Following an abstract moment of a woman being brutalised, we're introduced to pretty Victoria (Ellen Abrahamson). She seems happy enough, but her narration - which continues throughout the film - soon reveals how she was raped and starved by her parents as a child. Inevitably, this led to her leaving home later in life ... and falling straight into prostitution, followed by substance abuse.
All of which leads her straight into the clutches of a group of strangers determined to test her limits of physical endurance. Some people are just unlucky, it seems.
The remainder of MADNESS OF MANY is difficult to synopsise as it eschews linear storytelling formats and instead favours disturbing vignettes which allow for, in quick fashion, ritualistic torture a la MARTYRS, a whole load of non-simulated self-enforced vomiting and some surprisingly adept gore effects (these include a graphic decapitation, a decimated face, some bloody eye-gouging and a nifty slicing open of one victim's stomach).
Danish filmmaker Juhl was 22 when he completed MADNESS OF MANY. Shot on a budget of 30,000 Danish Krone (a little over £3,000.00; just shy of $4,500.00), the film often looks a lot more accomplished than perhaps it has any right to. Kudos to the sparse yet striking set designs, along with Kuhl and Torben Greve’s carefully considered cinematography. All-but drained of colour and self-consciously dark (tonally, and literally), the stark images employed throughout possess a knack for getting beneath the viewer’s skin.
Another asset is Juhl’s special effects work, which is often alarming in its gory conviction. Abrahamson and her fellow victims are certainly put through the wringer by their faceless assailants. As mentioned above, the puking is genuine, lending the film a whiff of Lucifer Valentine’s fetishist extremism. Though to write this off as a rip-off of the VOMIT GORE trilogy would be doing its artistic aspirations a disservice.
Narrative is an obvious weakness. Working within a virtually plotless framework, MADNESS OF MANY's nonfigurative passages of violence are scarcely held together by four chapter headings ("Birth", "Between Two Kingdoms", "The Darkness Within", "Rebirth") and Abrahamson’s inscrutable voiceover. Her portentous musings include the likes of "pain and suffering expands my consciousness to find peace", or mouthing "I am nothing" into the screen as she’s being physically assaulted. What works for someone like punk poet Lydia Lunch (I'm thinking THE RIGHT SIDE OF MY BRAIN here) becomes a little cringe-inducing here: we get a lot of bluster philosophising about the worth(lessness) of being, while searching for a veracity to existence.
The barrage of torture, justified through the narration as a means to self-discovery, encourages further echoes of MARTYRS - as does the sparse torture chamber suffered by Abrahamson in the film's later scenes. But whereas MARTYRS had some substance, it's a struggle to identify a similar level of gravitas here.
Does Abrahamson attain spiritual enlightenment? Well, that question is arguably answered but in terms of film-reading it remains difficult to say, as her character isn’t developed enough to warrant an arc.
Despite its shortcomings there’s plenty of potential here which suggests that, should Juhl ever be given a decent budget to play with (and a decent script!), he could produce something special.
As it stands, MADNESS OF MANY is an audacious, arty and graphic - not to mention challenging - 73-minute piece of cinema.
Unearthed Films have released MADNESS OF MANY uncensored onto region-free DVD.
The film is presented in what I think is 2.20:1 (the box says 2.35:1 but it looks a tad wider) and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The look, as mentioned above, is very deliberate and as a result the transfer shouldn't be lambasted simply for being accurate. True, the colours are muted and a lot of scenes have a drab, dulled vibe to them - it's all intentional. Likewise the blown-out latter scenes where Abrahamson looks to be lit up by main headlights. Images are sharp, noise is absent and framing is perfect: there's nothing to moan about.
English audio comes in its original 2.0 mix and is consistently good throughout: clear, clean and free from unwelcome drop-outs or hissing for the duration.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, an animated scene selection menu provides access to the film by way of 12 chapters.
The only bonus feature relating to the main feature is a really worthy commentary track from Juhl. He points out the moments of actors' improvisation and explains his desire to make an abstract, experimental film. He sounds a little like Jorg Buttgereit, and has an excellent command of the English language - despite adding a disclaimer at the start warning of his accent. He reveals which scenes were shot in his apartment (as well as telling us he's actually recording the commentary track on the very settee we're seeing in the film), and expands on much of the symbolism contained within. Oh, and we learn about the perils of shooting in a haunted hospital! This is a well-considered, genuinely informative commentary track - one of the best examples of such that I've heard in some time.
Unearthed have also stacked the disc with a plethora of enticing trailers. As well as the original 44-second preview for MADNESS OF MANY, we get trailers for 100 TEARS, FLOWERS, VISCERAL: BETWEEN THE ROPES OF MADNESS, AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: BOUQUET OF GUTS AND GORE, WHERE THE DEAD GO TO DIE, COLLAR, REVENGE IS HER MIDDLE NAME, MY DEMON WITHIN, THANATAMORPHOSE, HATE CRIME, MORRIS COUNTY, SHEEP SKIN, NECROPHILE PASSION and FAIM DE MORT TRILOGY. Phew!
Vomit, gore, nudity, pretentious narration, non-linear plotting, oppressive Coil-esque soundscapes ... MADNESS OF MANY is really well-shot and exhibits a lot of talent, especially from its young director, but the real draw here is watching to see how the undoubtedly gifted Juhl improves with the benefit of experience.
MADNESS OF MANY is served very well on Unearthed Films' DVD.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Unearthed Films|
|see main review|