Ovidio G. Assonitis’ 1981 horror flick Madhouse (aka And When She Was Bad and There Was a Little Girl and not to be confused with 1974’s Madhouse) is a good-looking but ultimately disappointing genre flick that throws a few interesting ideas around but doesn’t quite know how to fit them all together. But man, does it make a killer opening impression as well as pack in a few unsettling kills. That said, it’s easy to see why the film has its following despite some oddball flaws that keep it from being truly great.
That haunting opening still packs a wallop, though. As a creepy lullaby plays, one young twin gently rocks another in a darkened room before suddenly stopping to smash her in the face with a rock or brick of some sort. It’s definitely jarring, but actually has nothing to do with the film unless it’s meant to set the overall mood.
Yes, we find out that one sister had indeed been incessantly mean to the other throughout their childhood. But it’s Julia (Trish Everly), now a teacher for deaf children who was the victim of her sister Mary’s (Allison Biggers) cruelty. Julia’s got flawless skin and not a scratch on her face or body, but she’s bearing plenty of fears thanks to her sister making her early years a living hell. Given that there’s no mention of her receiving any sort of plastic surgery (she also mentions Mary’s dog used to bite her frequently), that opening seems open to interpretation.
We find out Mary has been hospitalized in some sort of institution and diagnosed with a skin disease of some sort that may or may not be fatal. Yep, she’s the one who’s got the hideous physical scars, but her mental state isn’t exactly tidy either. Shortly after a local priest named Father James (Dennis Roberston) suggests Julia visit Mary, the disfigured twin threatens her sister, manages to escape and yep, a few murders occur on the days leading up to Julia’s birthday. There’s a bit more to all this, but this is a film where revealing too much ruins the fun and it’s also a case where it’s best to go in ice cold not knowing what’s going to transpire.
Of course, going in cold also offers up a bit of protection from the film’s kooky logic gaps (yes, the usual “people doing dopey things in horror flicks” stuff). As the bodies pile up, no one seems to notice the dead people missing from their daily routines and as the film later gathers the corpses together, you’d figure the stench bodies a few days old might be discovered at one key point. But the film presses on, offering up a few quirky characters such as Amantha Beauregard (Edith Ivey) and not-so handyman Mr. Kimura (Jerry Fujikawa, who adopts a pretty lousy “Engrish” speaking accent for his brief part).
The violence and gore aren’t too bad here (the blood is almost watery to a fault), but be warned if you’re a pet person as an angry killer hound gets his with a power drill to the head after bursting through a door like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Then again, the director shows restraint in an earlier scene when one of Julia’s deaf students has a run-in with that pissed off pooch, so I guess it sort of equals out in the end. Of course, a poor kitty gets it good (off-camera) in another scene. But cats seem to be screwed in many horror flicks as unfortunate props unless someone is doing an Edgar Allan Poe homage.
The Bonus features here are pretty nice overall:
Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition presentations
Original Stereo Audio (Uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
Brand new interviews with cast and crew
Alternate opening titles
Theatrical Trailer, newly transferred in HD
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring new writing on the film
The Edith Ivey interview comes off as the best bit as the actress discusses her career and seems happy yet puzzled that this film is being rediscovered. Cinematographer Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli, on the other hand dislikes the film for a few reasons (one of which is he’s a dog owner). Finally, we get a short interview with director Ovidio Assonitis who’s a bit more proud of his baby as you’d figure he would be. Overall, this Madhouse manages to be an average flick at best, but as with any and all horror flicks, your mileage may vary. For me, parts ran out of gas before the bridge went out, but a few surprises got me when they needed to.
Score: B (75%)
Review copy provided by the publisher