Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Girl and Her Dog Story: Madhouse (1981)

Madhouse (AKA "There was a Little Girl", "And When She was Bad") (Italy, 1981)
Rating: ***
Starring:  Trish Everly, Michael MacRae, Dennis Robertson

Fresh off the Video Nasty list this not-so-loving tale of two sisters, revenge of the twisted kind, and animal-to-human violence with a level of goriness welcomed by true fans of the grue.

Mary is woman with a flesh-eating sickness that began to eat away her face. She's also an institutionalized psycho who spent a good childhood torturing her twin sister, Julia, traumatizing her into fearing her presence.

True enough, Julia may have grown into a fine and caring teacher in a school for deaf children but deep inside she still feels uneasy about her insane sister (as anybody would) Her eccentric yet patient uncle insists, however, that she should make another effort bonding with her sister, seeing that she is still family and that both of their birthdays are not too far. Julia gave in to the suggestion and visited Mary to see how' she's doing; what Julia get in return to her compassionate gesture however is a threat from Mary with promises of further torment to her loving but generally frightened sister.

No sooner that night, Mary escaped, assisted by an unknown accomplice and now armed with a vicious Rottweiler trained to maul anybody in her orders. She now skulks around murdering anybody close to her sister until the fateful day arrives, where she had prepared the worst for dear Julia.

Shot with eccentricity and style similar to a giallo title (which should be no surprise since the entire film is an Italian production, confused as American thanks to an all -American casting) Madhouse had potential to be a grim and uneasy slasher movie due to its grit and very downbeat atmosphere, but some of the drawbacks falls on the movie's sluggish pacing and cheese-vs-serious-undertones that made this a weird film that can be a chore to watch.

The true joy of Madhouse is that it is gory, done in a delightfully creative twist that only a few slasher titles dared to try; while the killer prefers a classic knife stabbing for some of their victims, the bloodier and chunkier kills are all done through a mauling dog, which is quite nasty and considerably longer for intensity's sake. The camera often focus on the mutilated throats of these poor chaps and the make-up for them are some of the better ones this subgenre could offer. Perhaps this is the best reason to point out why this film was enlisted as one of UK's Video Nasties.

As said before, the movie works quite well in terms of moodiness thanks to a well tuned and haunting score that goes fittingly with the gothic location. The casts are strong despite a few strangeness on some of their characters, keeping on that note some odd set-pieces found along the way, like the reveal itself which I find tilting my head to in sudden confusion and intrigue. I'm sure that I may missed a few clues that foreshadowed this turn of events but it just came in so sudden that the leading climax is as frightening as it is servile, ending on a note that there might be no hope for anybody in Julia's family.

It's not a movie for everybody, but Madhouse is an exquisite example of a slasher movie that tries to break some boundaries; not enough by standards that it'll reinvent the face of horror but more of making itself quite memorable for the true fans. Elegant, creepy and sullen, this is definitely a must-see for slasherholics.

1 male mauled on the throat by a rottweiler
1 male knifed on the chest
1 boy mauled by a rottweiler offcamera
1 cat found hanged
1 female mauled on the neck by a rottweiler
1 female stabbed with a kitchen knife
1 female knifed on the gut
1 rottweiler powerdrilled through the head
1 male had his back hacked open with a hatchet
Total: 9

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