Monday, November 1, 2021

There's Something About Mary


When your opening credits play out like a V.C. Andrews keyhole book cover come to life by the power of Italian synth rock, you've got me. 

Quick Plot: Julia is a fairly content teacher at a school for the deaf, while her twin sister Mary rots away in a hospital, a rare skin condition slowly destroying her from the outside in. Julia doesn't seem to mind, since Mary was a cruel child who made Julia's young life a living hell.

Despite a satisfied, well-adjusted life, Julia is swayed to visit Mary by their uncle James, a rather awful Catholic priest who seems intent on the girls reconciling in time for their shared 25th birthday. Mary is in even worse shape than Julie remembers, but somehow, the maladjusted patient manages to escape the hospital and embark upon a killing spree with the help of bloodthirsty Rottweiler.

Look, none of us animal lovers want to ever watch a lovable dog turned into a weapon (particularly when one of its targets is a sweet cat...and I suppose a nice blind kid) but when said dog attacks use a body double less convincing than Triumph the Insult Comic, I'm oddly okay with this choice.

Madhouse is a hoot, which isn't a surprise. Director Ovidio G. Assonitis (who eventually went on to head up Canon Films for a stretch) was well-experienced in spinning out blood-soaked cheese, and he doles it out with relish here. This is a movie that has a woman discussing how nice her favorite fourth grade student is only to cut to his immediate mauling one scene later. 

There's a lack of discipline about Madhouse which, depending on your level of taste, is either a very good thing or possibly just plain dumb. You have kernels of a murder mystery that are instead materialized into plot when a killer rather randomly reveals themselves to be a killer. The potential challenge of whether Julia has sinned by casting off her sick sister adds up to absolutely nothing. But hey! We are treated to one of the greatest tropes to survive the slasher boom:

the dead guest party reveal!

So that's what you get: a fun, fast mess that works because it simply throws whatever it has at the audience. Some of it sticks. Most of it will come off. 

High Points
Most films of this particular ilk invest very little in their performances, but Trish Everly manages to make Julia an instantly sympathetic heroine worth rooting for

Low Points
Maybe it's my fairly fresh viewing of The New York Ripper, but I've been thinking a lot about Lucio Fulci lately and how he managed to explore and even challenge convention, all while making splattery boob-filled schlock. I bring this up because (SPOILER) it's hard in some ways not to compare Madhouse to another Italian horror flick seeped deeply in some of the complications of Catholicism: Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling, which has a lot to say about the religion. Madhouse, on the other hand, features a priest as a sick villain without, it seems, having any interest in his pathology. It feels more like an economy of characters rather than a statement about faith and violence, and while I don't in any way require deep i
ntrospection from my puppet dog killing '80s horror, it just seems like a missed opportunity

Lessons Learned
A sister is the seed of your father and a miracle of your mother's body

The secret to successful surgery is good interns

It only takes 48 hours to train a Rottweiler to murder everyone close to your twin


Madhouse isn't a high point in Italian-American genre cinema (especially when you realize Assonitis had a key hand in bringing the bananas The Visitor into our world) but it's a fun, messy time. I watched it via the library streaming app Kanopy, which is, I'm sure, what Socrates always intended.


  1. Ok, while Madhouse doesn't sound great, I followed the link to your review of The Visitor and it DOES sound great, so I have added that one to my list. I actually love a lot of the artwork for The Visitor, it's all soooo 70's Italian horror/weird. Can't wait to check it out!

    1. I'm so excited for you! I WISH I could watch The Visitor for the first time again! Total bonkers joy.

  2. I really liked this movie! Part of it was nostalgia because I enjoy slashers, especially ones from the 80"s. Also, visually it had a lot in common with horror movies from that era like Happy Birthday to Me and House on Sorority Row, which have that glossy look that this movie has. Yeah I know, this copy has gotten the restoration treatment, which is part of the reason why it looks so good. Side note, I miss when movies were shot on film vs. digital. Don't get me wrong, I understand why they aren't anymore, but I miss it just the same. Anyway, I felt for poor Julia and I liked how the movie instills a sense of dread as we count down to her and Mary's birthday. And you feel bad for the victims as well--except for the landlady, she was kind of dumb! Have you seen Macabre (1980)? It's directed by Lamberto Bava, I think it was his directorial debut. It's a bit slow, but it draws you in and is fairly bonkers storyline-wise. Check it out if you haven't. I watched it on Tubi, which is also where I watched Madhouse :)

    1. Oooooh Macabre is one of those titles I always ASSUME I've seen, but I definitely haven't. BLESS THE GODS THAT GRANTED US TUBI!