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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Caroline Phillips 8 / 10

Fun Southern-lensed Italian thriller

Madhouse is thematically (and sometimes visually) similar to the Canadian slasher Happy Birthday To Me, but it goes about telling its story of sibling slashing in a very different way.

Shot in Georgia, but using an Italian creative team, Madhouse has a strange sense of time and place. Where is this exactly? It it in the past? Is it now? It's one of those things you'll only get when you mix and match crews and locations like this.

The acting from lead Trish Everly is quite good and she makes for a sympathetic heroine who just wants to be left alone by her sociopathic, deformed sister who just escaped from a loony bin and has brought her vicious dog with her.

At this point, pretty much everyone in our heroine's life is fodder for her sister's knife blade and dog's sharp teeth, which leads to some very creepy moments of victims wandering around a spooky Georgia mansion and getting picked off one by one. It all culminates in the nastiest corpse birthday party since...well, Happy Birthday To Me. The ending even got a real jolt out of me.

If I had any complaints, it would be that the reveal of a 2nd killer mid way through the film is accompanied by a lifeless, suspense-free chase scene that goes on far too long. It's also at that point that the film becomes a bit too campy due to both the killer and victim's performances.

The visuals are stunning, the music score is super weird, and there's enough gore to satisfy gore hounds, but not turn off more sophisticated viewers. Definitely worth your time!

Reviewed by gavin6942 6 / 10

Hyped-Up Italian Horror Film, Not Shocking

Julia, a teacher in a school for the deaf, has a hideously deformed and deranged twin sister that resides in the local loony bin. She escapes to gate-crash a surprise birthday party for Julia. Sort of like "Halloween", but not exactly. This is more like the left-handed, red-headed little step-cousin through marriage. That is to say, a much lesser breed. (Some have gone so far as to call it a ripoff of "Happy Birthday to Me", but that is unfair.)

In the world of Italian horror, the name Ovidio G. Assonitis doesn't get floated around much. I mean, did you ever see the "Jaws" ripoff "Tentacles"? The one where Shelley Winters wears the giant hat? If you have seen one of Assonitis' films, it was most likely one of these two. And even then, it was probably on accident unless you searched "Madhouse" out for being on the Video Nasties list.

Critic Jim Harper's analysis of this film is well-stated. Harper describes the film, aside from the notorious dog scene (which is not as shocking as you may think), as "not quite so interesting". He deems that the movie "can't be considered a total failure", which is a bit of a forced compliment. Really, the plot is not much to work with, and the only thing that distinguishes this film from other Italian films of the same period is the superior video quality (which looked great in 2008 and looks even better in 2017 thanks to the Arrow 2K restoration).

Harper understates the score of Riz Ortolani as "annoying". While annoying is an accurate summary, this doesn't really highlight the full extent of its inanity. What you will hear is an odd group of space sounds that would fit perfectly on an Atari game, such as "Asteroids", but has no place in a movie of this kind -- or maybe any kind. What is called "music" is little more than sound effects poorly strung together. This is a shame as Riz Ortolani was also the composer of "Mondo Cane" and "Cannibal Holocaust", among many others, so he can clearly do better.

Fans and collectors of Italian horror or slashers will take delight in watching this one. Yes, it is poorly scripted, low budget and comes with minimal plot. But, frankly, this is something that makes the slasher film enjoyable. If this is what you're looking for, give "Madhouse" (or "There Was a Little Girl", as it is sometimes called) a try. If you're looking for superior horror fare or a positive introduction to Italian horror, this is not it. Try some Fulci or Argento from this period first.

The Arrow Blu-ray features audio commentary with Justin Kerswell, author of "The Slasher Movie Book", and his friends. We have a new interview with actress Edith Ivey (who recounts the way the director had to direct through an interpreter). There is also a new 18-minute interview with cinematographer Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli, who may perhaps be the one who knew the director best. And, surprise, a brief interview with Ovidio Assonitis himself (and his English is actually very good). The only thing missing is a chat with the lead actress (Trish Everly), who never appeared in anything else before or since. Where is she?

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 ├╝ber-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).

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