The Maddening (1996) **
D: Danny Huston
C: Burt Reynolds, Angie Dickinson, Mia Sara, Brian Wimmer, William Hickey, Josh Mostel, Candace Huston
Plot Synopsis: After an argument with her husband, a mom drives cross country to her sister's home with her daughter in tow. Along the way, they encounter a family known as the Scudders' after their car breaks down. However, the Scudders' aren't your everyday family. They're a group of mentally disturbed individuals with violent tendencies.
Review: In The Maddening, there's a scene in which Mia Sara's character gets out of her car. She's greeted by Georgina, as played by Angie Dickinson. Almost immediately, something seems off as Georgina keeps referring to Sara's character as a long, lost family member. One of the things that stands out about this scene is that Dickinson's character is obviously disturbed, yet you feel sorry for her. This is a woman who has been so traumatized by the past that she has retreated into her own make believe world.
Most other actresses would have gone the obvious route and played this character as a straight forward psycho. Dickinson, on the other hand, finds the humanity in this character which makes her performance all the more effective. It's moments like this, where the actors are allowed to develop the psychology behind their characters, that shows what The Maddening was capable of.
However, it gets too easily bogged down by Southern, Gothic horror elements and the more obvious elements associated with this sub-genre. You have William Hickey in the background doing his spinster thing. He's there strictly to add some additional name value to the cast and to laugh every once in a while in a macabre sort of way. Candace Huston plays an evil little girl. She plays with her dollies and is outfitted in various flower dresses, but whenever they need to amp up the horror, they have Huston scream & holler in a demented sort of way. Even poor Burt Reynolds & Mia Sara become props. Sara isn't so much a character, but someone that runs around helplessly while the score pulls out all the bells & whistles (unnecessarily) to let us know that bad things are going down. As for Reynolds, he is reduced to running around after Sara's character in a threatening manner while spitting out the occasional one liner in either a Southern or Cajun accent. They couldn't have gotten either Chucky or Jason for this?
To summarize things, Mia Sara & Burt Reynolds play the material in a straight forward manner. Angie Dickinson tries to interject some depth into the proceedings, but her screen time is limited. William Hickey & Candace Huston go for the theatrics in one contrived situation after another. All of this leaves things at a crossroads.
It's hard to enjoy The Maddening as strictly trash entertainment, because Dickinson's performance shows that this is capable of something nuanced and meaningful. On the other hand, you can never take it seriously, because they give into ridiculous scenarios and obvious clichés. As a result, this is bound to please no one, a lose-lose situation for both those involved and the viewer. [R] 95 minutes.
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