Directed by Fernando Di Leo , a man better known for his work in the Italian crime movie cycle of the seventies than for his horror movie output, Madness stars Warhol alumni Joe Dallesandro as Joe Brezzi, an escaped convict on the lam in rural Italy after killing two people. All he wants to do is make it back to the cabin where he stashed his loot so that he can escape off to a wealthy life somewhere remote, but when he arrives he finds that three people have rented the place for a vacation. The inhabitants a man named Sergio (Gianni Macchia), his girlfriend Liliana (Patrizia Behn) and her sister, Paola (Lorraine De Selle) and although Joe knows they're there, he decides to wait it out a bit, watching Sergio and Liliana make love and then later seeing Paola make herself available to Sergio as well. When Sergio and Liliana head out, Paola is left alone and it's then that Joe decides to make his way into the cabin where he promptly ties her up and holds her hostage.
When Liliana and Sergio return to the cabin, Joe surprises them and soon winds up with three hostages... two of whom are rather attractive females ripe for the plucking. Joe decides to help himself, much to the dismay of all involved, while Paola figures out why he's there and tries to figure out a way to not only make it out alive, but with Joe's loot too.
While the film, as far as its basic plot structure is concerned, has much in common with home invasion movies like Last House On The Left and Last House On The Beach Di Leo's movie has a surprisingly small cast of only four principal players and only one main location. As such, it almost feels like some bizarre stage production as it is in many ways quite minimalist. Luis Bacalov contributes a pretty decent score to the movie but it doesn't really do much to class it up (it will also sound very familiar to fans of Di Leo's crime films!) and the film definitely retains its low budget exploitation feel throughout. Di Leo was never one to shy away from on screen depictions of sex and violence, sometimes both at the same time, in movies like To Be Twenty and Milano Caliber 9 and in Madness he doesn't try to hold anything back in that regard.
In the center of all of this nastiness is Joe Dallesandro, better known for his work with Andy Warhol than anything else but at this point in his career he was popping up in European films fairly often. Never the world's most emotive actor or one with a whole lot of range, Di Leo wisely chooses not to give him a whole lot of dialogue, instead letting him use his body language and interesting features to do the work for him. For the most part it works, though the real reason to watch this one is for the beautiful Lorraine De Selle. Infamous for her part in Cannibal Ferox and The House On The Edge Of The Park, her fans know she's a pretty daring actress and her work in this film continues that tradition. She's not only naked for most of the movie but also pretty convincing in her role. Macchia and Behn are fine in their roles - Behn also gets naked a bit here - but their roles aren't as big in the film, and the one that you'll walk away from remembering this time around is De Selle.
Ultimately this isn't Di Leo's best picture but it is a pretty interesting one that takes some themes and ideas that we've seen in other, similar movies and does a few interesting things with them. The story moves at a good pace and contains enough surprises and twists that, if nothing else, it's good, sleazy entertainment.
Raro Video presents Madness on DVD in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (a very obvious improvement over Raro's previous PAL disc) which boasts very good color reproduction and strong black levels. Detail is pretty strong throughout and there are no problems with compression artifacts or heavy edge enhancement. Skin tones sometimes look just a tiny bit warm but other than that, this is a pretty strong effort that leaves little room for complaint.
A Dolby Digital Mono track is offered up in Italian with optional subtitles in English. The track sounds good and offers clean dialogue and properly balanced levels. The score has some nice bounce to it and the performers are mixed in nicely with the music and effects. Of course range is limited by the original elements but there's not much to concern yourself with - the movie sounds just fine for what it is.
As far as the extras go, we get a director biography and filmography as well as a solid set of liner notes from writer Eric Cotenas, who provides some welcome contextual information for the film and does a nice job offering up some background information on it. Menus and chapter stops are also included.
Madness may not bring anything new to the horror movie game in terms of storytelling or plot devices but Di Leo's touch does give this one some serious grit. If it borrows a little bit from other similar films, so be it - the unique cast and solid direction definitely make it worth a look. Raro's DVD looks very good and sounds just fine, and even if it's pretty light on extras, comes recommended for fans of Italian horror films.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.