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Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/13/2017
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/31/2017
The 80s saw a lot of unusual trends -- leg warmers, big hair, Flashdance sweaters, yuppies -- just to name a few. One of the more obscure fads saw horror films which were shot in America by European crews. These low-budget features often incorporated locations in the United States in order to make the concept more believable (which usually didn't help) and to lend the movie a feeling of being more expensive. Lucio Fulci incorporated this approach into movies like Zombie and The Beyond, and we also saw this with Cannibal Apocalypse and Cannibal Holocaust. (Keep those cannibals in your own country, please!) Greek filmmaker Ovidio G. Assonitis jumped on board with the Savannah lensed Madhouse, a movie which can't decide what it wants to be.
Julia (Trish Everly) has a pretty-good life. She loves her job as a teacher at a school for the deaf, and she's date Sam (Michael MacRae), a doctor. She has a spacious apartment, which is located in an old, dilapidated building. Julie has attempted to put her past behind her, but this changes when she gets a call from her Uncle James (Dennis Robertson), a priest. James informs Julia that her twin sister, Mary (Allison Biggers), is quite ill, and has been hospitalized due to a disease which has caused facial deformities. Julia visits Mary, but things donít go well and she is reminded of how Mary tormented her as a child, typically using a vicious dog. Following this, Julia learns that Mary has escaped from the hospital. Julia attempts to live her life normally, but this is difficult when those around her begin to disappear.
I like to think that Iíve got a good working knowledge of European horror movies from the 1980s, but until I got this movie for review, Iíd never heard of Madhouse. (Even the 2008 DVD release from Dark Sky didnít look familiar.) I was even more surprised to learn that the movie was on the notorious ďVideo NastyĒ list which was published by the British government in the 80s. I would have to assume that this distinction has garnered the film some attention over the years and caused a certain segment of the audience to seek it out. Letís go ahead and address this notion. Does the movie deserve the ďVideo NastyĒ moniker? (Was any movie worthy of that distinction?) Not really, there is some mild violence here and there, but nothing truly grisly and the movie doesnít have the mean-spirited tone which can be found in some ďVideo NastiesĒ. The most disturbing moments here involve the dog attacks. The movie certainly lingers on the dog attacks and it borders on bizarre as the shots of throats being torn out just keep going.
Outside of that, Madhouse is an odd movie. Based on the cover art and the synopsis Iíd read, I assumed that this was going to be more of a supernatural movie. However, itís simply another 80s slasher film (more on that in a minute). The script is all over the place. In theory, Julia could have had any job, as her occupation has no bearing on the story here. However, the film goes out of its way to show Julia working with the children and doing sign language. And yet, the movie lacks detail in nearly every other department. The film has a charming lead in Trish Everly, and itís very surprising that this is only thing in which she ever appeared. Not only is she easy on the eyes, I thought that she did a good job of carrying the film. There are a few moments of suspense and one truly creepy shot, but the second half of the movie is quite redundant.
And then we have the finale. Two things happen in the filmís ending. First of all, the ending mirrors the revelation seen in another slasher film released in 1981. I wonít say which one, as it will give away the ending of Madhouse. The movies were made so close together that one canít call copycat on this, but itís still weird. The second thing about the ending is that...well...the movie either has no idea how to end, or it truly doesnít care. The person behind what is happening to Julia is exposed, but thatís it. The movie ends with this quote from George Bernard Shaw: "...life differs from the play only in this...it has no plot, all is vague, desultory, unconnected till the curtain drops with the mystery unsolved..."
What? Are you serious? Madhouse would have never been a good movie, but a stronger ending certainly would have helped. As it stands, the movie feels like a lot of other Euro-horror films from this era -- itís got an attractive lead, some violent moments, and an impenetrable story. It will certainly appeal to foreign completists out there.
Madhouse shows how cruel European movies can be on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Arrow Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing just a hint of grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. It's obvious that someone put some work into this transfer, as it certainly doesn't look like a 36-year old movie. The level of detail is good and the picture has a nice amount of depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The music offers some noticeable bass effects, especially during the chase sequences. And while the dialogue is always sharp, and we get some decent stereo effects, the surround effects are very quiet.
The Madhouse Blu-ray Disc contains a few extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from The Hysteria Continues. "Running the Madhouse" (13 minutes) is an modern-day interview with actress Edith Ivey who discusses her career and her work on Madhouse. Likewise, in "Framing Fear" (20 minutes) we get a modern-day interview with Cinematographer Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli who takes us through his career. We then hear from Director Ovidio G. Assonitia in "Ovidio Nasty" (8 minutes). The "Alternative Opening Titles" (3 minutes) are essentially the same, except that they feature the title "There Was a Little Girl". The final extra is the TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long