• Madhouse

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: June 13th, 2017.
    Director: Ovidio Assonitis
    Cast: Trish Everly, Michael MacRae, Dennis Robertson, Allison Biggers
    Year: 1981
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    The Movie:

    Written and directed by Ovidio Assonitis who shot the film on location in Savannah Georgia, Madhouse is an Italian backed slasher picture that wound up making its way onto the United Kingdom’s infamous video nasties list.

    Also known as There Was A Little Girl, the film introduces us to a woman named Julia Sullivan (Trish Everly), a teacher at a school for the deaf. While Julia’s life seems normal enough, she holds a dark secret: her twin sister Mary (Allison Biggers) lies locked away in an insane asylum yet still manages to plague poor Julia’s nightmares! Given that their birthday is coming up soon, it’s no wonder that Mary isn’t far from Julia’s mind. When it turns out that Mary is suffering from a horrible skin condition, she coerces Father James (Dennis Robertson) into getting her sister to visit. Julia begrudgingly agrees but the visit doesn’t go well and it ends with Mary trying to assault her.

    Of course, just as their birthday approaches, Mary, with some help from a killer dog only she seems to be able to control, escapes from the asylum and goes on a killing spree, each victim getting her one step closer to Julia…

    This one builds quite nicely and is quite well shot. The cinematography employed in the picture is frequently very impressive and the Savannah locations used for the shoot really do add a welcome atmosphere to the picture that definitely works in its favor. Add to this a decent score from composer Riz Ortolani (that at times comes dangerously close to ripping off his own work from Cannibal Holocaust!) and the production values on Madhouse score pretty strong marks.

    Aside from that? Well, it’s okay. We get enough background information on the relationship that the two sisters had as kids, learning that Mary was the more aggressive and dominant of the pair and that she seemed to delight in making her twin sister’s life a living Hell. The first half of the movie is pretty interesting in that regard, adding an element of psychological horror to the more formulaic slasher movie tropes. It falls apart towards the end, however, as the twist that Assonitis throws into the mix to bring it all to a close really feels crammed into the plot simply for the sake of having a twist ending. There are also some questionable character actions here. While you have to go into most horror films willing to suspend your disbelief, that doesn’t mean you have to accept otherwise seemingly bright people doing blatantly stupid things.

    Still, Madhouse is pretty entertaining despite its obvious flaws. The performances are pretty good for the most part, with pretty Trish Everly making for a believable and likeable lead and a heavily made up Allison Biggers doing just fine as the heavy. Dennis Robertson overacts a little bit here and there but at least he’s fun to watch. This won’t rank up there with the best of the films from the early eighties slasher movie boom, but horror fans could certainly do a lot worse.


    Arrow presents Madhouse on Blu-ray in a very nice looking transfer taken from original 35mm camera negative. Framed 2.35.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, things look really great here, particularly when compared to past presentations that often looked murky and dark and suffered from really awful shadow detail. This is still a pretty dark looking picture but you won’t have any trouble seeing what’s actually happening on screen (always a plus!). Detail is very strong, the transfer is very colorful when the movie calls for it while at the same time it never looks oversaturated at all. Black levels stay pretty solid and quite deep throughout. Texture and depth are impressive and there are no problems with any obvious compression artifacts. The image is nice and clean, showing only natural film grain and very little in the way of actual print damage outside of the occasional white speck here and there. Additionally skin tones look nice and natural and the image appears free of any obvious noise reduction. All in all, this is nice and film-like.

    Audio chores are handled by way of your choice of an LPCM Mono track or a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, both options in the film’s native English, with optional English SDH provided. There are no alternate language options or subtitles provided. Clarity of the audio here is fine. Levels are properly balanced and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note. The LPCM track is clearly closer to the film’s theatrical sound and honestly it tends to suit the vibe of the film more accurately. However, those who like their surround sound remixes will appreciate the fact that the 5.1 mix does a nice job of spreading some of the directional effects and score around to the rear channels to nice effect.

    Extras on the first disc start out with an audio commentary by The Hysteria Continues crew. If you’re familiar with their commentary style then you’ll know what to expect here – plenty of details about the film, where it falls into the whole Giallo/horror movie pantheon, information about the cast and crew as well as observations about what works and what doesn’t. It is a well-paced track that occasional doses of welcome humor that thankfully stops short of getting too jokey.

    Also included on the disc are a few featurettes, starting with the thirteen minute long Running The Madhouse, which is a new interview with actress Edith Ivey. She speaks about how she got involved with the production, her thoughts in the film and its director and quite a bit more. Also on hand is a twenty minute piece called Framing Fear which interviews cinematographer Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli about his work on the picture. This interview is a bit more technical than the first, as you’d expect, as Piazzoli discusses the specific look of the film, collaborating with Ovidio Assonitis and what it was like working on the picture. Lastly, the director himself shows up in a new eight minute piece entitled Ovidio Nasty. He talks about making this picture in the eighties and what the filmmaking environment was like that the time as well as writing the script and his thoughts on the picture in general.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are some alternate opening titles, the film’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection.

    Also included inside the clear Blu-ray keepcase is a DVD version of the recut and an insert booklet containing liner notes on the film from John Martin as well as credits for the feature, credits for the Blu-ray and a nice selection of stills from the film. Arrow also provides some keen reversible cover art featuring a newly created piece by Marc Schoenbach on one side and the original poster art on the reverse.

    The Final Word:

    Madhouse is a decent enough slasher – it’s no masterpiece but it has some good atmosphere, a few fun performances and some pretty decent kill scenes. Arrow’s Blu-ray looks and sounds excellent and presents the film with a nice selection of extras. Casual slasher fans might not get as much out of this but devotees of the form should appreciate this.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

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