Hello, Kiddies, once more into the Video Nasties, dear Creeps, once more, or break the DVD tray with our English Dead! This time, surprise, surprise, surprise, Sergeant Carter, this one's not that bad! Man, do I ever love saying I got to watch one that wasn't that bad. Strangely, I guess I've given up on saying "Damn, champ, this one was great!", but hey... ah? HEY!
Madhouse (which was originally known as There Was a Little Girl and alternately And When She Was Bad) isn't the best known film on the Video Nasty List, but those who are familiar with the movie generally have some very mixed opinions about it. The reason for this is that Madhouse is off the beaten path from a good many of its fellow Video Nasties, taking a more psychological and dramatic approach to horror than some of the more in-your-face gore-fests that one finds there. That's not to say that it's the smartest movie out there in VHS land, but it's most certainly enjoyable and succeeds in holding the attention of the intelligent viewer.
This joint US/ Italian co-production takes the unique angle of being partially set in a school for the deaf. Trish Everly's Julia Sullivan is an instructor at the school with an interesting history (set up - maybe - for us in the opening sequence). Without giving too much away, the skeletons in her closet primarily concern her twin sister Mary (Allison Biggers), who is frighteningly deformed and insane, living out her days in a mental institution with scant visits from the skittish Julia.
As both their parents are deceased, it's their uncle James, a Catholic Priest played by Dennis Robertson, who works hard on a reconciliation between the twins, hoping to keep them in touch. His (incessant) optimism is apparently contagious, because Julia's visit happens... but not under the best of circumstances.
Soon after this frightening meeting, people around Julia start dying in creepy and mysterious ways, most often involving this big ass Devil Dog that seems to prefer humans to Alpo. Me, I'm on the fence. The body count can be disturbing, to say the least. Julia is soon sure that Mary is out and committing murders. Others, such as Father James and Julia's lover Sam Edwards (Michael MacRae) are convinced that these deaths are coincidences or accidents.
The fact that many of the murders (visible only to the audience) take place within Julia's home manages to throw some interesting puzzle pieces into the mix. Is Mary really out committing murders and terrorizing Julia? Might there be another killer out there? Could it be the Handy Man, Mr. Kimura (Jerry Fujikawa) who has free reign of the house and can enter and exit at will? Or might psychopathy run in the family?
Many of these questions are answered on the day of Julia's surprise Birthday party. However, many remain ambiguous, either by the intent of writers Ovidio G. Assonitis (who also directed) and Stephen Blakely, or in spite of it. While Madhouse can be an interesting thriller with plenty of blood and legitimate creepy scares, it does leave quite a bit to be desired when it comes to tying up the loose ends found herein. Further, with elements of The Omen, Psycho, Halloween and other better known classics, Madhouse comes off as somewhat unoriginal in hindsight.
The thrills are more aimed toward the thinking viewer and others might be bored during the slow times in which suspense and mystery are built. Further, the fact that quite a lot of the mystery is almost casually revealed long before the final act might turn off some viewers. Personally I was made even more interested by that fact, wondering what Assonitis and Blakely had up their sleeves and waiting for them to pick up all the pieces. Unfortunately, though the end is somewhat satisfying, they never quite finish answering the questions, which could be an additional element of frustration to the audience.
All told, however, There Was a Little Girl/ And when she was Bad/ Madhouse isn't that bad a film. It's more thoughtful than most of its ilk and succeeds in being creepy, dramatic and entertaining amid the shortfalls and derivative building blocks. Let's shoot for Two and One Half Stars out of Five. It might not be the best written, acted or directed film out there, but it's better than a lot of those films that are considered diamonds in the rough. Sadly, the elements that got this one Banned in the UK as a Video Nasty might have kept a fair number of viewers from seeing the film for a while (most notably a certain power-drill to a dog's brain might make the BSPCA [and the BBFC] squirm). But, hey, that dog was acting like a jackass anyway. I... I'm sorry. But hey, seriously, doesn't "Assonitis" sound like a disease of some kind? Maybe something that makes you into a total ass? Maybe that dog had Assonitis? I should use that next time I need to call in sick. "You guys really don't want me to come in today, I've got a bad case of Communicable ASSONITIS!" Yeah! It's really too bad that more of Assonitis' flicks didn't also get banned, because how cool would it be for us to all start calling it the "Ovidio Nasty List"? Ah? A A A A A A A A A H? No? A'ight, then. I'll just stop now and see you in the next reel.
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