Ovidio G. Assonitis/ Italy USA/ 1981/ 92 mins
Available on Blu-Ray now.
A slasher film can often become iconic due to how memorable the killer looks and their weapon of choice. Think of Jason with his ski mask and machete, or Leatherface with his skin mask and chainsaw. By this criteria Madhouse should be more memorable as the killer is a deformed woman in a hospital gown and her weapon of choice is a particularly vicious Rottweiler. Unfortunately, despite landing on the Video Nasties list, Madhouse is a little too plodding and muddled to mark highly on the slasher film pantheon.
The plot revolves around schoolteacher Julia and her fear of her hospitalised and physically deformed identical twin sister Mary, who tormented her with a pet Rottweiler when they were kids. When Mary escapes the hospital on the lead up to their birthdays Julia begins to suspect that Mary may have a nasty surprise planned, especially when people close to Julia start winding up dead.
Madhouse is a bit of a chore in the first half. A title card tells us it is five days until Julia’s birthday, and boy, does it feel like it. Julia’s belief that Mary is biding her time until their birthday is met with doubt by her boyfriend and her uncle James, a creepy priest who alternates between protective guardian and judgemental irritant. Julia also goes from deeply terrified to blandly indifferent over the course of the film. It seems she must be reminded every now and then that she might be in mortal danger to keep the plot moving.
One of the films biggest problems is the inconsistent character motivation and lazy plotting which leads to a ridiculous moment when Julia tells someone “don’t open the door,” only for that person to immediately open the door and meet their well-deserved death.
Interest is slightly piqued in the final act with Julia finding herself at a very macabre birthday party. There is a particularly obvious twist regarding a character showing their true colours and then the inevitable bloodbath which brings everything to a bonkers climax.
The only memorable aspect of Madhouse is the almost demonic Rottweiler which racks up quite the body count but it’s not enough to put it in the upper echelon of slashers. Dog lovers should definite avoid.