Madhouse (1981) Review

Having never seen or even heard of Madhouse I was very unsure what to expect but from its extremely creepy titles where we hear a nursery rhyme recited by a young girl who we see rocking a doll in a chair which she then smashes its face in, I knew I was in for a treat.

Originally titled There Was a Little Girl but also known as And When She Was Bad both names based on the children’s poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow the film was rebranded for VHS as Madhouse probably to sell more copies.

Interestingly this Italian horror’s other two names speak volumes about its subject matter being that the film deals deftly with identity, personality disorder and masking ones evil from the world as well as childhood trauma, abuse and madness.

Our heroine is Julia (Trish Everly) a kind hearted schoolteacher for deaf kids who loves her job and her psychologist boyfriend Sam (Michael Macrae) but is haunted by her childhood and unable to escape her horrible memories.

The trauma came from her twin sister Mary who sadistically tortured her worst of all on their birthdays where she blamed Julia for taking attention away from her. Using a trained dog in her varied and vile punishments on her twin Mary caused pain far deeper than the cuts and burns cursing Julia to relive visions of her past again and again into adulthood.

Finding the only way to deal with her evil twin was to never see her Julia is convinced by her uncle James (Dennis Robertson) a catholic priest to visit Mary in hospital where a flesh eating disease has caused her to become as ugly on the outside as she is on the inside.

Hoping for a piece of peace and closure she agrees to see her however the meeting goes terribly wrong and Mary vows to make Julia suffer as she has suffered reminding her their birthdays are coming and she will be coming to get her.

From here things spin out of control as Mary escapes hospital and starts to destroy Julia’s life tearing her friends and family apart and using a blood thirsty Rottweiler for old times’ sake in her slayings. As the days count down and the body count rises the twins come closer to their birthday and a party no one will ever forget.

All the performances are excellent especially Trish Everly as the troubled lead and Dennis Robertson the voice of religious reason and forgiveness. Allison Biggers is chilling as the adult deformed Mary hell bent on destroying her double even though the pair couldn’t look less like each other now.

Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis a prolific producer in the 70’s and 80’s Madhouse is a solid slasher drenched in blood but with some serious scares and a crazy climax you won’t see coming. One murder in particular is amazingly well filmed made all the more terrifying by the fact it’s done in broad daylight in the persons home making the scene come across less like a 80’s slasher film and more a modern day psycho killer classic like American Psycho, Man Bites Dog or Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Deeply psychological Assonitis balances the film brilliantly between the disturbing build up and the excessive violence of the second act knowing when to show the sick stuff and when to let our imagination run wild something it defiantly does when Julia is upsettingly detailing her childhood abuse to her boyfriend.

Banned as a video nasty by the BBFC thankfully Arrow have brought Madhouse to horror fans uncut and packed with extras making it a must have for sure especially if like me you have never experienced it.

Movie Rating: ★

★ ★ ½ ☆ 



Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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