Madhouse (1981)


There was a time in my early 20s when I discovered the video nasties. These were films banned in the U.K. in the early 80’s for being too extreme. In some cases the films were merely banned because of the box art, not because of the film itself. In all there were 74 films that were either banned or heavily trimmed. Madhouse was one such film and at the time when I was watching the Nasties, I couldn’t get my hands on a copy of it. It’s been a long time coming but thanks to Arrow Video, I finally had the chance to give it a gander.

Madhouse is about identical twin girls. One of them becomes diseased and disfigured and subsequently is sent to an asylum. Growing up, the disfigured twin hated her sister. She didn’t want to share her face, her house, or her birthday. She wanted to be an individual, not a twin. She would torture her sister mentally and physically. Her disfigurement and committal to the asylum were a very good thing for the good twin. Fast forward to a few days before they turn 25 and the evil twin has flown the coop. Terrified the good twin spends most of the movie trying to convince her boyfriend that her sister is very scary and should be locked up. Those close to her start showing up dead, horribly mangled by a dog or stabbed with a knife. It’s only a matter of time before her sister comes to kill her!

Directed by Ovidio G. Assontis (Beyond the Door, Tentacles), Madhouse is an early example of the slasher genre. It has that strange vibe of films made from this era that doesn’t quite feel like an 80’s movie, but it isn’t a 70’s film either. This era was a turning point stylistically, and the film tries to have one foot in each decade. The plot is slow with heavy amounts of dialogue that don’t do much to create mood or move the story. Characters are slain in graphic ways so the film delivers on the “nasty” aspect for films on the list of 74. And yet the scenes feel somewhat out of place, almost as if the film was meant to be more psychological and “classy,” like Carrie or The Omen. The scenes of graphic violence seem pasted in, in an otherwise straight horror film. For me, the film wasn’t particularly exciting though the acting is pretty solid all the way around. I found myself being easily distracted in between the violent scenes, but then again I could have been in a particularly distracted mood.

The film looks great though. It’s another fantastic transfer from Arrow and by now I wouldn’t expect anything less. Fans of the film will be very happy with the visual presentation. Again the supplements are also good. We get an audio commentary, interviews with the cast and crew, and an alternate opening title sequence.

For fans of Madhouse, this is a great package. For fans of slasher flicks, this would also be a solid pickup. For the rest of us, it all hinges on how much you enjoy films from this era. Personally, I prefer films from the mid to late 80’s or more solidly in the 70’s. Madhouse was fairly entertaining for me but it won’t be a new favorite.