Sunday, May 29, 2011

Madness (1994)

Original title: Gli occhi dentro

An eye-obsessed serial killer terrorizes Italy. The black-masked murderer seems to have moulded himself after the hero of a comic book, Doctor Death - pagan professor by day, serial killer by night. Parts of the public, incited by the media campaign of journalist Calligari (Fausto Lombardi), seem all too willing to ban the book (in the hope that the killer's so lacking in creativity he's going to stop killing, one suspects).

The book's artist Giovanna Dei (Monica Seller) and her writer and would-be boyfriend Nico Mannelli (Gabriele Gori) are of two minds on how to handle the situation. Giovanna isn't willing to let unproven accusations stop her art, while Nico'd like to end the comic and just forget everything.

Giovanna's situation becomes even more difficult when the cop investigating the serial killings (Antonio Zequila) starts sniffing around her for no reasons he deigns to explain. Soon enough, there's a good reason for the man's interest, though - the killer sends Giovanna rambling answering machine messages, and a pair of eyes, freshly cut out. Is it just a really inappropriate demonstration of love towards his creator, or does the killer have plans for Giovanna's eyes too?

The usual story when people speak of Bruno Mattei's works after the divorce from Claudio Fragasso (I do at least imagine the end of their creative partnership as a divorce, with long and hard discussions about who gets which of the children's heads) is that Mattei's films afterwards fastly lost the peculiar charm of insanity and absurdity his work together with Fragasso had, and became the kind of bad movies that are bad enough to bore, but not bad enough to entertain an audience. For much of Mattei's creative life after Fragasso, this view might even hold true - I frankly haven't seen enough of the director's output of the 90s and 00s to have an honest opinion on that, but a film like Madness suggests a somewhat different story.

Madness is not a film carrying the "all shoddiness, all insanity, all the time" flag of Mattei's co-operations with Fragasso. It is instead a film of two halves. One half - quite sensationally - is a perfectly competent, happily generic giallo that is as good as what was left of Italian genre filmmaking in 1994 allowed, with some reasonably stylish filmmaking, and a sprightly little plot that might make little sense, but hangs together well enough inside the established rules of the film's genre. As someone mostly used to Mattei in his role as purveyor of crap, I was quite surprised to realize that he could be a director willing and able to pull off solid genre entertainment on an obviously miniscule budget when the stars aligned right (though at least his first cooperation with Fragasso, The Other Hell did hint at that from time to time).

The film's other half is quite a bit more like what you'd expect from Mattei at the height of his non-powers, driving actors to ruinous and strange performances that don't just make any sense psychologically, and hardly have anything to do with humanity as we know it from outside Italian movies at all, ignoring even the most basic sense of how things work in reality. When it's time for the film to lose it, it truly loses it completely, with cops acting not just improbable but completely illogical, the worst murder that's supposed to be suicide ever, red herrings that make no sense and still don't confuse the viewers etc. and so on. Some of the actors are giving their all in this respect, too. Especially Antonio Zequila's (with great help from his dubbing actor) cop is a bunch of laughs a minute, frequently rambling complete nonsense, talking to the killer ("you bastard!") when he's alone, and mangling every line he has to deliver with a perfectly strange mixture of long, inconvenient pauses and freakish emphasises, as if it were his job alone to drag down every scene he's in from the realm of the slightly silly into that of the mind-breaking ridiculous. It's quite something to see, really.

Of course, I would have wished for Mattei to decide on one tone for the film, whichever of the two he preferred. However, even in this confused state, Madness makes for an entertaining ninety minutes. At least, it's never boring for even a second.


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