review by Diablo Joe
“Grindhouse.” The term hit the popular vernacular in 2007 as the title of the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino “double feature” love letter to indie exploitation films. Those films came from a bygone and much-missed era when it was about as easy to see a B-movie on the big screen as the latest studio big-name blockbuster.
Flash forward 15 years since that film (and nearly 40 years since the decline of second-run cinema houses), and a group of plucky, inventive filmmakers has used crowdfunding to keep that exploitation tradition of creative independence in full play with their ode to bonkers grindhouse cinema, “Mad Heidi.”
Combining some of the most popular elements of 70’s exploitation, pretty naked women in prison, shower scenes, eye-popping gore, martial arts, and pseudo-Nazis along with a liberal dose of, well, actual cheese, “Mad Heidi” is the tale of an alt-Switzerland crushing under the oppressive thumb of an uber dictator/Swiss cheese magnate president and the beautiful young heroine from the Alps who avenges her family and frees her people. Whew!
Co-directed by Johannes Hartmann and Sandro Klopfstein, with writing assists from Gregory D. Widmer and Trent Haaga, “Mad Heidi” is, as one can imagine, quite the kitchen sink of elements, resulting in a film that doesn’t come close to taking itself seriously. An interview with the filmmakers quotes them as saying they we happy to be making a “silly” film, and in that, they certainly succeeded. “Mad Heidi’s” irreverence (and disregard for political correctness) is in full effect.
But while the film’s goofy sense of humor certainly entertains, a good portion of those going into this self-identified “Swisspoloitation” flick may feel that “Mad Heidi” never quite gets mad enough. The result is a fun picture, but never really thrilling in the way that exploitations classics of old succeeded in being. The action never gets the blood pumping enough, the nudity never quite titillates, and the gore—while bloody and suitably disgusting—is too little and too infrequent. Directors Hartmann and Klopfstein have a terrific visual sense for the vistas and stunning scenery (from cinematography to costumes to production design, “Mad Heidi” is a gorgeous-looking film). Still, their sense of pacing and editing is just slightly off enough to pull the film’s punches a bit. Likewise, the script never entirely goes for broke. It, too, manages to be outrageous, but not too outrageous. Excessive, but not too excessive. Bawdy, but never too bawdy.
The cast, led by Alice Lucy as our titular heroine, has some familiar faces in uber- Aryan-chisel-chinned Casper Van Dein as the villainous President Meile, and “American Werewolf in London’s” David “You made me miss” Schofield as Heidi’s grandfather. Less familiar, but seeming to relish their roles, are Max Rüdlinger as the snarling Kommandant Knorr, Katja Kolm as Fräulein Rottweiler, and the unctuous Pascal Ulli as Dr. Schwitzgebel. All are particularly game for just about anything the film tosses their way. But they, too, often seem reigned in from full-tilt going for it.
This is not to say that “Mad Heidi doesn’t entertain. It certainly does, and with a ton of grand visual panache and visual richness that far exceeds its small budget. One just wishes that its crazy ideas and absurd plot machinations had been pushed a little further and closer to the brink. It’s a fun film, but with a bit more of a kick in the balls, it could truly have the potential to be a classic of modern exploitation. Kudos to the filmmakers for giving us what they did, but let’s hope they do it again, but with a little more caution tossed to the wind!
This devil of a reviewer gives “Mad Heidi” 2.5 out of 5 imps.