Plot: What’s it about?
I have come on to rely on Arrow Video to expose me to quality horror and cult films. They tend to hit the nail on the head with their films, distributing some of the most gloriously over-the-top pictures imaginable. The story behind the film was that an Italian film crew came to Savannah, Georgia and essentially filmed a Giallo film with American actors. That film was promptly banned in a Britain as a “video nasty.” With that type of a back-story, I was excited to check it out.
The film opens with a pretty disturbing sequence. A young girl is pushing another young girl in a rocking chair. As the camera draws nearer the young girl pushing the rocking chair proceeds to smash the other girl’s face with a rock. The film then cuts to the present day (1980?) where Julia (Trish Everly) works at a school for the deaf and mute teaching young children. Julia receives word from Father James that her deformed sister has requested her presence from the local institution. Julia arrives at the hospital to wish her sister, Mary, an early happy birthday, only to find that her sister would like nothing more than to hurt her. It turns out that when they were children her sister always scared her by threatening her with a vicious dog. Julia leaves the hospital and goes about her business with her sister’s birthday just a couple days away. Mary flees the mental institution and a series of deaths involving a vicious dog begin to occur as a art prepares for her birthday. Julia begins to fear that Mary is trying to do harm to herself and those around her.
Madhouse is an interesting horror film. One aspect of the film that some viewers might dislike is that the film leaves certain questions left unanswered (including what that grotesque opening sequence was all about.) I actually consider that a strength more than a weakness, due to the added mystery it gives the film’s story. Some people will also be thrown off by some of the violence in the film, but fans of Giallo films will feel right at home.
To be honest, this film works better than many horror films that I have seen recently. The storyline might be a bit predictable, but the execution is solid. There are a few genuinely frightening ideas in the film and the dog attack scenes are very well done and hard to watch. The music by Riz Ortolani is very effectively used and occasionally gave me a quick jump from a properly timed burst of sound. The performances in the film are pretty over-the-top but Trish Everly handled her role capably. I particularly enjoy the way that Italians film their horror films and the cinematography on the film by Roberto D’Ettore Piazzoli is very well-shot.
There are some thrillers that are better-written out there, but this film did a good job of raising the level of suspense when it needed it. With a winning soundtrack, great cinematography, and well-used gore effects – this is a winning horror film.
Video: How’s it look?
Arrow Video did a great job on the transfer of the film using an MPEG 4 AVC codec of a new 2K restoration in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The transfer looks excellent overall, with very few scenes suffering any issue whatsoever. The cinematography by Piazzoli benefits greatly from the level of detail on the Blu-Ray format. This film was shot mostly using wide lenses so it fills up the screen with small details constantly. Italians know how to frame a good shot.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The audio treatment of Madhouse was very good. Arrow has included both a LPCM 2.0 mono track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track that they mastered from the original four track Dolby mag reels. Both serve the film well. Both the Mono Track and the Surround Track sound good and are front-heavy. Dialogue is very clear and the score by Riz Ortolani is very effective. I was impressed by how they used sound in the film to get some good unnatural scares. Good work by Arrow.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary with The Hysteria Continues – this commentary track has some good information, but could have been better served by limiting the participants to a couple big fans of the film. Instead it is a bit scatter-shot.
- Running the Madhouse (1080p; 12:40) is an interview with actress Edith Ivey who played the eccentric upstairs neighbor Amantha Beauregard. She seems like a sweet lady.
- Framing Fear (1080p; 19:32) is a 2017 interview with cinematographer Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli. This interview is well worth your time, even though it seems that Roberto does not care at all for this film. In Italian with English subtitles.
- Ovidio Nasty (1080p; 7:44) an interesting but extremely brief interview with Ovidio Assonitis.
- Alternative Opening Titles (1080p; 3:01) offers the credits sequence featuring the title There Was a Little Girl.
- Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 3:04)
The Bottom Line
Madhouse is an effective Giallo film shot in Savannah, Georgia. The film makes up for some of the obvious plot devices with solid cinematography, eerie use of sound and music, and well-choreographed death scenes. This film actually put me on edge more than most horror films, but I can not guarantee it will frighten anybody else. Like most Arrow releases, I recommend a rental prior to purchase, but it definitely gets my seal of approval.