Greek filmmaker, Ovidio G. Assonitis, was very much the Uwe Boll of his time, cranking out one bad movie after another as both a director and during his tenure as CEO of Cannon Pictures. His penchant for “borrowing” plots of hit films for his stable of cash-in carbon copies led to such wonderfully horrible knock-offs like “Beyond the Door”, “Tentacles”, and “Laure”. Of course, not all of Assonitis’ films were bad. As a producer, Assonitis oversaw Umberto Lenzi’s “Deep River Savages”, a film that is widely regarded as the progenitor of the Euro-cannibal craze, as well as “Who Saw Her Die”; one of the most original and elegant giallo films ever made. As a director, however, Assonitis seemed content to turn a quick buck on the back of whatever film was making money at that particular time, with, perhaps, one glaring exception: the strangely appealing and surprisingly original 1981 shocker “Madhouse” (aka; “There Was a Little Girl”).
Madhouse tells the story of Julia (Everly), a teacher at a school for the deaf who has spent much of her life trying to distance herself from her mentally ill twin sister, Mary (Biggers), who used to celebrate their birthday by physically and mentally abusing Julia. When Julia’s uncle, the kindly priest Father James (Robertson), visits her to tell her that Mary’s taken a turn for the worse, Julia accepts his invitation to visit her sister, only to discover that Mary’s contracted a disease that has permanently (and conveniently, seeing as how Biggers and Everly look nothing alike) deformed her face. Mary’s angrier than ever, and wants Julia to suffer just as she has. Julia flees in terror, but, soon after, people close to her begin dying, and Julia is convinced Mary is the culprit, seeing as how their birthday is just around the corner! While Julia’s boyfriend, Sam (McCrae) and Father James try to assure Julia that Mary’s safely locked away in the asylum, Julia can’t bring herself to accept that these strange goings on are mere coincidence. Little does she know she’s in for the surprise birthday party of her life!
Madhouse is an absolute blast of 80’s horror schlock that’s as tasteless as a communion wafer, filled with all of the Euro-sleaze excesses we’ve come to expect from Assonitis. What’s impressive, though, are the film’s rather high production values, lush cinematography, and effective scares. Madhouse employs American slasher principals with techniques evocative of the giallo, splashes on generous amounts of gore (sometimes convincingly so, but, occasionally, laughably gratuitous), and wraps it all up in a rather neat and nifty “whodunit” package. It’s a deliriously fun and freaky amalgam of genres that should certainly please both gorehounds and fans of Euro-sleaze alike.
MPI/Dark Sky have, once again, unearthed a lost treasure, and bring it to DVD with a gorgeous transfer, as well as an interview featurette with Assonitis, and a stills gallery.