It wants to be sleazy, violent, and fun. In practice, it’s dull and exhausting.
The notion of taking a beloved—and, more importantly, public domain—work of children’s literature and transforming it into a trashy exploitation film is not a new one—consider the likes of 1971’s The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio (featuring the immortal tag line “It’s Not His Nose That Grows”) or the surprisingly charming 1977 softcore musical take on Cinderella. Now, hot on the heels of such recent takes on this subgenre as Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey and The Mean One comes Mad Heidi, a self-described “Swissploitation” epic that uses Johanna Spyri’s classic tale of a little girl living with her grandfather in the mountains of Switzerland as the vague springboard for a tiresome piece of prefab camp that makes one long for the comparative quiet dignity and masterful cinematic craft of Uwe Boll.
The titular Heidi (Alice Lucy) still lives in the mountains with her grandfather (David Schofield), but that is about the only thing Mad Heidi has in common with its source material. Its Switzerland is ruled by the malevolent President Meili (Casper Van Dien), a brutish cheesemaker who forces the populace to consume his inferior dairy goods and imposes the death penalty on those who suffer from lactose intolerance. Heidi is far removed from all this, preferring to gambol in the haystacks with her lover, Goat Peter (Kel Matsena), a black-market dealer of pure goat cheese. But one awful day, Goat Peter and Grandfather are murdered by Melli’s right-hand man, the vile Kommandant Knorr (Max Rudlinger), and Heidi is thrown into a prison camp.
After the requisite assaults by prisoners and jailers alike, group shower scenes, and all-cheese meals, Heidi breaks out of confinement and heads to the hills. There, aided by the spirits of Helvetian warriors, she learns how to focus her considerable rage and train herself to be a one-woman killing machine, a la Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. And just in time, as Meili is just about to try and take over the world with his new Ultra Swiss cheese, which mutates its consumers into mindless zombies that can be further transformed into super-soldiers. It all builds to a conclusion involving plenty of people being torn apart, gallons of patently fake CGI gore, and lots of literal and metaphorical cheese.
As mentioned at the top, Mad Heidi was crowdfunded, and I can see how the basic pitch might have sounded amusing. Alas, what might have come across as reasonably funny in pitch or the made-for-meming trailer proves intolerable stretched out to 90 minutes. Co-directors Johannes Hartmann and Sandro Klopfstein aim to pay homage to infamous trash movie purveyors Troma Films with an over-the-top litany of cut-rate gore, cut-short outfits, and jokes that aim for maximum offensiveness more than genuine wit.
This is not necessarily a bad thing in the right hands—I firmly believe that every true film fan should see at least one Troma film (which will be more than enough for most viewers), but the results can be excruciating in the wrong ones.
Mad Heidi’s screenplay is little more than a collection of scatological gags, cheese jokes, references to much better movies that you could be watching (including direct allusions to Starship Troopers and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!), and action cliches. It has almost nothing to do with its source material—indeed, with its madman trying to control the world via processed consumer goods, it has more in common with the Bob & Doug McKenzie classic Strange Brew than anything else. Hartmann and Klopfstein unfold events at a poky pace, one that slows to a crawl to take in the cheapo gore effects (including one hapless guy being tortured with fondue before having a giant Toblerone shoved down his throat) and never establish the proper comic tone. In the title role, Lucy is bland throughout—even when she rips out groins—while Van Dien tries and fails to channel Udo Kier.
The problem with Mad Heidi isn’t that it’s trash—it’s that it’s cut-rate trash that tries way too hard without being near as wild or as provocative as it seems to think it is. Even with a rowdy midnight movie-loving crowd, I’d wager most folks watching Mad Heidi will see the end credits as a mercy.
Mad Heidi is available now on demand.