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  • Madhouse (1981) Blu-ray Review

    Madhouse (1981)

    Director: Ovidio G. Assonitis

    Starring: Trish Everly, Michael Macrae, Dennis Robertson, Morgan Hart, Allison Biggers, Edith Ivey, Richard Baker & Jerry Fujikawa

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Infamously inducted as one of Britain’s prized “video nasties”, Madhouse centers on Julia Sullivan (Trish Everly in her only film role) who continues to try and block out the anguish her cruel twin sister Mary caused her growing up.  Suffering from a disfiguring illness and still harboring disdain for her other half, Mary escapes from the hospital, hellbent on delivering Julia a bloody birthday she’ll never forget.

    A peculiar blending of Italian hyper violence and America’s burgeoning slasher craze with a dash of gothic ambiance, Madhouse thrives on its uneasy tone that attempts to drown out its more questionable plot devices.  Educator to young deaf students, Julia still maintains a fear of her hospitalized twin sister Mary who suffers from a deforming disease and responsible for wrecking havoc on Julia throughout childhood.  Maintaining a close relationship with her loving uncle, Father James (Dennis Robertson, Dark Night of the Scarecrow), Julia seeks to make peace with her dying sister only to be met with frightening hostility.  Exploding into full-blown terror when Mary escapes from her hospital confines, Julia’s approaching 25th birthday seems less likely to be met as supernatural suspicions, a bloodthirsty Rottweiler and a body count start to take shape.  Shot in the suitably atmospheric region of Savannah, Georgia, Madhouse punctuates its proceedings with voyeuristic photography and a certifiably strange soundscape conducted by Riz Ortolani (Cannibal Holocaust, House on the Edge of the Park) to further its descent into darkness.  

    Charismatic and beautiful, Trish Everly holds the picture together with genuine fear and concern for her life reading clearly in her face and actions while, the supporting cast hams it up with generally over-the-top performances.  A noble debut for Everly that would ultimately prove to be her last onscreen, the young actress seemed destined for a career as a future scream queen that was unfortunately not meant to be.  Pulling no punches with its violence and never discriminating against adults or young deaf children as its prey, Madhouse’s Rottweiler attacks on the like surely and appreciatively earned its place in “video nasties” history with ravaged jugulars and torn hands on full display.  While the film’s final showdown between Julia and her doctor boyfriend against the murderous culprits leave far more questions than answers concerning their motivations, Director Ovidio G. Assonitis (Beyond the Door) perhaps smartly bookends the horror-oddity with a quote to properly chase audiences head-scratching motions.

    Scanned in 2K from the original 35mm camera negative, Arrow Video proudly presents Madhouse with a 1080p transfer, sporting its 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  A wonderfully filmic-looking offering, grain is healthy and overwhelmingly satisfying to the eye while, skin tones remain natural and clean.  Furthermore, the film’s gorier moments paint the screen red with eye popping boldness with black levels also appearing appreciatively deep.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that registers dialogue crisply, the track also makes excellent use of Composer Riz Ortolani’s evocatively creepy score and usage of lullabies with no hiccups to speak of.  An optional LPCM 2.0 mix has also been provided for your listening pleasure.  

    Bonus features include, an Audio Commentary with The Hysteria Continues, Running the Madhouse with Edith Ivey (12:40) finds the actress recalling her early days in radio and the transition all actors made moving onto television.  Furthermore, Ivey also shares words about her appearance on The Howdy Doody Show, commentating for the Miss USA show for years before landing her role in Madhouse where the director wanted over-the-top performances from his cast.  Framing Fear (19:32) catches up with Director of Photography Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli in this subtitled interview that traces everything from his first paid job on Arturo’s Island to his many works with Assonitis.  Next up, Ovidio Nasty (7:44) chats with the film’s producer/director where he reveals the film’s direct influences to be The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Shining.  Assonitis also discusses the film’s alternate titles but prefers There Was a Little Girl and praises Savannah, Georgia as being the ideal gothic shooting location.  Finally, Alternative Opening Titles (3:01), the Original Trailer (3:04), a 23-page booklet featuring liner notes by John Martin (available only in the release’s first printing), Reversible Cover Art and a DVD edition conclude the supplemental package.  

    An overlooked effort that samples different styles and subgenres, Madhouse is certifiably odd to the bone with a violent bite from Rottweilers and deformed nutcases alike.  Although not one to provide all the answers by its conclusion, Director Ovidio G. Assonitis’ deranged sibling-slasher hybrid makes for a unique late night excursion through horror’s less traveled roads.  In their expected fashion, Arrow Video brings the “video nasty” to high-definition with a striking 2K restoration and a modest spread of extras to further educate and enlighten the minds of horror enthusiasts.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Madhouse can be purchased via DiabolikDVD.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Madhouse (1990) Blu-ray Review

    Madhouse (1990)

    Director: Tom Ropelewski

    Starring: John Larroquette, Kristie Alley, Alison La Placa, John Diehl & Jessica Lundy

    Released by: Olive Films

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Marking the directorial debut of Tom Ropelewski (Look Who’s Talking Now), Madhouse centers on new homeowners Mark (John Larroquette, Night Court) and Jessie (Kristie Alley, Cheers) Bannister as they enjoy the fruits of their luxurious California residence.  When a series of events lead to a multitude of houseguests invading their home, the Bannisters are pushed to their limits accommodating the increasingly obnoxious visitors.  Similar to other humble abodes gone to hell pictures including Funny Farm and The Money Pit, Madhouse is a hilarious romp that finds the perfect couple’s home life turned upside by a siege of visiting family members, neighbors and a destructive cat with endless lives.  Larroquette and Alley are excellently matched with their comedic timing complimenting one another while, the supporting players of Jessica Lundy (Caddyshack II) as Mark’s talkative and supposedly pregnant relative Bernice offer much of the film’s laughs.  Confronted with increasingly bad luck and more unwanted visitors, other hysterical highlights include, Mark and his desperately broke cousin Fred (John Diehl, Jurassic Park III) engaging in a dance-off, a preteen neighbor mowing a vulgarity into the Bannisters lawn and an explosive finale involving a drug bust at the crumbling home and a baby elephant.  Largely forgotten but nonetheless entertaining, Madhouse is an enjoyable examination of likable yuppies pushed to their wits with Larroquette and Alley delivering the comedy goods.

    Olive Films presents Madhouse with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  From its colorfully animated opening titles to its respectably filmic appearance, image quality is strong with skin tones looking warm and natural.  Although softness is occasionally spotted, the virtually speckle-free transfer and well detailed array of colors and settings offer a pleasing high-definition experience.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is nicely handled with music choices and several explosions giving reasonable boosts to its rather tame soundscape.  Although not wholly dynamic, the mix gets the job done.  Serving as the disc’s sole special feature, the film’s Theatrical Trailer (1:47) is also included.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Olive Films, Madhouse can be purchased via OliveFilms.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.