... aka: Follia! (Madness!)
... aka: Vom Wahnsinn besessen (Possessed by Madness)
Made by adult film director Vincent and cast with porno actors in most of the lead roles, this bleak, depressing, low-budget and apparently polarizing psychological drama / horror flick was briefly ushered out to a theater or two before reaching its final destination on a video store shelf courtesy of Republic Pictures. Deranged at least played at the Criterion Center in New York City prior to its VHS release, which garnered it a review in the widely-read New York Times. In her review, critic Caryn James took a rather snooty, moralistic approach in her evaluation; attempting to undermine the movie by pointing out the porn connections over and over again. In case that didn't work, she called it “conspicuously cheap,” complained that “most of the movie takes place on a single set” and concluded that it was a “...sleazy, muddled movie that should have been kept in the can.” Many genre critics also didn't seem impressed. Rick Sullivan of the Gore Gazette referred to the director as a “scumbucket” and panned it for being like “an off-Broadway play” and containing too many “dull monologs and useless flashbacks.” Even the usually-reliable Michael Weldon of Psychotronic (a rare critic I typically agree with) called it a “disturbing Repulsion copy” that's “pretty unwatchable.”
While there's admittedly a smidgen of truth to what all of the above have to say, there's also a blatant disregard for recognizing the good where it is clearly present and none of the above complaints really ruined this movie for me personally. Sure it borrows rather heavily from Repulsion (same basic plot, same setting, some of the same symbolism and elements of surrealism), but it ultimately does enough of its own unusual and interesting things to differentiate itself. And sure it's primarily filmed on one set and often resembles a stage play, but who says that's necessarily a bad thing? As far as it being cheap, sleazy, disturbing, muddled, etc., all of those are present and accounted for to one degree or another but there's far more to this film than that.
As Deranged opens, mentally-unstable Joyce (Jane Hamilton aka Veronica Hart) and her bitchy, sarcastic half-sister Maryann (Jennifer Delora) drop Joyce's husband Frank (Paul Siederman aka Jerry Butler) off at the airport. He's going to be away on business for an entire month in London, leaving the frail and very pregnant Joyce in the care of her less-than-nurturing family. Maryann takes Joyce to have dinner with her extremely snooty, social climber mother Sheila (Jill Cumer), which turns out to be a surprise baby shower. Through all of this, Joyce keeps seeing things (like a razor-wielding minister in a mirror) and hearing various voices in her head; her disapproving mother's voice, her sister's voice, her husband's voice, her own voice / conscience... After the party, she's dropped off at home, where she's attacked by a masked man clad in black, who stomps on her stomach and smacks her around. She manages to kill him by gouging out his eye with a pair of scissors, but miscarries due to the attack, which sends her even deeper into her own psychosis.
Instead of calling the cops and going to the hospital, Joyce hides the attacker's body under a table, puts a pillow under her shirt so she still looks pregnant and holes up inside her apartment acting as if nothing has happened. From then on out, we get a mix of nightmarish delusions, flashback scenes and scenes of what's really taking place in the present day all blended together in a rather unusual way. Instead of fade outs and scenes being set elsewhere, Joyce actually interacts with everything that's going on both in reality and in her own mind inside her apartment. Sometimes the present day scenes and the flashbacks take place in the very same scene; often times even in the same shot! Though this sounds like it may be confusing, it's not. Vincent and cinematographer Larry Revene do a rather inspired and fluid job choreographing all of the action. Many tracking shots are used to prowl around the small, claustrophobic set, with the camera often panning from the kitchen through the living room into the bathroom or bedroom on the other side and back again. There are many long, unbroken shots in the film, but the performers manage to pull these off and they're done so well most viewers won't even notice there's been no cut.
We learn a great deal about the troubled main character through all of these scenes and what we learn certainly explains her current mental state. Joyce's beloved millionaire father Eugene (Jamie Gillis) slit his own throat open, which may have been prompted (at least in part) by her mother carrying on an affair with a guy named Darren (John Brett), who's Maryann's real father. After discovering her dad's body in the bathtub, Joyce is accused of murdering him by some family members after she inherits the bulks of his money. That's when the voices first start, which lead Joyce to drop out of college, seek therapy and then hook up with “Brooklyn bum” / tennis instructor Frank; a union her mother is strongly against because she thinks he's a gold-digger only after her money. After the two sneak off to Vegas to marry, Joyce reveals her pregnancy to Frank. He angrily suggests she get an abortion, which may be because he's actually in love / having an affair with Maryann. All of that - plus a dash of incest - have caused Joyce to become unstable and extremely paranoid about the true intentions of most of the people in her life.
While she's busy reliving her various traumas, Joyce lets her apartment go to hell; allowing a faucet to overflow, leaving out food to rot and forgetting to pick up everything she knocks over. The burglar's dead body begins stinking up the place to the point where her neighbors start complaining so she stuffs it in a closet. Joyce is sporadically visited by both Maryann and hunky deli deliveryman Nick (Gary Goldman), who just so happens to be attracted to pregnant women, and fields nosy phone calls from her nagging, awful mother. There are a few murders, imagined zombies appear and things are capped off with an ambiguous ending that is extremely annoying yet works as a way to make us question what we've already seen from Joyce's vantage point.
Aside from the consistently interesting direction and camerawork, this also has a decent screenplay from Craig Horrall and an effective score from Bill Heller, which is a mixture of haunting synthesizer and lullaby music plus distorted sounds of glass breaking, moaning, heartbeats, etc. The primary cast are all pretty good but this proves to be Hamilton / Hart's show all the way and she is truly impressive here playing an extremely difficult role that most big name Hollywood stars wouldn't have been able to pull off. Vincent also produced and did the art direction; the latter under the alias "Marc Ubell." Fellow adult film director Lem Amero was the casting director.
Sadly, Vincent, Horrall and Amero were all dead by 1991 from AIDS, so we're unlikely to ever learn much about the making of this film. It's not even on DVD but absolutely deserves to be. The same team also made the very entertaining BAD BLOOD (1989).