Madhouse (1981)

DECEMBER 6, 2009


One of the joys about doing HMAD is how often I get a movie without knowing anything about it. Of course, sometimes they are total shit, but then there are movies like Madhouse (aka There Was A Little Girl), which was a wonderful surprise; an American-lensed slasher made by Italians, with many delightfully oddball moments sprinkled throughout a fairly routine “Is our heroine going crazy - no it’s her _____” slasher.

Some folks might call this a ripoff of Happy Birthday To Me, but as the two films were in production at the same time I think we’ll have to just accept that it’s a coincidence. Still, it’s hard to ignore the similarities, especially at the end of the film, which details a macabre “birthday party” with the film’s victims propped up around a table (making this the 2nd movie in the past few days to center on a corpse-ridden birthday party after Red Velvet). I guess it’s just a good idea.

It also uses a font that is curiously similar to the one in My Bloody Valentine. And why I noticed this, I have no idea.

Back to those oddball moments though. This movie is ripe for a midnight crowd, especially during the kill scenes with the dog. See, the movie actually has THREE killers: the dog, our heroine’s crazy sister, and a third surprise one (and it’s LITERALLY out of nowhere; the reveal that this character is a killer is delivered in the most casual manner possible - it’s not even accompanied by a music sting or a closeup on someone’s (presumably) shocked face). Unsurprisingly, the dog kills are the highlight, particularly his attack on the heroine’s friend near the end of the 2nd act. And the scene where he gets his comeuppance is equally wonderful, since the puppet dog is so hilariously Muppet-like and the kill is so needlessly violent (a power drill through the head). My only complaint is that director Ovidio G. Assonitis pussies out and skips the scene where he mauls a little deaf kid.

I gotta talk about this subplot. Our heroine (the very pretty and actually decent Trish Everly, who inexplicably only has this one credit to her name) is a teacher at a school for deaf children, and when she learns about the kid’s demise, it is her job to tell the class. She tries to put it gently, but then one kid figures it out and goes “HEEEE’S... DEAD!” She confirms this, and then the kid (suddenly without the jacket that he just had on) makes this bizarre arm-waving gesture while going “AAAHH! UHHHH!”. No one seems to question his nonsense. There’s also an unintentional “if you think about it” goof where she is working one on one with one kid, and signs “this next one is going to be tough.” She is then called to the office over the PA system, and immediately gets up and leaves. But the kid’s deaf, so he didn’t hear the PA, so he’s probably wondering exactly HOW tough this one is going to be if she’s not even in the room.

There’s also an extended scene where the stereotypical Japanese handyman mutters to himself in his native tongue for at least three full minutes straight as he walks around the building toward his inevitable demise (or maybe he is singing a particularly angry version of “Oh Paul, I need you all... NO KEYS!.... but please, my Paul....”. Again, delightful. I wonder what he’s saying.

The DVD’s sole extra is a surprisingly tame interview with Assonitis. A lot of these Italian guys are hilariously candid, but he’s pretty diplomatic and takes responsibility for the film’s shortcomings (he is not a fan of it, the sod). And by “takes responsibility” I mean he chalks it up to the budget instead of blaming one of the other producers by name or claiming that the actors are morons. As expected, he doesn’t have a lot to say about anyone in particular, though he singles out Riz Ortolani's score as being quite good, but also wrong for the film. I think it was great; it’s sort of a cross between Pino Donaggio and Goblin, and fit the movie quite well to boot. He also mentions that the original director was a DP making his first film, and was fired after 10 days, but doesn’t give the guy’s name.

Doesn’t matter though. What’s important is that in the middle of the slasher heyday (1981), there was indeed a film that went outside of the box a bit, and while I have no idea if it was appreciated then, it certainly should be now.

What say you?

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


  1. I'm watching it right now and it's really good. Wanted you see if you reviews it. You did. Hi f course. I think madhouse more that'll HBTM. It's more suspenseful and shorter run time. Good review.

  2. As usual, I'm years late with the comments, but this finally showed up on Prime today. The very pretty lead seemingly worked under a couple different names, but her work's all been compiled on IMDB now under the name Patricia Mickey.


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