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Though sold as sexploitation when originally released to the grindhouses way back in 1966, Heat of Madness is, despite its occasional nudity, more of a brooding psychological melodrama -- detailing how a young man's sexual loathing steers him headfirst into S&M and murder -- than a standard Sixties' sex film. Those looking for a mindless skin parade would best look elsewhere, but the more adventurous viewer will enjoy being dragged into the unsavory undertow of this dark obscurity....
Though seemingly normal Jonathan Wheelwright (KEVIN SCOTT) is in a seemingly normal relationship with his rich fiancée Susan (JENNIFER LLAIRD), the poor guy's got a few screws loose. Despite being a photographer who specializes in shooting nudes, Jonathan is remarkably uptight when it comes to sex: 'My father took me to a whorehouse when I was nineteen... I vomited.' He even pulls away from Susan when things get too passionate and whines like a disgusted little girl: 'It's not right! Not till we're married!'
All that changes, however, when Jonathan is hired to shoot the stills illustrating a book called Famous Sex Murders. Hiring actors rather than models, and staging scenes 'just like little moving pictures,' Jonathan's soon running around shooting mock robberies, break-ins, whippings, and assaults including, rather hilariously, beating up a little old lady on a stairwell. And -- surprise, surprise -- all that fake violence starts to get to him. So much so that when he has Susan pose for a photo as a murder victim, complete with protruding knife, cold-fish Jonathan actually gets so turned-on that he starts to attack her: 'Those pictures! All the violence and rape and murder....'
But he really goes bonkers when he ties up a model he thinks looks like his mother, then hallucinates that she's actually Susan. Worse, before he even realizes it, he stabs her to death: 'That's the pose... Now hold it... Don't move....'
Surprisingly bleak and despairing -- made more so by the complete absence of background music -- Heat of Madness is the cinematic equivalent of cutting one's wrist. (There's also something downright perverse in marketing this film to the lonely middle aged men that made up the skinflick audience of the Sixties.) Fortunately, the mood is somewhat lightened with appearances by nudie vet JUNE ROBERTS (My Brother's Wife) who senses Jonathan's a whacko, and DIANE CONTI, the charmingly scary star of Teenage Gang Debs. Oddly, Heat of Madness is one of the few films released in the Sixties by distributor WILLIAM MISHKIN that has inexplicably survived -- Something Weird actually has the original 35mm negative -- while most of the company's other features (including many early Andy Milligans) are, as of this writing, apparently lost.
So go ahead. 'Hit me... Hit me!... Hit me!!!'-- Frank Henenlotter
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Starring: June Roberts
Co-starring: Kevin Scott
Other cast: Jennifer Llaird, Alan Wylie, Barbara Ward, John Burke
Directed by: Harry Wuest