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.