING was another one. I haven’t seen anything since that has evoked that feeling as that movie did. I’d like to think it’s more for the mastery of what he did and how he set it up, rather then the fact that I was just younger. I know that movie still works. THE HAUNTING was a little later, but when I was really young I loved a lot of TV stuff. I loved THRILLER, Boris Karloff would sometimes host that and it’s where I first heard some of Jerry Goldsmith’s music. Of course, THE TWILIGHT ZONE too.

Robg.: When did you start an interest in film?

When I was making super 8 movies, with my best friend Kenny – we were into espionage and we’d watch every spy show. None of them really hold up that well anymore. But back then when you’re impressionable and you’re a kid, you say “Ok, I’m going to go into espionage like James Bond”. We’d do spy movies. We’d go to Kennedy airport wearing suits and bringing plastic guns – here we are about 13-14 years old (Laughs). We’d shoot scenes there. Looking back at that, we could never get away with that now! My friend Larry at the time, his super 8 movies were all horror because he was a Hammer and Universal monster fanatic. I used to occasionally be in his films too, I remember. He did things like… I EAT YOUR GUTS. (Laughs)
But yeah, film was an intricate part of my childhood, as well as drawing. I used to draw my own comics and my own monsters. When I got involved in MADMAN, 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?” (Laughs)
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!
The famous foot thing too. I was barefoot and 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. God rest him, my best friend Joe Giannone, the director of MADMAN who passed away back in December (2006), we were very saddened and surprised to lose him.
Jsyn: How long and difficult was it to shoot MADMAN?

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?

Jsyn: Did you have breaks?
It was pretty much constant. 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.
Jsyn: Going back, how’d the movie come about and how’d you get involved in it?

Where I came from with it, I knew Gary Sales the producer on it, and Joey Giannone the writer & director and Gary had gone to school together at Richmond college. I was visiting a friend of mine, and I was out a lot that weekend and Joey was there, busily writing the script to MADMAN. He was secretive about it. He wouldn’t talk about it a lot but we did talk about horror films a lot. This was a couple of years before we made it. These guys wanted to make real serious films.
They figured let’s make the horror film first and make the money, and then do the serious films. So, he asked me what I thought worked in a horror film. He knew I was an illustrator and a designer, so he said maybe when they were getting ready to do the film, I could do the one-sheet for them, which I said I’d love to do. He then kind of went off, and they did what they did, and I remember they got an office on 7th Avenue in the city, and back then it was called The Legend Lives company. Originally that was going to be part of the title, but at the time Frank Sinatra was doing a tour, which I believe was called Frank Sinatra: The Legend Lives, so we couldn’t use that. I heard something was going on with this other movie shooting at the same time called THE BURNING.

Robg.: The story with THE BURNING was that it was based on the same thing that inspired MADMAN though, right?

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.

Robg.: So, how’d you get cast as Madman Marz?

The famous story I tell everyone is that they were still trying to find the right guy to play Marz. They’d seen a huge guy, but he didn’t work because he couldn’t move well. I had done a lot of martial arts work and made swords and knives and axes. I remember I was talking to Gary and Joey, I know they didn’t have a guy to play the part and they asked me how I saw him and I started discussing how I saw Marz and I was discussing how he would move and how he would walk. They look at each other and ask, “What are you doing for the next few months?” And I said, “Get out of here! You want me to play this?!” Here we go, fan-boy time. Yes, I went to film school. Yes, I was working as an artist. But here was a horror movie, man. And they wanted me to be the monster! It was the coolest thing ever. I went out of my mind with excitement.

Mike C.: Can you tell us about working with Alexis Dubin?

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. (Laughs) (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. (Laughs)
Mike C.: Was she really referred to as Alexis on the set?

Yes, she was Alexis Dubin. I never quite understood that.

Mike C.: Well Dawn Of The Dead was big at the time, no?

It was!

Robg.: But you knew obviously that it was Gaylen Ross from Dawn Of The Dead though, right?
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.

Jsyn: When you became involved in the project, was it was already financed?
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.
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?!” (Laughs)
“This isn’t working guys!” We thought "what should we do"? So we threw some dirt on them, but dirty white rats did’t look right either. I came up with a safe solution. We kind of painted them gray. So they became this gray/white rat thing, which was ok. I light this candle and the rat comes over and sticks his face right in the fire. That really happened. (Laughs) We were sick people. I still am a reasonably sick person. (Laughs) I had a lot of fun with the film. We had a lot of kids coming around. What a camp! 27 counselors, 3 kids! (Laughs) These were very gifted children, of course. Maybe these kids could levitate people or something?

Chris: They were the X-Men!

Yeah, early X-Men kids! (Laughs) I didn’t want to hurt those children because they were so gifted.

Robg.: 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?

Umm, the hand thing was just one thing. 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. (Laughs) The camp was kind of off season, so they weren’t cleaning it.

Chris: I heard they had to paint leaves green?

That’s true. We did scenes where they were brown, and we had to paint them green.

Jsyn: Was there more stuff shot for MADMAN that we didn’t see?

 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!

Jsyn: I have to… talk about the refrigerator scene. How the hell did that come about?

I don’t know! But we all kind of laughed at the time and Joey said…

Jsyn: Was he serious about it at the time, though? Was he like “No, really. Hide in the frig”. (Laughs)

She was little! So…

Jsyn: But you were right behind her! You saw her go into the refrigerator. She threw the food out while you were right around the corner!

But I went to the sink and took a drink. You didn’t see that. (Laughs)
Jsyn: I thought it was brilliant, but because of the mentality of the scene. Ok. You see her go into the frig. You’re Madman Marz. You’ve seen people in desperate situations do desperate things. Hide in bathrooms, hide in closests, hide under beds. And all these things are acceptable. But… you witness this poor woman hide in a refrigerator. So, maybe your brain just shut down for a minute. You couldn’t believe what you were seeing! (Laughs) And thought, “You know what? I’m going to go back outside, pretend this never happened and just wait for her. Because I know she’s going to come outside”. And you literally stood in the door frame of the cabin and waited for her to get out of the frig. And then killed her!
You know what? I like that. I like that explanation. (Laughs)

Jsyn: It seemed like it was embarrassing for both of you!

I think Marz was smarter then anyone assumed. She went in the frig and as you know…
Jsyn: She didn’t just go in the frig! She removed the food… from the frig… and threw it over her shoulder, and you were there! Right around the corner. You weren’t even running! You were taking your time! Because you knew!

Because I said to myself “Where is she? No one would go in the refrigerator!” (Laughs)

Jsyn: You heard her screaming! You knew it. You had to have known!
You have to understand why! When you throw out a refrigerator, you have to remove the door from the refrigerator, because children will go inside it, close it and be locked in and smothered. I figured this stupid bitch went into the refrigerator and closed the door! I don’t even have to dirty my ax!
Thunder in the background.

Jsyn: I thought about that. But it’s obvious that there was no latch. I like my idea of your mindset. That you just couldn’t believe what you were seeing. You are a professional madman. You’ve seen everything! When you go hang out with the other madmen later, you’ll say, “You’ll never believe what happened to me today. A woman hid… in a refrigerator!” (Laughs)
Jsyn: Even for things that are funny, like the refrigerator scene or the hot tub scene, I think the opening for MADMAN is absolutely brilliant for a horror film. It’s the campfire, it captures the essence of the story it’s based on. The other brilliant thing is the car hood be-heading. That was a smart kill.

Yeah, I know Joey was trying to think of unique ways to do the kills and make it more suspenseful.
Jsyn: How was that set up? The beheading scene?

They built this engine around her head, it’s wonderful. And they built this prosthetic neck. I love when they start the car, and you hear the sounds. It’s fabulous.
Jsyn: And I love the fact that Richie… that SOB that started the whole problem, he’s the one that lives! He gets away!

I know. To be tortured with it for the rest of his life. What would happen to a kid like that who sees all those things?

Jsyn: When you guys were making the film, obviously there were a few films that came before. At the time, there were tons of horror movies being released in the early 80’s. Was there an anticipation for MADMAN? Or a thought that this was going to make money and do well?
Everyone hopes that, but you just never know. I remember at the time, we went into the office with whatever reports were coming in from Variety and it was all very exciting. But you just don’t know.

Jsyn: How soon after production wrapped was MADMAN released?

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.

Robg.: When did you shoot it? 1980?

Let’s see, we shot it in 80, started in October, wrapped in December of 80. All through 81, they were working on the movie. Sometimes it’s written that it came out in 81, but I’m pretty sure it came out in January of 82.

Jsyn: When I was younger, my brother and I were too young to watch horror films, but we were obsessed with them. We would watch trailers on TV, get completely freaked out and we’d dare each other to say “Madman Marz” at night! (Laughs)

That’s so cool.
Jsyn: The funny thing is I used to watch the trailer for the movie, and then make up what I thought the movie was about based on the trailer, because I couldn’t see it. So, I had my own story for what Madman was about. For years, it freaked me out.

That is wonderful. You don’t really know if it’s going to be good, you hope. I was excited about it and my friends were excited about it. We all went to the opening at the Rialto on Broadway in NYC. Everybody I knew was invited. I was with one group of people and I had lost a lot of weight since I did the film.
Jsyn: I like the fact that there was no explanation given as to why or how you do these things. At the end, in the basement, its bodies of the people you killed and then it’s your wife and kids. That’s it! There’s no other bodies down there! So, Richie pissed off Madman Marz so bad that he started to manifest himself again and kill more people because of Richie! Max has been telling this story this whole time! Why wouldn’t Madman could out the first time he told the story? It’s because of Richie!

I don’t think I ever asked Joey why Richie lived!
Jsyn: It’d be one thing to say Madman in the woods, but to throw a rock and say “come and get me,” you’re just asking for it!

Mike C.: Maybe this is a punishment for Richie. All these early “slasher” movies are in essence morality tales. Richie has to go on and live with this guilt.

Robg.: What was the climate for horror films at the time MADMAN came out in theaters?
It was at that time we were sweating out ratings. We were very happy when we resolved that. That was a big deal at the time because of the audience we’d be getting. I remember they tested it at a few places. We had a test screening in Philadelphia and I drove down with a good friend of mine named Larry. I remember it was playing at a multiple screen theater. I took pictures of everything, the marquee and the poster in the lobby. I sat in the front and turned around and started taking pictures of the audience.
The guys sitting behind me said, “Why are you taking pictures of the audience?” And I said, “I’ll tell you when the movie is over”. We’re running the film, I take pictures of the credits including the “Introducing Paul Elhers as Madman Marz”. (Laughs) The film ends, the credits role and the guys behind me stand up and like wise-asses say to me, “Alright, why were taking all the pictures of the audience”? And I said, “Because I… am Madman Marz”. The guy goes, “Oh, bullshit!” And they all walked out. (Laughs)
Jsyn: How was the film received when it first came out? You didn’t get any coverage in FANGORIA at the time, right?

We didn’t. I think they mentioned us with a small picture. I don’t know why we didn’t get more coverage. And the thing that I always think is unfair is that writers today group us in with all the FRIDAY THE 13th clones. And that’s fine, but we were one of the very first to come out.

Mike C.: You were shooting it in 1980, so it couldn’t have been that far behind when FRIDAY THE 13th Part 1 and 2 came out.

Yeah! In fact, we almost beat them out, but we had slight money problems and couldn’t get it out in time.

Jsyn: Didn’t THE BURNING come out early too?

THE BURNING beat them out but we were very early on in this apparently and I see that today, and that’s why I don’t find it fair to see reviewers refer to it as a FRIDAY knock off. The film looks good, the film was shot well, it’s lit well, it’s edited well. I think all of that is there. For a low-budget, the FX work very well. I think a lot of it works on a lot of levels. And I think people may be a little too hard on it. But then there’s you guys who look back on it with fond memories and put it in a different category.
Robg.: For us, there were so many movies from that era, but I don’t remember the killer’s name in something like MY BLOODY VALENTINE. But I have fond memories of films that have an interesting back story. And once you hear the legend of “Madman Marz”, you never forget that! It’s just so memorable!

Jsyn: A lot of those movies from that era had a certain charm that today’s movies just don’t have today. That’s why we’re here talking to you.

Mike C.: When did you start to realize that this movie had a cult following and was starting to make a come-back? You did a convention appearance recently, and then there’s the DVD with the commentary, you just did another interview.

Several years back, Joey called me and told me it was coming to DVD and I was surprised. Anchor Bay was doing a lot of re-issuing of this kind of stuff, and he said, “They actually want us to do a commentary for the DVD”. Larry and I love stuff with commentary and learning about movies, so I thought it was nuts! I thought it was so cool. We met in the city, I hadn’t seen the producer Gary Sales in years. So, it was him and Joey was there too and Tony Fish. I’m sorry that Joey’s gone because he’s never had the chance to sit down and talk about a lot of this. It’s great that there’s a lot of re-interest in the film, because when I heard there were fans, I couldn’t believe it. You know, I’ve never been too computer savy.
But I remember when the DVD came out, my friend Linda, a neighbor down the block who happens to be a librarian would print me out all the reviews from people all over the world and I just couldn’t believe it. I kept sending them over to Joe. I sent him a stack of reviews and he really was fascinated by the fact that it had this impact. There was thought of “Would we re-do it?” “Should we do a sequel?” There was a sequel written and I read the script to it back in the day. We were prepared. But I like that we have the one distinction in horror for not having a sequel. They were ready however. The title may have been “HUNT THE MADMAN” if I remember correctly. It had to do with a motorcycle gang and some nastiness. Think about that for a little bit! I say we’re ripe for a remake. I’d love to see that.
Robg.: I’d love to see it as a combination remake/sequel. A new film that could play as a sequel, but that could retell the story and be fresh as a remake to a new audience.

I think it’d have to stand on its own. I wouldn’t want people to HAVE to see the original to see a new one. You can keep it pure, you can keep it simple. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot.

Jsyn: Can you tell us a bit about the work you currently do? Designing fantasy knives and weapons?
When I would draw fantasy illustration of my own, it’d be trolls and magicians and guys with swords, Conan – all homaged to Frank Fezetta. He was a God to me when I was young. I’d draw this stuff and I remember I would always try to draw really cool weapons in the hands of these guys. I had this situation where I came into a little bit of money and I wanted to buy a hand-made knife. America had several makers back in the day who actually did hand-forged, hand-made crafted knives. Very beautifully done. Very different from mass market stuff. It started getting attention with the knife made for Stallone in FIRST BLOOD, Stallone insisted on that knife being used. It did an unbelievable thing to the knife industry. Every single custom knife maker had a variation of the FIRST BLOOD knife.
I remember I ordered a knife at the time from a gentleman whom I was a fan of, Gil Hibben. I sent him a sketch of something I made, called him to ask him what he thought. And he said, “Well, I already made it and sold it”. (Laughs) So, we got together and me coming from a non-knife place – I appreciated knives as a kid, I loved swords, but not knowing the limitations of machinery, not knowing how dangerous it is to grind the knife.
I didn’t know any of that, I didn’t know what you could or couldn’t do. I came from a purely artistic place. I would make these things up out of my head, and Gil did his best to stay true to what I did in the blueprints. We had a run from 1983 through the late 90’s of Gil manufacturing and hand-making these one of a kind knives and swords, which we then took to specialized shows. What you have are people that are very selective collectors coming to these shows. Stallone was a collector, he had 3 of my designs. We did that for a while and I found it was influential on a lot of people what I did. Before that, people were doing very basic stuff. And coming into it and putting a lot of flair like I was doing, people realized, “Hey, we could do more. We can get wilder and wilder”. Today you can see it pretty much anywhere out there. I have been told by people over the years that stuff I did back in the 80’s was extremely influential on the knife industry and that a lot of people emulated what I did in their stuff, which is kind of cool. Here I am in this “slasher” movie and then I go off to design knives. (Laughs)
They’re art knives. I took inspiration from things we all grew up with, like Ray Harryhausen characters and hydras and creatures and I would say that my knives were sculptural, and somewhere on my knives there was an edge, there was a blade. They didn’t fit into the definition of knives. Most people couldn’t get that they were art pieces. After working in custom knives for years, and people copying my work for years, I was introduced to an overseas company. They looked over my portfolio and were surprised that some of my stuff was dated back to the mid 80’s.
They offered me a position to design for them. They’re reproducing some of my sculptural pieces. One for example is called Mythos, the original sold for $13,000 and it was made of bronze. But this company is able to import these things, make them overseas and sell them for $62 dollars. And it’s basically the same knife. It looks exactly like the original. They’re putting out versions of my pieces that are very affordable. Go to The Collector’s Edge website at tcedge.com, go to the designers page and click on The Ehlers Design logo.

Robg.: They’re beautiful pieces!

I started doing this with this company so that people could afford my stuff! At the shows, hundreds of people would come by the table and look at an original and love it and then ask “How much is this?” And then I have to say “It’s $6000 dollars”. You’d see these faces drop! So I felt terrible. There were only 5 or 6 guys that could afford these things. But now, I’m glad that anyone can buy these.

Robg.: Any last words for our Icons audience about MADMAN?

I have fond feelings for the film, I always have. I think it’s underrated. And I certainly think the time is right to bring Madman Marz back.

Visit: www.tcEdge.com (Go to designers, select The Ehlers Design logo)
Visit Paul Ehler's/Madman MarzMy Space page at: www.MySpace.com/TheMadmanMarz

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