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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by BA_Harrison 7 / 10

Not deserving of its 'nasty' label.

Madhouse stars Trish Everly as Julia Sullivan, a teacher at a school for the deaf, whose hideously disfigured and sadistic twin sister, Mary, resides in a nearby mental hospital. Four days before Trish's birthday, Mary escapes in order to arrange a special party for her unsuspecting sister...

In the United Kingdom in the 1980s, movies released on home video became the target of a hate campaign led by Britain's über-vigilant defenders of moral decency: the press, bored housewives, and Conservative politicians. As a result, a list was compiled of the films they deemed to be most offensive; these titles became known as 'Video Nasties' and were seized from shops before they had a chance to work their evil influence on an unsuspecting public.

Ovidio G. Assonitis's Madhouse was one such 'nasty'.

Featuring a bloodthirsty rottweiler, a frenzied axe attack that reduces the victim's back to a bloody pulp, and a messy canine lobotomy by electric drill, it quickly found itself added to the list of titles most likely to corrupt and deprave. It didn't matter much to the moral crusaders that the film was also a well-crafted psychological chiller that delivered plenty of atmosphere, memorable performances, and some lovely cinematography; no... this film featured a dog receiving a drill-bit between the eyes, and we can't have people watching that kind of stuff, can we?

Two decades on, and Madhouse is now available uncut on DVD; it seems that the people of the UK have since developed to a stage where they are able to handle such horror without it turning them into murderous lunatics (either that, or the authorities have actually realised they were wrong and the film was never that disturbing in the first place). Oh well, better late than never, I suppose...

Ironically, Assonitis's film is perhaps a little too slow and lacking in gore for today's casual horror viewer, but for seasoned fans of the genre, it offers plenty to enjoy: there's the mystery of the identity of a second killer (not too hard to guess, but fun nevertheless); a great OTT performance from Dennis Robertson as Father James, Trish's nursery-rhyme singing uncle; a likable heroine; a brief performance from Morgan Hart as very tasty, blonde rottweiler fodder, Helen; and a ghoulish final scene that is remarkably similar to that of a Canadian slasher, Happy Birthday To Me (who stole from whom is debatable, since both films were released in the same year).

Reviewed by wkduffy 8 / 10

No Accounting For Taste

Taste—and what it reveals about a person--is a funny thing. For example, there are flicks I simply like, regardless of what others say, regardless of critical reviews. In fact, all of us have favorites that might not hold much sway with the general public. In these films, there may be stupendously bad acting, scenery, costumes, sets, and narrative—but nevertheless there's something "ineffable" about them that jibes with our personal tastes and personal aesthetic in some inexplicable way. We just LIKE them, even though those around us say we have no taste at all. (I hear this a lot.)

So, a strange taste-related revelation occurred to me recently as I watched the UK R2 DVD release of "Madhouse" (aka "There Was A Little Girl"—a MUCH better title, by the way). As I watched, I thought to myself, "Sure the 'Crazy Deformed Twin Sister is Going to Kill Me' plot is derivative, but it is nicely composed. As I watched, I also thought the photography was carefully done, with good use of colors, and nice use of the scope format. The mood was unbearably somber and tense. The denouement was appropriate, and I jumped accordingly at a few spots. Finally, I wondered to myself, 'Who made this film?' As I turned the DVD box over to find out, I saw…

Ovidio Assonitis! And that's when I realized my tastes were somehow inextricably linked to this director/producer and his aesthetic. Just about every knockoff horror film he has made in his career, I simply love, love, LOVE! Beyond the Door (Exorcist Clone), The Visitor (an Omen Clone], Tentacoli (Jaws Clone), Who Saw Her Die?—though my friends shake their heads in disbelief, I have that same taste-related, inexplicable, unwilling gut-reaction to all these films: I like this! I like the way it is photographed. I like the pace. I like the way the plot rolls out—or the way the plot disappears entirely in some cases. I like the characterizations, the effects. I like the outrageousness of some of the scenes. The music works just right. I just like his films. Ovidio Assonitis is all-right by me! Not surprisingly, known as the "Rip-Off King," Assonitis is railed against hither and thither. Even those who are appreciative of his films feel obliged to say things like, "You know, it wasn't so bad," or "It wasn't as horrible as I thought it might be" (just look at some of the reviews right here).

But I think I just discovered that I am an unabashed Ovidio-junkie. He makes the perfectly derivative, low-budget (but nevertheless big-minded, carefully-made, professionally shot) crap I absolutely adore. On the surface, the films are nothing but a cash-in on whatever is trendy at the time. No one disputes that. But these films all saw major theatrical release because, simply put, they are extremely well-made, seriously photographed, professionally acted and scored flicks. They take what they do seriously, even though it's all been done before (and with bigger budgets). These films are great products, including "Madhouse." The UK DVD is also impressive and it shows Ovidio at his film-cloning best. As I mentioned, a great use of the scope format; nice authenticity of settings and background actors (the female protagonist who is being stalked by her deformed twin sis works in a school for the deaf, and real deaf-kid-actors are used to incredible effect in the film); nice use of colors; a nutsy ending. Hey maybe, I'll start an Ovidio Fan Club. In the meantime, though, check this out.

And, by the way, when the heck is Ovidio's apocalyptic "The Visitor" (Lance Hendricksen, John Huston, Shelly Winters) ever going to see the light of day on DVD?

Reviewed by ferbs54 7 / 10

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary....

Not to be confused with the 1974 Vincent Price/Peter Cushing movie entitled "Madhouse" (a fun, underrated film, by the way) and certainly not with the 1990 John Larroquette/Kirstie Alley comedy sporting that same name, the 1981 Italian horror outing called "Madhouse" is another story entirely. I say that the film IS Italian, although the average viewer might never realize it. Despite being an Italian production, with an Italian crew and composer, the picture was shot in English, features an American cast, and was filmed in Savannah, Georgia, although the filmmakers could certainly have included more of that city's picturesque charm, had they chosen to do so.

In this film (perhaps inspired by Brian De Palma's 1973 classic "Sisters"), the viewer makes the acquaintance of a very pretty redhead named Julia Sullivan (very well played by Trish Everly). A teacher at a school for the deaf, Julia is thrown into something of a tizzy when she learns, a few days before her 25th birthday, that her twin sister Mary has just escaped from the hospital/sanitarium where she had been ensconced for the past seven years. "It's not the dead that scare's the living," Julia remarks early on, and with good reason, as it turns out! Although her hunky doctor boyfriend, Sam (played by Michael MacRae), and her uncle, a priest named Father James (memorably portrayed by Dennis Robertson), don't believe her, she is convinced that Mary, and a killer dog who she has long been the master of, are responsible for some of the horrible things that begin to transpire around her. And as future events prove, Julia is only partially correct in this surmise....

Suspenseful and at times shocking, "Madhouse" is well named (the title is much more appropriate than the two other names this film has sported: "And When She Was Bad" and "There Was a Little Girl"), featuring as it does some truly sick and twisted characters. OK, I'm going to spoil things a tad for those who haven't seen the film by revealing that Mary DOES have an accomplice (besides that killer dog!) in her wrongdoing, and the revelation of this character truly is startling. The film dishes out any number of violent set pieces, including three throat-ripping canine attacks (the one in which a cute little deaf kid is murdered is mercifully not shown on screen) and three truly surprising homicides via knife. But surely, the scene that most gorehounds will appreciate the most is the one in which Sam goes up against that killer dog armed "only" with an electric power drill! The house where Julia resides is a beautiful old mansion that is in the process of being renovated, its only other occupant being Julia's ditzy landlady, and this darkened, unfinished abode is a suitable backdrop for some truly maniacal goings-on, culminating in one of the grisliest birthday parties ever shown on film. Director Ovidio G. Assonitis, whose work on the 1974 Devil possession flick "Beyond the Door" had recently impressed me, and who others might appreciate as the director of the 1977 "Jaws" rip-off "Tentacles," does a good job here of ratcheting up the suspense, while composer Riz Ortolani, whose work on such gialli as "Don't Torture a Duckling" and "Seven Deaths in a Cat's Eye" was so integral, provides still another memorable score. Here, the lullaby "Rock A Bye Baby," backed by gorgeous strings, is used to good effect, while electronic bleeps and echoes in other spots add greatly to the eeriness on screen. But best of all, perhaps, is Trish Everly herself, a truly photogenic actress with a winning screen presence. How odd that "Madhouse" seems to be Ms. Everly's only film appearance. With her super good looks and fine acting chops, a career would have seemed least, as a so-called "scream queen." Wonder what ever happened to her....

The further good news regarding "Madhouse" is that it now can be had on DVD from the always reliable folks at Dark Sky, with an excellent-looking print and some fine extras. In one, director Assonitis is interviewed in 2008; if only I could understand more than half of what he is saying! If I'm reading the man correctly, he seems to feel that his best film will always be his next one, and that he is not content with the way ANY of his pictures has turned out. He might be a little too harsh in his dismissal of "Madhouse," however. Despite its low budget, the film is a fairly gripping and memorable affair. I learned on my last birthday that my credit card had been hacked for $1,000, but I cannot imagine a birthday worse than the one poor Julia goes through in "Madhouse"....

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