Color, 1980, 89m.
Directed by Fernando Di Leo
Starring Joe Dallesandro, Lorraine De Selle, Patrizia Behn, Gianni Macchia
Raro (US R0 NTSC, Italy R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Following the hostile reaction to his original cut of the notorious To Be Twenty, you'd think director Fernando Di Leo would have returned to his beloved urban crime films. Nope! Instead he continued two years later with another volatile mixture of sex and violence, Vacanze per un massacro, retitled for English-speaking video buyers as Madness. Like Di Leo's previous film, it barely played outside Europe and failed to find an American distributor, not even getting an English-dubbed release on VHS. However, its reputation began to spread once the Di Leo renaissance began courtesy of Raro's restored DVD releases in Italy in the early 2000s, and though it took a while, the 2012 American video debut should turn quite a few heads.
Warhol factory muse Joe Dallesandro spent most of the '70s floating around Europe in productions like Flesh for Frankenstein, Blood for Dracula, Black Moon, Serge Gainsbourg's Je t'aime moi non plus, Walerian Borowczyk's The Streetwalker, and even Killer Nun, but few roles were further outside his comfort zone than this one. Here he plays Gio ("Joe," of course), a pitchfork-wielding convict on the run through the Italian countryside trying to get to a cabin where he's hidden his stolen cash. Unfortunately three people are already there on vacation: Sergio (Bloody Friday's Macchia), Liliana (Play Motel's Behn), and her sister, Paola (De Selle). Joe decides to camp out in the shadows and watch while the married couple make love with a naked Paola entertaining herself on a sofa within earshot. (The fact that there's a huge poster of John Travolta in the main room just makes it even weirder.) Of course, later that night Paola makes her move on Sergio, too. When Paola's finally left alone the following afternoon, Joe makes his big entrance and aggressively seduces her, then ties her up to the bed waiting for the couple to return. When they do, Joe decides to engage in some mind games involving infidelity and sadism while Paola tries to figure out a way to grab the money for herself.
Most reviews tend to lump this film in with the many Last House on the Left copies popular in Italy throughout the '70s, though aside from the home invasion aspect, there's really not much of a similarity. Di Leo wisely keeps Dallesandro's dialogue to a bare minimum, and rather perversely, the exhibitionistic actor is the only one who doesn't strip down at numerous intervals during the film. On the other hand, De Selle -- beloved by Eurosleaze fans for her turns in Cannibal Ferox, House on the Edge of the Park, Wild Beasts, and Women's Prison Massacre -- not only spends the majority of her screen time in the buff but delivers a terrific performance as well with a gripping combination of deception, sensuality, and possible insanity. Behn and Macchia have less to do, but they're both effective with what they have. Weirdly, the score credited to the prolific Luis Bacalov is basically ported over from some of Di Leo's previous films, mostly Caliber 9. It's certainly not the most ambitious of Di Leo's films given the fact that it takes place mostly in a single setting and has only four significant characters, but as a twisted chamber piece it delivers the goods with lots of double crosses, sexual mayhem, and of course, a violent climax that paints the walls red.
The first Italian DVD release was decent enough at the time to earn a little attention for this film, though the print looked rather soft and had more than its share of damage. The new HD transfer used for the 2012 American DVD is a significant improvement all around, as it now plays at the correct speed (89 minutes versus the 85 of the PAL one) and looks far more robust. Apart from a little bit of iffy day-for-night photography, the film looks great with earthy but sometimes eye-popping colors and with far less debris on hand as well. The Italian mono track (the only one prepared apparently, apart from a later German dub) is presented here with optional English subtitles, while extras include a director bio and filmography as well as extensive, very informative liner notes by Eric Cotenas, who lays out the basics of the director's background, his relationship with the writer and producer, and the circumstances of all four leading performers. Ignore the generic title; this is a potent, often overlooked little wallow in the nastier end of the Italian cinema pool.