The experience of Fernando Di Leo’s 1980 film, Madness (Vacanze per un Massacro), only confirms what we’ve known all along, that Di Leo was the master of the Italian crime picture. So deserving is Di Leo of our constant attention and unwavering devotion that the release of Madness on DVD marks the eighth Di Leo film released in North America by RaroVideo USA. In fact, so insistent is Raro that we rightly recognize Di Leo’s greatness, that this is the third Di Leo release from Raro in 2012 alone, after the Di Leo-penned Young Violent Dangerous (1976) and the absolute must-own Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection Blu-ray set. I, for one, hear what they are saying, and I am writing this in kind to spread the good word, the word of Fernando Di Leo and an explosive little film called Madness.
Madness stars Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey protege Joe Dallesandro as Gio, a prison escapee who returns to a small house in the Italian countryside to retrieve the 300 million Lira he had buried there before his incarceration. In his efforts to uncover the loot, Gio comes to rely on the aid of the home’s current owner, the lascivious Sergio, as well as Sergio’s wife Lilian and her sister Paola (who happens to be Sergio’s mistress). The encounter between Gio and this trio quickly spirals out of control as sadistic mind games and rape lead inevitably to bloodshed.
The film clocks in at a shockingly fast-paced 90 minutes– shocking, I say, when you consider how the film’s centralized setting might have very well caused the film to drag had in the hands of anyone but a Di Leo. Madness indeed features a surplus of sexual content, including the aforementioned rape, but it’s actually quite tastefully handled, all told, especially given the otherwise disturbingly sadistic nature of the overall piece. Perhaps the candid realism of the film’s violence and sexuality makes such tastefulness in sadism possible, but then again, perhaps the credit should go to John Travolta. You see, the house in which the film takes place prominently features posters of Marlon Brando and John Travolta above the sofa in the main room. The Travolta poster receives as much screen time as any of the central performers, I dare say, and his large, leering visage somehow ultimately lends the film a surreal, otherworldly air in spite of its realism. This creates an atmosphere in which anything goes, and go it does indeed as these unlikely housemates plot and screw their way through to the film’s deliciously frantic and well-deserved denouement.
Raro’s DVD release of Madness, available August 14th, 2012, features a vibrant, richly-textured HD transfer of the film accompanied by “new and improved” English subtitles (having never seen the film prior to this release, I cannot speak to the improved quality of the subtitles, I’m afraid). Special features on the release are unfortunately limited to a text biography of Di Leo and a Di Leo filmography. Fortunately, the DVD also comes packaged with an 11-page booklet that prominently features an essay by Eric Cotenas of CineVentures Blog. The essay provides an incredibly thorough history and analysis of the film’s production book-ended by brief looks at Di Leo’s work before and after Madness. The booklet also redundantly includes a Di Leo filmography on the back cover and a doubly-redundant biography of Di Leo within.