Tuesday, 20 June 2017

MADHOUSE (1981) - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Notorious Video Nasty Gets Arrow Lovin'

Arrow, the Gold Standard of Genre Home Entertainment,
serves up delectable Blu-Ray/DVD of notorious "nasty"!

Madhouse (1981)
Dir. Ovidio G. Assonitis
Scr. Assonitis, Stephen Blakeley, Peter Sheperd. Roberto Gandus
Starring: Trish Everly, Dennis Robertson, Allison Biggers,
Michael Macrae, Morgan Hart, Edith Ivey, Jerry Fujikawa

Review By Greg Klymkiw

A little girl gently rocks another little girl in a big old chair whilst a somewhat dissonant nursery rhyme is crooned. It's the dissonance of the ditty that prepares us for the worst. As the camera pushes in slowly upon the action, we're eventually treated to a brick being smashed repeatedly in the face of the lulled child. And so begins one of the most notorious "video nasties" of the the early 80s, so named because it was one of numerous pictures that were outright banned in Britain for their attention to excruciatingly graphic violence.

Directed by the prolific Italian producer-director-distributor of such works as The Exorcist rip-off Beyond The Door, James Cameron's debut feature Piranha II: The Spawning (which the Titanic director was fired from) and the compulsively, brilliantly godawful Jaws rip-off Tentacles, Ovidio G. Assonitis might well have managed to barf up something resembling, by his standards, a masterpiece.

Madhouse is one marvellously entertaining Giallo slasher picture and though Assonitis will never be mistaken for the likes of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci or Mario Bava, he acquits himself handily here with this fun, surprisingly well-acted (especially by its leading lady), super-creepy gore-fest (that is also blessed with a totally bonkers Riz Ortolani score).

Glorious Gore-Galore in MADHOUSE. Yummy-yum-yum!

And the narrative itself? It took four screenwriters to generate the plot, and while there's no writing here that's ever going to be acclaimed for its virtuosity, it manages to juggle a whole passel of strange jaw-droppers, many bordering on originality, in addition to all the requisite tropes the genre demands.

Julia (Trish Everly) teaches deaf kids in Savannah, Georgia and rents a room from the eccentric Amantha Beauregard (Edith Ivey) who owns a sprawling old house that was once a funeral parlour. The caretaker of this sumptuous manse is Mr. Kimura (Jerry Fujikawa), an Asian-American who manages to give Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany's a run for the money in the grotesquely-racist-portraits-of-Asians Department - quite a feat considering he's played, not by a short white dude in "yellow-face", but a real Asian-American actor.

It seems Julia is the twin sister of Mary (Allison Biggers), a completely bunyip psychopath who lies suffering from a degenerative skin disease in a nuthouse. Julia suffered horrible abuse at the hands of her sister as a child and seeing as their mutual birthday is just round the corner, she is more than a little creeped-out after a harrowing hospital visit in which the batty sis promises to celebrate with some extra-vicious lovin'.

Making matters worse is that the ladies' Uncle James (Dennis Robertson) seems to think that bonkers Mary is simply "misunderstood" and that the seemingly together Julia is unhinged. That the "kindly" Uncle is a Catholic priest does not bode well and though some might consider this a "spoiler", it's pretty damn obvious from the second we meet him that he might be even more off his rocker than the deformed abusive sister. (And yeah, one of the more delightful set pieces involving our wing-nut Priest is a birthday party replete with cake, candles and corpses.)

Needless to say, as the movie creeps ever closer to the celebratory date of birth, Assonitis gives us one vomit-inducing display of violence after another. It's a glorious thing, really! We not only get one butcher-knife hacking after another, but just to keep things interesting we're treated to bludgeoning, Rottweiler attacks, a truly magnificent hatchet wielding and, in one of the more inspired moments, you will jump out of your seat and fill your drawers when something/someone smashes through a door and is then dispatched with a power drill to the skull.

And if this doesn't tickle your fancy, allow me to remind you that you'll actually revel in an oh-so-yummy scene in which a sweet, little deaf boy gets his throat torn out.

That'll teach the little nipper to stay away from strange Rottweilers.

THE FILM CORNER RATINGS: ***½ (film), **** (Blu-Ray/DVD)

Madhouse is brought to us on a first-rate two-disc Blu-Ray/DVD by Arrow Films (these dudes really set the Gold standard for genre home entertainment releases) that not only offers a gorgeous 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative, but a whole whack of wonderful extra features including an entertaining audio commentary with genre podcasters The Hysteria Continues, some extremely informative, in-depth interviews with cinematographer Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli, veteran actress Edith Ivey and, the man himself Ovidio G. Assonitis. Add a trailer, alternate opening titles, a lovely booklet and terrific box-cover art, and this is one worthy addition to any horror fan's home entertainment collection.