Friday, July 10, 2009

Madhouse (1981)

Reviewed By: Billy

JM and I love sibling stories. When we were growing up, “Simon & Simon” was our favorite TV show, and we loved the movie The Lost Boys because of the brother connection. In particular, I love sibling stories that involve one good sibling and one crazy sibling because…well…it’s the story of my life. I'll let you draw your own conclusion as to which one of us is completely nuts.

Anyway, Madhouse is a perfect example of the crazy sibling movie, featuring perhaps the craziest of all siblings, sister Mary. You see, when Mary was a little girl, she apparently used to sick her evil attack dog on her good twin, Julia, while burning her with matches and jabbing her with needles. This happened all because Mary didn’t like sharing a birthday with Julia. Again, people, story of my life. One time JM held me underneath a suffocating beanbag chair just because…well…I have no idea why. All I know is that I’ve allowed no zippered vinyl furniture into my house since.

Anyway, back to the movie…years later Mary is in confined to the hospital and some disease is causing her skin to fall off. Meanwhile Julia has become a beautiful, well-adjusted teacher. Clearly, this is the set-up for some severe sibling rivalry, and can only end in a hellish birthday party with a lot of dead friends tied up around the table.

Welcome to Madhouse, my friends, a movie that is totally bizarre and really fun and another great example of Americanized Eurotrash. Even though the actors are American and the movie takes place in Georgia, everything else about this movie is pure sleaze from overseas – from the Goblin-esque soundtrack, to the wide-angled cinematography, to the fact that one of the characters is named Amantha Beauregard. Amantha?

Trish Everly (who is so wonderful in this movie...what happened to her?) plays Julia, who we’re told has completely cut off her crazy sister and made a life of her own (call this Big Mistake #1). However, just days before her birthday, she answers a call from her Uncle James (a he's Uncle Father James?), to come visit her sister in the hospital (call this Big Mistake #2). Upon seeing her now-deformed sister in the hospital, Julia completely freaks out and runs out of the room screaming (call this Big Mistake #3). So, at this point we should not at all be surprised when sister Mary’s bustin' loose and heads back to take revenge. What is surprising, though, is that Mary’s evil attack dog has survived without her all these years…but, he’s back, too!

Mary’s killing spree is a lot of fun, starting with Julia’s handyman, who happens to be one of the most stereotypical Asian characters you’ve ever seen (sample dialogue: “New fuse box! Get parts real cheap from my son-in-law. At Sears!”). The poor guy (whose name is Mr. Kimura, which makes me giggle every time I hear it because it reminds me of that Kimora Lee Simmons reality show) gets chased by the dog straight into Mary’s butcher knife.

For further proof that this movie is stolen straight from my life, by the way, I should mention that both JM and I are terrified of any and all dogs (seriously…it doesn’t matter how small they are…you’ve never seen true fear until you’ve seen the Tower Farm brothers chased while rollerblading by a dog the size of a small hamster). So, of course the scenes of people being attacked by this hellish animal are going to scare the hell out of me.

Anyway, by this time Mary has taken up residence in the basement of Julia’s place. It’s kind of surprising that even after Julia learns that her sister has escaped the hospital, she’s still staying at her creepy old building alone. I mean, she does have a big, beefy boyfriend…why isn’t he staying with her? The boyfriend, by the way, is another good example of the American/Italian feel of this movie – has an actor ever better embodied both counties with just one look?

Meanwhile, Julia goes to church and hears her Uncle James give a passionate sermon about how those who dishonor familial love shall be punished by God. All the while, Uncle James seems to be glowering right at Julia. Hmmm…could there be something a little “off” about Uncle James? Could he maybe be helping old Mary out in her killing spree? I’m not going to say…but take a look at him and guess:

Julia takes along her favorite deaf pupil, Sacha, with her to church, and just a few scenes later, the cute little boy is mauled to death by Mary’s dog. Let me repeat that – the little deaf boy is killed by a vicious dog! When was the last time a horror movie did something that brave? Of course, nobody around Julia believes her suspicions that Mary is out for revenge. Julia, therefore, gets some really great scenes where she cries out, “I feel what she feels! I know what she knows!” – laying the groundwork for the greatest movie ever made, I Know Who Killed Me. Anyway, I do like the tender scene in which Julia tells the rest of her class that Sacha has been killed, because the little girl who is supposed to be upset looks like she’s about to burst into laughter at any moment. Thank God for child actors!

Anyway, a few more people get chewed to death by the dog, a cat gets hung with a noose, and finally we get the promised birthday party scene, with crazy Mary AND crazy Uncle James (who walks around singing children’s songs like “Old King Cole” while brandishing a butcher knife) leading the festivities.

Julia gets chased around the house for awhile (oddly running right by windows, ignoring the possibility of jumping through one) until her boyfriend finally returns home, shoves a drill through the dog’s head (watch out, PETA supporters), and distracts the priest until Julia grabs an axe and makes beef carpaccio out of her uncle’s back. And finally, Mary gets the final word (“You’ll never be free of me…never…”) before she croaks, too.

So, let’s recap: we’ve got a crazy, murderous priest, a little deaf boy mauled by a dog, a cat strung up by a noose, the dog being drilled in the head, and end credits filled with names like Paltrinieri, Salvadori, and Maggi just before proclaiming the movie was “shot on location in Savannah, Georgia.” Oh, yes, this movie is perfect. Director Ovidio G. Assonitis (Beyond The Door) has an Argento-esque touch with his fancy camerawork and nice shock scenes, but Madhouse is a lot more coherent than anything Argento ever wrote. Plus, it’s got a crazy sibling. So how can I not love this movie? After all, it’s really only a matter of time until JM completely snaps and ties me up at a birthday party full of dead people, so at least now I know how to handle myself.



  1. Never seen it, but no matter how dumb you guys make the movies sound, or how down on them you are, you make me feel compelled to watch them! Keep up the awesome reviews!

  2. Great write-up! Looking at your stills up there makes me wonder exactly how many horror movies have used the "dead bodies around a table" set-up from inception to now...I'm guessing you could start a daily blog of such shots and not run out for quite some time.

    There's a reason, of course--it's freakin' creepy!

    Thanks for calling my attention to this one. I'll definitely plan on seeing it...someday...

  3. I love crazy birthday parties in horror movies, they add a flavor of fun.

    I too am awfully scared of dogs. Of any kind. And animals in general, actually. The worst thing about dogs though, is that their owners all think they're sweet and nice, but they're horrid!

    - Zac

  4. Ive never been a big fan of this one, far too convenitional for my taste but Im all for crazy priests, brings me back to my childhood.. wait.. Great writeup thought, glad to see I may be in the minority once again!

  5. Warfreak,
    Thanks -- and you should check this one out. Some people think it's boring, but I love the craziness of the evil twin plot.

    Yes...the dead bodies at the table thing is so great. This movie came out the same year as "Happy Birthday To Me" -- there are some similarities, including the climactic "party" scene.

    You're so right...the worse the dog, the more the owner is convinced it's sweet. I think they're all evil.

    From what I've read online, a lot of people don't like this movie. Like I said, I think I like it because I'm a fan of the conventions used...but I can understand how people would think it's a total bore!

  6. Billy,

    I know you want me to respond to the time... okay times... that you were held underneath a "suffocating beanbag chair". Well, firstly, I am not going to confirm that such a thing ever even took place. And, secondly, you deserved it.

    Oh, and I love the name "Amantha". It takes the best parts of Amanda and Samantha and mashes them together... Kind of like Orlampa, FL. I am not making that one up (Billy has driven through this area and can verify that is truly exists).


  7. This sounds amazing. Awesome review.

  8. I just popped this one into my Netflix you guys know that your blog is one of the places I come to when trying to find cool movies to watch?! :)