Reviewer: Jeffrey M Anderson
Ratings (out of five): **
Fernando Di Leo was a kind of mad genius in the Italian sub-movie industry, starting as a writer for Spaghetti Westerns and moving up to directing a series of astounding crime movies. Raro Video has been slowly unleashing a good many of these in the past couple of years, and many of them are very much worth looking into, especially for exploitation fans. Sadly, Madness (1980) is not one of them.
Forgoing any of the twisty plots and unbelievable action of his earlier films, Madness focuses on a handful of characters and stays mostly in one place. Joe Dallesandro stars as "Joe," an escaped killer who runs around the countryside in a tank top. Apparently, he buried some stolen loot under a fireplace in a country house. He wishes to dig it up, but unfortunately, Sergio (Gianni Macchia), Sergio's wife Liliana (Patrizia Behn), and Liliana's sister Paola (Lorraine De Selle) are staying there for the weekend.
Di Leo asks us to believe three bizarre things in order for this movie to work. He begins the movie with Joe brutally killing two men, without hesitation, just for looking at him sideways. Then we're asked to believe that he would patiently wait for his chance to get into this house, put up with all kinds of escape attempts, etc., without even thinking of killing the two women and the wimpy husband. Joe already has two bodies to his name... what difference would three more make?
So after spying on the house for pretty much an entire day, Joe chooses to enter when the sexy Paola is alone. Joe knows that Paola is having an affair with her sister's husband, though for some reason, Sergio has gone out hunting, even though he knows he would have had a chance to be alone with his mistress. This is the second bizarre thing Di Leo asks us to believe. Meanwhile, the frustrated Paolo wanders around the kitchen, wearing only what looks like a tablecloth. (Various parts of her are on view as the thin cloth flaps around.)
Joe makes Paola sit in a chair while he digs for the treasure. She starts flirting seductively, and then seems totally surprised when he eventually pounces on her. Though she protests, and the act turns more or less into rape, it ends with the two lying together, Paola sighing, "You were a good lover." What?
This, by the way, is the third bizarre thing Di Leo asks us to believe.
Other than the ridiculous plot and character behavior, Di Leo does create an interesting atmosphere in Madness, using a portable radio located in the house as the source of his music. Italian pop songs suddenly turn from innocuous to deadly as they underscore the action. Likewise, the open-air feel of the vacation house clashes nicely with the violence; additionally, a smiling poster of John Travolta hangs on the wall throughout most of the scenes (a second poster of Marlon Brando hangs next to it, but usually out of frame).
Additionally, the movie does have a satisfying ending, and of course, there's copious nudity for exploitation hounds. But those looking for a good movie should check out other Di Leo titles (start with Caliber 9 and The Italian Connection). Raro's DVD is of typically high quality with good subtitles. Extras include a director biography and filmography, and a liner notes booklet with an essay on the film.
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