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Madhouse Blu-Ray Review

January 31, 2018 | Posted by Joseph Lee
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Madhouse Blu-Ray Review  

*Trish Everly as Julia Sullivan
*Michael Macrae as Sam Edwards
*Dennis Robertson as Father James
*Morgan Hart as Helen
*Allison Biggers as Mary Sullivan

Story: Julia has spent her entire adult life trying to forget the torment she suffered at the hands of her twisted twin Mary… but Mary hasn’t forgotten. Escaping hospital, where she’s recently been admitted with a horrific, disfiguring illness, Julia s sadistic sister vows to exact a particularly cruel revenge on her sibling this year promising a birthday surprise that she ll never forget.

It’s amazing that even when one dips into the vast history of Italian horror, it’s still possible to find new titles that were previously unknown. In this case, it’s Madhouse, a film that came out the same year as Happy Birthday to Me and shares an awful lot in common with it. Yet, neither film can be called a rip-off of the other, as the timeframe between the two films suggests they likely were made at the same time. Yet they both involve a psychotic sibling and end with a macabre birthday party.

Of course Madhouse differs quite a bit too, as the majority of its murders come from a trained attack dog. The dog is under orders to hunt down people related to our victim and kill them, sometimes in a graphic manner. This is all a ploy by Julia’s sister Mary to hurt her, for reasons that aren’t really explored. The movie progresses with a slasher-style format until the conclusion, when Julia and Mary finally have a face-to-face meeting.

Madhouse is a film that’s, at best, a mild diversion. In terms of other Italian horror films of the period, it’s several steps behind the classics from Argento and Fulci at the time. It tries to be multiple films, and so they all get short-changed. Is it a story about sisters? Is it a movie about a psychotic priest? Is it a killer dog movie? It has all of those things in it, but never commits fully to any of them. The dog commits the murders, but is never a danger to the heroine. Mary is seemingly a major villain, but is an afterthought at the climax. It’s a very inconsistent plot.

It’s never really explained why Mary hates her sister so much. Maybe she’s just crazy, but that still isn’t enough if you’re focusing three-fourths of your movie to the story. I say three-fourths because the movie becomes about a different psychopath entirely in the ‘shocking’ twist ending, which makes the preceding hour or so meaningless. It’s hard to care about a plot when not even the script itself seems to worry about what it spent the rest of the movie setting up.

The worst part is that there is actually some decent acting here. Trish Everly is a decent lead and both Dennis Robertson and Allison Biggers deliver some hammy performances as their villainous characters. There’s also a very good score from Riz Ortolani, who is best known as the composer of the Cannibal Holocaust score. It also has some decent gore, such as a dog biting off a man’s hand. But these aspects are just brought down by a generic story with a nonsensical twist.

There’s definitely something there with Madhouse, and perhaps with rewatches it will grow on me for what I actually like about it. As it is, the twists and the wasted story elements drag it down to a point where it doesn’t really leave a lasting impression. There are plenty of better examples of this kind of filmmaking, even from the early 80s. Both Tenebrae and The New York Ripper followed just a year later. Madhouse has its moments, but it has a lot of poor story decisions and is ultimately forgettable.

Film: 6.0

Arrow Video of course has a decent audio track, giving you the options of LPCM 2.0 or Dolby Digital HD 5.1, both in English. The soundtrack is hardly ever a problem on these releases, and this is no different.

Audio: 7.0

Arrow’s restoration of Madhouse looks really good, and has me curious to check out what this film looked like beforehand. You get an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.36:1. The colors pop, as Italian releases tend to do, honestly.

Video: 8.0

Special Features

Audio Commentary with The Hysteria Continues: This horror podcast discusses the ins and outs of the film. It’s ultimately a fan commentary but it’s informative enough. Not something I’d listen to again though.

Running the Madhouse: An interview with Edith Ivey, who had a doomed role as a victim in the movie. She seems happy that people remember it, and mostly goes over her entire career. It’s an okay diversion. I bet she has a lot more stories given how long she’s been working, however.

Framing Fear: Cinematographer Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli talks about what went into the shots of the film. It was conducted in Italian.

Ovidio Nasty: Ovidio Assonitis talks about his thoughts on the film and gives some information on the composer.

You also get alternative titles (for when the film was called There Was a Little Girl) and a trailer. Overall there’s a decent amount for fans of the film, but it won’t be very interesting if you didn’t enjoy the movie.

Special Features: 4.0

The final score: review Average
The 411
Madhouse is a sometimes decent if ultimately flawed horror film that doesn't hold up when compared to its contemporaries of the time. Arrow Video's transfer is solid and the extras are decent enough, but this release is definitely for fans only.

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Arrow Video, Madhouse, Joseph Lee