Johannes Hartmann’s Mad Heidi, starring Alice Lucy, is the world’s first Swissploitation film, and it better not be the last.
When Johanna Spyri’s Heidi was first published in 1880, many described it as a “book for children and those who love children.” The story of a girl and her grandfather in the Alps would go on to sell more than 50 million copies, becoming one of the best-selling titles of both Swiss and children’s literature. If that legacy of childhood wonder and coming-of-age holds special significance to you, you may want to adjust your expectations for Mad Heidi.
The first glimpse of the film was a poster depicting the central heroine holding a bloody halberd amidst a pile of dismembered Swiss soldiers. The crowdfunding trailer featured glimpses of violent spectacle that included “fondue-boarding” and a man being stabbed through the head with a Toblerone chocolate bar. The film proclaims itself as “Swissploitation” and shows its pride in that label every step of the way.
A dark tale of cheese-themed dystopia.
The bones of the original novel are all here. Heidi (Alice Lucy) lives with her grandfather (David Schofield) in the Swiss Alps. Goat herder Peter (Kel Matsena) is in the mix, as is the frail Klara Sesemann (Almar G. Sato). But the tranquil Switzerland of the novel is now a fascist dictatorship led by cheese magnate President Meili (Casper Van Dien with an amusingly inconsistent accent) and Kommandant Knorr (Max Rüdlinger). When the government’s attempt to snuff out dissidents and the lactose intolerant hits close to home, Heidi becomes a one-woman army on a quest for bloody vengeance.
Director Johannes Hartmann doesn’t pull any punches with his taste for excess. Mad Heidi overflows with gore and cheese puns so gratuitous, it’s curious these characters don’t bleed milk. Traditional production and distribution avenues would have forced the filmmakers to tone the film down. Instead, they turned to crowdfunding to secure a $2 million budget, ensuring both creative freedom and the time and hype to build the right audience. Exploitation isn’t as booming a film genre as it once was, so turning to unconventional marketing only makes sense.
The bottom line.
Mad Heidi is destined to be divisive. There’s no real way around that. But Hartmann is so clearly passionate it’s difficult to not be moved even if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t enjoy movies where people get sliced into charcuterie. And the cast and crew are clearly just as excited as their director. The film boasts special effects significantly better than Hollywood productions with ten times the budget. Lucy is clearly having an absolute blast as the title character. And even minor supporting roles chew scenery like Bond villains on a casting call. Even if you hate what Mad Heidi is trying to do, it’s hard to not admire the gusto with which it does it.
Of course, that’s just for the naysayers. Anyone who has ever found joy in an exploitation film will react to Mad Heidi like a child reacts to Christmas morning. And that’s a big part of the film’s magic. It knows exactly what it is and who it’s for and it never pretends to be anything else. We’d be lucky to have more films that do the same and be fully themselves.
Mad Heidi is available now on home video and VOD. Watch the trailer here.
Images courtesy of Swissploitation Films. Read more articles by Brogan Luke Bouwhuis here.
MAD HEIDI - 8/10