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Mad Heidi (18)
Director: Johannes Hartmann and Sandro Klopfstein
Screenplay: Johannes Hartmann, Sandro Klopfstein, Gregory D Widmer
Starring: Alice Lucy, Max Rudlinger, Casper Van Dien
Review: RJ Bland
If Swissploitation isn't a sub-genre that you're familiar with, it's for a very valid reason. Namely, it hasn't really existed until now. It's not that there aren't any movies being made in Switzerland. It's just that they tend to be rather laid back, pastoral affairs and there haven't really been any that have made an impression on the international stage. In terms of horror, this central European's biggest contribution to the horror genre is arguably H. R. Giger, the artist who helped create perhaps the most memorable monster the big screen has ever seen; the xenomorph. But a crowdfunded project has been simmering away for a few years now with the potential to change all that. Johannes Hartmann and Sandro Klopfstein have been developing Mad Heidi for a while but it has now finally been unleashed unto the world. With a serene alpine backdrop, dirdndl's galore, lashings of cheese and a (very) loose connection to one of Swiss literature's most beloved characters, it feels about as Swissploitation as you're ever going to get.
Since losing her parents when she was very young, twenty-something Heidi (Alice Lucy) has been living in the mountains of Switzerland with her grandfather (David Schofield). Her life is easy-going and blissful and she spends lazy days with her dashing boyfriend, the wonderfully named Goat Peter (Kel Matsena). However, this idyllic existence is destroyed in a moment. You see, the Switzerland that Heidi lives in is not the Switzerland as we know it today. No siree. In this world, it is controlled by a despotic President called Meili (Casper Van Dien). He's also a cheese-maker (yes, really) and pushes his Swiss cheese agenda onto his citizens, ruthlessly hunting down and killing those who are lactose-intolerant(!). No other cheese is allowed to be sold either, so when Goat Peter is caught dealing in goats' cheese, he is murdered by the regime in front of his girlfriend. Heidi tries to escape but is captured by Meili's sadistic henchmen Kommandant Knorr (Max Rudlinger) and sent to a prison camp run by a woman named Rottweiler (Katja Kolm). She's obviously not a barrel of laughs. Here, Heidi plots her escape and better yet, her revenge...
A quick look at the listings of your local cinema will no doubt turn up the same uninspiring smorgasbord of comic book fare, Disney live-action, computer game adaptations and the 9th or 10th part of long running franchises (yeah, we're looking at you Fast X). Sanitised cinema is here to stay it seems. Gone are the days of seedy little picture houses showing stuff a little bit more coarse and sordid. Depsite Tarantino's efforts, grindhouse has never really returned but there are exceptions - and Mad Heidi is a bloody enjoyable one.
You want prison fights? You got it. People's heads exploding? Yeah that's there. Characters brutalising each other with cheese? Uhuh. Snappy one-liners and preposterously over-the-top characters? Check! It's difficult not to enjoy the sheer energy of the film and it's dedication to delivering as much gore and corn as you can swallow. The heightened world this film operates in means that nothing is off the table and devotees of splatter and silliness will have a blast. Admittedly at times it threatens to stray into bad taste territory, however it generally walks that line just fine and stays on the right side of exploitative.
Despite the grindhouse aspirations, Mad Heidi is actually a rather good looking film. It eschews the choppiness and crudeness one might expect in favour of some rather vivid cinematography, a crisp colour palette and some competent editing. It's a rather accomplished film from a technical perspective in fact and truth be told, if the film-makers had tried to make this film look like a grainy sleazy 70s flick it might have been a bit too kitsch. The spaghetti-western score fits perfectly too. It's B-movie exploitation through a modern lens as opposed to some attempt at hazy nostalgia and it works for the most part. It may be lowbrow but there is an ambition behind Mad Heidi that is hard not to be impressed by.
The cast are all tip-top too. Alice Lucy is clearly having a lot of fun as our titular hero, especially in the second half of the film where she looks resplendent in traditional Swiss dress and mostly spends her time kicking ass. And boy does she look good doing it. The quality of the cast in general is another reason that the film works as well as it does. And although you cannot take any of Mad Heidi seriously, most of the actors are playing their parts dead straight, which juxtaposes so well with what is a ludicrous plot. Apart from Casper Van Dien that is, who gives a delightfully overripe performance as Meile, the dictator who runs Switzerland with an iron fist.
Of course, if you aren't into OTT troma-esque fare then you won't get much from any of this. It's not sophisticated, it's not doing anything original and there are no huge surprises from a narrative point of view. But if you just want 90 minutes of titillation and undemanding action then this is a slice of Swiss cheese that you'll enjoy.
Imagine a mad B-movie mash-up of The Sound of Music and Kill Bill and you'll end up with something like this. Whilst it's not going to appeal to more discerning viewers, it offers more than enough action and charm to delight grindhouse fans.
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