I have no idea what category to place Madelaine: Anatomy of a Nightmare of a nightmare into and that’s great. It resists buckets, it avoids categories, it detests convention.
Madeleine (Camille Keaton) is a young American woman who is vacationing for the summer at one of the many homes of her much older, much richer an much Frencher husband Dr. Franz Shuman (Silvano Tranquilli, So Sweet, So Dead). Every night, she dreams the same dream, one of women with multiple colored hair chasing her through the woods and demanding to live through her, which may be a manifestation of the miscarriage she’s just suffered. Then, they lead her to the wrecked car with her husband’s charred body inside and then the coven throws the a child’s coffin into the inferno.
Franz permits his wife to do whatever she wishes, including bringing home a college student named Thomas (Pier Maria Rossi) home to seduce (while he watches, his eye inside the eye of a portrait of his son Luis, who is played by Riccardo Salvino). She mentions that Franz studies both psychology and the occult; Franz mentions that she’s probably schitzophrenic, to which she adds that she feels as if someone else controls her.
Thomas confesses that he has a girlfriend and can no longer see Madeleine. She coldly invites im to a gathering at their home to celebrate Luis returning from America. Thomas’s girlfriend Mary (Paola Senatore, Eaten Alive!, Emanuelle in America) who proceeds to gets drunk, strip in front of the assembled guests and writhe like a possessed animal. Both Mary and Franz take turns seducing her, followed by Thomas discovering Franz just as he’s finished. In response, he walks into the swimming pool and drowns.
In response, Madeleine leaves Franz and meets with her other lover Antonio (Gualtiero Rispoli) and their canoodling is interrupted by her husband, who makes her confess her many affairs, causing Antonio to abandon her and Franz to shoot her.
If a giallo/possession/art/ghost/demonic movie can have a Wizard of Oz twist, why not? Luis, Thomas and Franz are all watching over Madeleine in a hospital. Luis is truly her husband, Mary was her nurse and Franz and Thomas are the psychiatrists who have been trying to help her.
Se’s left with crystal clear therapy, their Night Killer-level weird therapy session seemingly fixing her mental illness. As she leaves with Luis, she literally breaks the credits by loudly proclaiming that Franz is her husband.
Directed and written by Roberto Mauri and featuring gorgeous cinematography by Carlo Carlini (Enter the Devil, Street Law, Autopsy), it’s easy to see why this was Keaton’s favorite of the six films that she made in Italy. I may have a weakness for movies where women go mad, but this is a wonderful example of that story, told well, looking gorgeous and filled with moments of unexplained strangeness, such as when the butler sees something at the edge of the estate, recoils in horror and wanders back to the house.