Beware the pseudo-giallo wherein nursery rhymes play a strong role. You'll either get a boatload of hard to follow nonsense, or a headache. But Madhouse isn't really a giallo anyway, I guess, and it's not that bad, either. Director Ovidio Assonitis (Piranha II: The Spawning) cooks up a slow burn (with the emphasis on slow) psycho thriller about twin sisters engaged in a lifelong, bitter rivalry, replete with a little bit of gore, some freakiness, and a killer who tips the scales of irritation. Have a look, won't you?
Julia (one-and-done-er Trish Everly) is dreading her birthday. It reminds her of her insane, hideously deformed twin sister. (If she's hideously deformed, can she really be considered a twin?) It also reminds her of her friend or uncle or something, Father James, (Michael Macrae) the relentlessly positive religious figure who just wants Julia to bridge the gap with her sister Mary (Allison Biggers).
But Julia can hardly even concentrate on her job teaching deaf children, with outsized stereotypes, like her Japanese landlord and others running around. Also a suspicious Rottweiler keeps ripping out peoples' throats, and a shadowy figure chimes in with some stabbing.
Despite these shocking elements, Madhouse spends a lot of time as a talky psychodrama, long on the somewhat inept drama, but really short on the logic. The movie landed on the Video Nasties list for rather illegitimate reasons, which is likely why you've heard of it, but its brutal face-bashing is simplistic, and its throat-rips are aided by puppetry, only a climactic back-hacking is prolonged and gnarly.
Filmed stylishly and often lavishly by Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli, Madhouse also enjoys a strangely evocative score from Riz Ortolani, (Cannibal Holocaust) full of ominous synth bloops and disarming melodies. Assonitis even manages to cobble together a suspenseful sequence or two, amidst all the talky nonsense and strained nursery rhymes. Too bad his climactic sequence is essentially identical to the one on the far more famous, virtually contemporaneous Happy Birthday To Me.
The not infamous Madhouse rides in on another exemplary Arrow 2-disc edition, (Blu-ray and DVD) looking pretty great, sounding rather nice, and packing a few fun extras. If the gore and depravity you're hoping for isn't exactly there, you'll still enjoy a nutty, whacked-out, incomprehensible time. Recommended.
Arrow Video does another great job with an old obscurity that mostly has languished on crummy, rare VHS releases. This restored AVC encoded 1080p transfer in a 2.35:1 ratio comes from the
original 35mm camera negative, scanned in 2K resolution, and lovingly cleaned up for your pleasure.
The image looks pretty great. Detail levels are well defined, mostly, for a film that was likely meant to look at times a bit gauzy and dream-like. Darker scenes sometimes lack definition, but colors are vibrant and saturated. Overall, Madhouse enjoys a great film look with high-definition upgrades.
Audio options are of the LPCM 2.0 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 variety. While the 5.1 track brings a fair bit of dimensionality to the sound design, and extra power to Ortolani's score, the 2.0 mix does just as well. Dialogue is crisp and clean and understandable on both tracks, minus problems concerning distortion and damage.
Extras begin with a Reversible Cover, allowing you to choose between old and new looks. Audio Commentary by 'The Hysteria Continues' consists of two gents from the southern United States, and two British blokes conferencing during the film. It can be a bit awkward at times, and not always focused on the task at hand, but is a fun enough listen overall. Running The Madhouse is a 12 minute interview with actress Edith Ivey, who shares some fun memories of this film and her lengthy career. Framing Fear is a 20 minute interview (subtitled) cinematographer Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli, who does the best work in the film. Ovidio nasty is an entertaining, and at 7 minutes too-short interview with the director, who likely has hours of stories to tell. Rounding things out are the Trailer and an Alternate Opening Sequence which simply features a different title card.
With a smattering of shocking gore elements that needlessly landed the movie on the Video Nasties list, Madhouse spends a lot of time as a talky psychodrama, long on the somewhat inept drama, but really short on the logic.
Filmed stylishly and often lavishly by Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli, Madhouse also enjoys a strangely evocative score from Riz Ortolani, (Cannibal Holocaust) full of ominous synth bloops and disarming melodies. Director Ovidio Assonitis even manages to cobble together a suspenseful sequence or two, amidst all the nonsense and strained use of nursery rhymes. Euro-horror completists will enjoy having a good-looking copy of this movie to enjoy on a late night. Recommended.