Sometimes you’re just in the mood for a generic horror movie full of people getting hacked and slashed by a deformed mutant in a skin mask, and if that’s where you’re coming from, it’s tough to argue with Madison County, available now on DVD from Image Entertainment. Regurgitating a slew of backwoods hixploitation clichés cherry-topped with some more-or-less respectable axe murders and a pig-headed psychopath, presumably conceived in homage to Motel Hell, Madison County is about as barrel-scrapingly generic as straight-to-video horror movies get.
Investigating a series of brutal murders that occurred in a secluded rural enclave several decades ago, a group of college students road trip through the nearby backwoods, planning to rendezvous with a true crime author famous for originally breaking the bizarre story. The perpetrator of the killings, Damien Ewell, was identified but never caught, and although the area’s scattered citizenry was famously privy to the murders while they were happening, their collective failure to reveal the crimes to the authorities has comprised a large, mysterious portion of the case’s post-expositional allure.
Not surprisingly, upon arrival, the students encounter resistance from the local population in the form of casually feigned ignorance. A group of surly diner patrons promptly allege that the murders are a fabrication, and the fraudulent crime author has long since relocated. Unconvinced, the nosey youths trek through the woods, questing for clues to the whereabouts of their missing scholarly contact, as well as tangible evidence that the murders actually did take place. Predictably, the students encounter more than they bargained for when they discover that Damien is – Surprise! – still alive and lurking in the wilderness that surrounds his former residence, bent on cleaving apart the skulls of any out-of-town city folk who happen to wander onto his turf.
Aside from its lack of innovation, Madison County is so padded with irrelevant backstory and attempts at atmospherics that its momentary instances of actual gore and suspense are diminished and boring. The murders themselves are unremarkable, and the film’s only prominent set piece is the hollowed-out pig head worn by its axe-wielding central psychopath, which is so luridly over-featured that it ceases to be interesting after its first thirty seconds of screen time.
Amazingly, somebody at Image decided the disc rated a commentary track and Q&A featurette, perhaps anticipating some interest in its technical logistics considering its evidently miniscule budget. Rather than triumphing over the limitations of its budget, however, Madison County’s hackneyed, pseudo-atmospheric approach and bland lack of nudity or carnage make it a failure both as a legitimate terror exercise and a Z-grade exploitation confection.