Young teacher Julia has spent years trying to break the destructive bond she has always shared with her unbalanced twin, Mary. To do this she severed ties with her sister and tried her hardest to put the trauma Mary caused in their childhood into the past. Julia’s uncle convinces her, against her better judgement, to come and visit Mary in hospital as she’s now gravely ill with a disfiguring condition that will probably kill her. Unlike Julia, Mary has no intentions of letting bygones be bygones and the bitterness and resentment that has festered in her since both women were girls is going to tip over into a murderous rage. Escaping the hospital Mary vows a bloody revenge on Julia for ruining her life simply by being born.
Released in 1981, the Italian-produced and American set Madhouse never made it to the UK during that first run, instead becoming part of the early ‘80s ‘video nasty’ set of films. Director Ovidio Assonitis had quite the career in movies. From co-directing the profitable Exorcist knock-off Beyond the Door to producing Piranha 2 and giving a certain James Cameron his first directing credit, it’s a filmography that leans towards the schlockier end of things. Madhouse at least initially seems to be trying to divert from this trend by presenting as a relatively straight horror thriller. If you’re expecting a slasher film it’s not that, but instead a slow, plodding and humourless movie that’s neither horrific or exciting and for the most part fairly dull. However, there’s two things that help Madhouse not be a total bust and still worth your time.
First the characters are genuinely likeable with Trish Everly as Julia being a winsome lead and a good surrounding cast that means the murders that take place have a real edge to them. The second thing is that Madhouse is slow, plodding and humourless only for the first hour of its runtime. Around that mark it gives in to Italian excess, ditches any pretence at class and with a healthy dose of black humour goes for a suitably over-the-top ending. It’s all the better for this, and makes that opening stretch worth it.
It’s been restored and is in great shape for this release, which also comes with a commentary by The Hysteria Continues podcast team, as well as interviews with cast, crew and Assonitis himself. It’s not a great film, being neither as out-there as the best Italian horror or as gaudy and enjoyable as the best the slasher golden age had to offer. Still, for fans this is a good package and if you’re new to it that ending is pretty damn good.
MADHOUSE / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: OVIDIO G. ASSONITIS / SCREENPLAY: OVIDIO G. ASSONITIS, STEPHEN BLAKELEY, PETER SHEPERD, ROBERTO GANDUS / STARRING: TRISH EVERLY, MICHAEL MACRAE, DENNIS ROBERTSON, ALLISON BIGGERS / RELEASE DATE: 12TH JUNE