MADNESS (1980)
Director: Fernando Di Leo
Raro Video USA

Raro Video breathes new life into Fernando Di Leo’s grungy late career release MADNESS with a new HD-mastered DVD (the better to appreciate Joe Dallesandro’s scowls and Lorraine de Selle’s skin).

Imprisoned for robbery and the murder of his partner in crime, Gio Brezzi (Joe Dallesandro, BLOOD FOR DRACULA) escapes and heads for the Italian countryside to recover the loot (which is buried underneath the fireplace of an abandoned cottage). Unfortunately, he discovers that the cottage has been renovated and is now inhabited by a couple from Rome on the weekends (and it’s Friday). Gio lurks in the ruins of a nearby cottage and watches as macho Sergio (Gianni Macchia, EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD), his doormat of a wife Liliana (Patrizia Behn) and her sexpot younger sister Paola (Lorraine de Selle, CANNIBAL FEROX) arrive, and continues to spy on the dysfunctional trio throughout the night. It seems that Paola is having an affair with her brother-in-law, but she likes to bait him with left-wing politics (she’s basically a poseur as a college revolutionary) and blue-ball him by sleeping nude on the living room sofa (fortunately his clueless wife is available in the bedroom). The next day, while Sergio is out hunting and Liliana is out shopping in the village, Gio subdues a sunbathing Paola and takes a pick-axe to the fireplace hearth. When Paola comes to, he makes her take on the manual labor and rapes her when she tries to escape. He lies in wait to surprise both Liliana and Sergio and gleefully informs Liliana of her husband’s and sister’s betrayal. While Liliana tries to remain noble in the face of this betrayal, Paola is more interested in the stolen loot and attempts to manipulate both Gio and Sergio. With pickaxes and shotguns constantly changing hands and Luis Bacalov’s recycled CALIBER 9 score soaring on the soundtrack, things aren’t going to end well…

The scenario and the poster artwork suggest an onslaught of rape, beatings and bloodshed; and there is all of that, yet MADNESS is not quite the Italian exploitation classic viewers may be hoping for. Although helmed by Fernando Di Leo, MADNESS (original Italian title: VACANZE PER UN MASSACRO) seems to have begun life as a project for Mario Gariazzo, who is credited with the original story. Prior to this film, Gariazzo – who is best known to American viewers for the EXORCIST rip-off THE EERIE MIDNIGHT HORROR SHOW and WHITE SLAVE/AMAZONIA (the latter an Empire Pictures pick-up) – had directed the softcore VERY CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE FOURTH KIND and the hardcore giallo PLAY MOTEL for Di Leo’s regular producer Armando Novelli (for whom Gariazzo would later script Robert Bianchi Montero’s hardcore romp EROTIC FLASH). Di Leo had consulted on the screenplay for Gariazzo’s crime film BLOODY HANDS OF THE LAW, and it was presumably Novelli who brought Di Leo onto MADNESS. Since Di Leo also receives screenplay credit, one has to wonder how much Gariazzo’s original concept differs from the final product. Di Leo’s prior film was TO BE TWENTY/AVERE VENT’ANNI which received bad word of mouth upon its initial reception. Viewers expecting a playful romp with Gloria Guida and Lili Carrati instead got a misanthropic survey of middle class predators, corrupt police, greedy gurus, and drop-out hippies in which the only truly sympathetic characters were beaten, raped and murdered during the harrowing groin-punch of a finale. The producers quickly re-edited the film, turning it into a lighter film with some amazingly misogynistic touches introduced in the redubbing (it is this version that served as the basis for the English export which leaves viewers in no way prepared for the director’s cut, both of which are available in a 2-disc set from Raro in Italy and stateside). Possibly as a result of his bitter experience with TO BE TWENTY, Di Leo almost appears to dislike all four of his main characters. Gio is not a misunderstood youth but a cold-blood killer, Sergio is all macho façade but ultimately ineffectual, Paola has no ideals and no loyalties, and even betrayed and bullied Liliana is almost more contemptible than pitiable. The cyclical nature of Paola’s escape attempts and her violent recapturing by Gio seem playful. Di Leo and company may be playing on the ambiguity of whether she invites such treatment, but I think padding was more of a concern than commentary. Liliana’s sudden attraction to Gio is as contrived as Gio’s sudden display of his sensitive side, and the final scene seems more motivated by the need for a dramatic ending freeze frame than one of the characters reaching a breaking point.

Budget seems to have been the primary motivator to pick such a claustrophobic chamber drama of a storyline. Luis Bacalov’s rich score for Di Leo’s CALIBER 9 – a mix of orchestra and progressive rock featuring members of the group Osanna – is recycled here and is often evocative of a loftier project, and more often used to try to engender some audience emotional response to Liliana’s plight or her inexplicable growing attraction to Gio. Di Leo regular Francesco Cuppini’s (THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN) pop art aesthetic has been reduced here to a rustic cottage dominated by a giant, frightening poster of John Travolta. Even cinematographer Enrico Lucidi can only find so many interesting ways of framing the actors within the two rooms in which most of the action is set. Dallesandro is just a pair of bulging eyes without his distinctive voice (although any role might have seemed interesting to him following his bit in KILLER NUN). Behn is the weakest performer, so much so that Macchia manages to make more of an impression in a rather thankless role (back in 1969, Macchia got to play the young seducer of frustrated heroines in Di Leo’s A WRONG WAY TO LOVE and BURN, BOY, BURN). Although he gets to bed both female cast members – one with a shotgun aimed at his groin – I’m betting he probably had more fun getting oiled up by Laura Gemser and Karin Schubert in EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD. De Selle undraped, smirking and constantly batting her eyes at psychopaths is the reason to watch this film. She followed this one up with HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK, CANNIBAL FEROX, a pair of Bruno Mattei/Laura Gemser “Emanuelle in Prison” movies shot back-to-back, and Franco Prosperi's "when animals attack" pic WILD BEASTS (she is now a TV producer).

Raro Video originally released this film under its Italian arm in 2006. The PAL single-layer, non-anamorphic widescreen transfer was framed at 1.66:1 and looked rather rough with a subtle greenish tinge that made the skin tones look rather sickly (especially when it came to close-ups of the fairer-skinned Dallesandro and de Selle). That release had optional English subtitles and no extras (other than the usual director biography, filmography and liner notes booklet). Raro’s single-layer U.S. disc features a brand new high-definition transfer framed at 1.85:1 (and anamorphically-enhanced, of course) and the new transfer features a sharper image, superior colors and contrast, although it’s never going to look as good as Di Leo’s earlier films. The tighter aspect ratio of the new transfer does not hurt the image at all, even in close-ups. The Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is of similar quality to the import. There’s a layer of hiss beneath the dialogue, music and effects, but it becomes less noticeable after a while. The film was apparently never dubbed in English, and the optional English subtitles appear to be the same as those on the import edition. The same text biography and filmography are included (in English), but the liner notes booklet is different from the import. I wrote the new liner notes booklet, so I won’t comment on that extra other than being thankful that Raro Video USA has decided to return to printed glossy booklets after a couple releases with DVD-ROM PDF format liner notes. (Eric Cotenas)