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Madonna: A Case of Blood Ambition

1990, Starring Deborah Mansy, Jamieson Boulanger, Gordon Day, Pascale Devigne, Eli Godel. Directed by Alain Zaloum.

Oh, pity the in-a-rush video store patron who unwittingly grabbed this cash-strapped Montreal-shot thriller instead of the concert video Madonna: Blond Ambition. When a film basically has to trick you into renting it, you know you're in for grand disappointment, and this collaboration between Canadian cinematographer Roger Racine and American ex-porn producer Jack Bravman is no exception. But don't bother looking for any blondes in bustiers, this is a tepid Fatal Attraction retread with a dark-haired homewrecker hastily slapped together for the post-tax shelter era.

The debut production from Racine and Bravman, Madonna: A Case of Blood Ambition is one of two genre films the pair made based on the work of horror co-authors Harriette Vidal and Ed Kelleher. It appears the two filmmakers, though from opposite sides of the border, hit it off on the set of the Montreal-shot Zombie Nightmare and then collaborated on Bravman's follow-up Night of the Dribbler. With Racine then shifting to the production side to allow his son Christian to take over DOP duties, they purchased the rights to Vidal and Kelleher's novels Madonna and The School, the latter of which became their barely superior 1991 release, Voodoo Dolls.

As relatively tame and bloodless as Voodoo Dolls is, Madonna: A Case of Blood Ambition somehow manages to be even less thrilling by the time the end credits role. Supervising a commercial photo shoot, bored advertising exec Richard Bloch (Eric Kramer) is immediately taken with a new model/actress Laura (Deborah Mansy). Telling his wife and kids he's working late, Richard begins seeing a lot of the new girl, apparently under the spell of her aggressive sexuality--she invites him to lunch at a strip club and, later, after pulling him into a hip nightclub, leads him to the backroom for a few minutes of passion.

With a marriage already on the rocks and a blind eye to Laura's increasingly alarming quirks, it's safe to say that Richard's in way over his head. When pushed for details of where he spends his evenings, Richard becomes petulant with his family and eventually moves in to Laura's lush apartment, which is decorated with a curious amount of religious art. But puppy love sometimes has sharp teeth and it's bad news for Richard when private investigator Wingate (Gordon Day) traces the incidents of a recent murder of a real estate-selling sugar daddy back to former fling Laura--real name Francesca Madonna Leone--and stumbles on a pattern of butchered beaus that indicate she's more than just your average material girl.

Until it reveals the largely guessable twist ending, Madonna: A Case of Blood Ambition is a slog, detailing Richard's sleazy self-destruction in tandem with Wingate's slow-as-molasses investigation. Like Fatal Attraction's cheating charmer Dan Gallagher, but completely unlikable and far, far dumber, Richard is a problematic hero right from the beginning, when we learn he only married his wife because he got her pregnant at a young age. Despite friendly warnings from his family, friends and co-workers, Richard is hell bent on staying with Laura, lashing out at any criticisms and going out of his way to bully his family. Even when Laura's sexual games turn sadistic and she becomes increasingly unhinged, Richard remains creepily devoted, prancing around her apartment in an unflattering robe. I don't doubt that people really act like this, but it's hard to generate any real sympathy for Richard, whose ill-considered choices are his and his alone.

Though Racine and Bravman had been involved in far less morally scrupulous productions, their run of VHS-era films, including Madonna: A Case of Blood Ambition, seem to be curiously shy of both blood and boobs. Like Voodoo Dolls, the film is littered with references to Catholicism--even in the title--and perhaps this again played a role in suppressing the exploitable elements on display. Could it be that Racine, who originally shot maple syrup porn classic Après-ski (1971), had a late-life religious epiphany? Whatever the reason, it's interesting that comparable Canadian erotic thrillers like Whispers (1989), A Whisper to a Scream (1989) and even Killer Image (1992) managed to deliver some of the thrills expected from the the genre, enticing VHS renters despite their tiny budgets.

Directed by first-timer Alain Zaloum with all the flair of a soap commercial, Madonna: A Case of Blood Ambition didn't receive much distribution in North America except at the most indiscriminating video stores. Like Voodoo Dolls, it was picked up by the tiny New Jersey-based VHS label Atlas Entertainment Corporation, which somehow came to specialize in largely unseen Canuxploitation, including Blood Symbol, Fireballs, Streets of Vengeance and the Bravman-produced Mind Benders.

In all, this "erotic thriller" is basically neither of those things in the end. The few renters that stumbled on a tape of Madonna: A Case of Blood Ambition probably wish they hadn't touched it for the very first time.

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