Dark Sky Films // 1981 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // November 25th, 2008
Julia thinks she lives alone. She doesn't.
Julia (Trish Everly) has a pretty good life. She's in a rewarding career, working with deaf children, she's dating a cute but clueless doctor, and she has enough friends and quirky acquaintances to keep things interesting. The only bane in this otherwise pleasant existence? Julia also has an evil twin sister, Mary (Allison Biggers), who tormented her throughout their childhood. Mary's been locked away in a hospital, and Julia hasn't seen her in seven years, but their uncle, Father James (Dennis Robertson, Dark Night of the Scarecrow) pushes Julia to visit.
She does. Bad move. Mary's still crazy, and she's got one of those made-for-bad-horror-movies disfiguring skin diseases, so she's all pocky looking. "We're identical twins," claims Julia. Not anymore, sweetie.
Mary's savagery always came full force on the girls' birthday, and guess what's coming up in a mere five days? To mark the occasion, Mary escapes from the hospital and somehow gets a vicious dog to accompany her on a killing spree.
Soon, Julia's friends and acquaintances are turning up dead -- actually, they're not "turning up" at all. It seems that Mary is saving the bodies for something. Hint: At least one send off ends with the victim being told, "You'll be another guest at our party!"
If Madhouse were actually as macabre as its creators intended it to be, it would have been a kick-ass cult movie. Instead, it's just another ho-hum '80's horror that hopscotches wildly from style to style, with varying quality.
Originally called "There Was a Little Girl" -- the title that appears on screen here -- Madhouse was on the infamous "Video Nasties" list of films banned in the UK. That list has always been questionable, at best, and the inclusion of Madhouse makes precious little sense. The violence is ridiculously phony-looking -- a "vicious" dog attacking an obvious mannequin covered in chop meat, an axe hacking that produces a single spurt of blood while a character chop-chop-chops what looks like a rare rib eye, a disfiguring ailment that makes someone's face look like a pot roast. The whole thing could have been underwritten by Omaha Steaks.
Triple threat (writer/producer/director) Ovidio G. Assinitis is the culprit here. Assonitis was one of the great exploitation/rip-off artists of the '70s and '80s, most famous for Beyond the Door -- a clone of The Exorcist -- and Tentacles, which was Jaws with an octopus. I don't know everything that is being riffed here, though pieces of Madhouse seem lifted whole from other, better movies, such as Halloween and Sisters.
The script sounds as if it were written in another language and then translated literally into English. Characters speak constantly, often to say things that are completely unnecessary. At one point, Julia has a lengthy conversation with her cat about what a long day she's had. Transitions and exposition are dealt with so artlessly, I don't know why Assinitis didn't just use title cards.
According to IMDb, this is the only acting credit for Trish Everly, who plays Julia. She does a credible job here and she's beautiful, to boot, so I don't know why there were no other roles. She actually stands out here as the only actor who's not an embarrassment. As the deformed and evil Mary, Allison Biggers hisses her lines and cackles like she's doing the Wicked Witch of the West for children's theater. Dennis Robertson vacillates between under the radar and over the top and, as Julia's boyfriend, Michael MacRae is as stiff as a $10 porn star, and even has the 'stache and sideburns of a grindhouse vet.
Some things work. When Assinitis simply focuses on making this a suspenseful tale, he gets good results. Riz Ortolani provides a genuinely creepy score. There's a finale that goes on far too long, but still offers an enjoyably twisted set piece.
Dark Sky gives us a reasonably good looking and sound disc. The picture's a bit soft in spots, and there are a few nicks and scratches, but nothing distracting. The audio is solid, and there are (thankfully) subtitles. Besides a stills gallery, the only extra is a weird, rambling, but entertaining monologue by Assonitis on his career and the making of Madhouse.
Little touches of audacity notwithstanding, Madhouse ends up being a mediocre chiller with some unintentional laughs. Dark Sky's presentation is decent and about what the film deserves.
If you're working your way through the famous "Video Nasties" list, you'll probably want to check out Madhouse. You'll also probably find yourself wondering why there was any fuss at all.
Guilty, though not as pleasurable as it should be.
Review content copyright © 2008 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interview with Ovidio G. Assonitis