Heat of Madness (Harry Wuest, 1966)

posted in: Duane, Review | 0
A reclusive smut photographer and a naïve young girl meet and soon decide to marry. When the young lady tries to help her new fiancée land a job at a prestigious advertising firm, tensions mount as the man chooses to take a job shooting sordid rape/murder scenarios for a local scumbag instead. Soon he shows his true colors as he is embroiled in his work ever deeper, slowly twisting his mind into a sex-crazed psychopath with mommy issues.
COSDS-Heat-of-Madness00003This fairly tame roughie from director Harry Wuest (She Mob) doesn’t have a ton going for it. It’s slow-paced, filmed in only a handful of locations, and isn’t nearly as sleazy or violent as the tagline makes it out to be (not that that should come as any surprise with this type of film). Underneath the façade of titties and socially awkward dialogue there seems to be a couple underlying themes that are subtly nudged toward the viewer. One of them being violence in media and the effect on the human psyche, the other being how having a fucked up childhood can contribute to sociopathic disorders later in life. Perhaps I’m reaching, but the film really stresses the fact that John (the aforementioned smut photographer) is becoming more and more obsessed with his work, and it’s wearing on his mind and twisting it into some sort of crazed sex lunatic simply from being exposed to the material he’s tasked with creating. Said material is fairly strong, being scenarios of violence towards women and other heinous acts (including bondage, torture, and murder). None of this is very graphically portrayed unfortunately; there are a few sets of titties on display from some fairly mediocre looking girls, some alright 60s-era attire (stockings, heels etc. for those with an affinity for that sort of thing), and the violence is pretty mild. Even the whipping and bondage scenes are quite limp-wristed.
The character of Susan (John’s girl) is quite painfully ignorant to John’s true nature despite him descending deeper and deeper into madness, which smacks of an almost misogynistic despondency on the part of the filmmakers. Despite how poorly John treats Susan, she is always willing to give him another chance; blaming him being overworked, exhausted, etc. for his actions rather than seeing him for the twisted deviant he is slowly becoming. To further the misogynistic theme, John at one point laments that his father took him to a prostitute when he was a teenager, somehow making it seem like it was the woman’s fault that he is now an awkward loser living in a run-down tenement studio. More comments about his mother being a horrible person help hammer this point home further. Whether the film is trying to explore nature vs. nurture in human behavior or that it’s trying to blame violent sexual imagery for all of society’s ills (or both) is uncertain. What is clear is the film’s poor pacing that admittedly does at times contain some sense of dread and managed to hold my interest reasonably well, playing out like some sort of strange amalgam of Psycho and Peeping Tom (although nowhere even close to the caliber of those films).
Heat of Madness is a bit of an anomaly as far as 60s sexploiters go, as it’s clearly trying to be something much deeper and thought-provoking. Those expecting a sleaze-fest will have to be patient and content with some very softcore nudity and violence and will likely be disappointed.
Official COSDS Nunspank Rating:
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Duane co-founded The Church of Splatter-Day Saints in 2005. When not immersed in film he's enjoying good whiskey, smoking meat in the backyard or thinking about sluts. He makes a damn fine habanero fire sauce.

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