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Monday, June 15, 2020

Madhouse (1981)



I’m not going to lie that after three summers of slasher marathons I’m beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel a bit. Madhouse is one that had escaped me until recently but with running out of other entries into the genre it was time to rectify that.

It is mere days before Julia’s birthday and her uncle, who is also a priest, convinces her to see her twin sister, Mary. We find out that Julia had been tormented by her sister for years and had cut all ties with her. But Mary is sick, so she is convinced to go and visit her at the hospital, which I think is also a mental hospital. They don’t make it obvious but since she breaks out later, I believe she was either jailed or committed there. Regardless the visit goes poorly and as I’ve already mentioned Mary breaks out and moves into the basement of Julia’s apartment building. Then the killings kick off and the body count begins. If you are thinking this is too straight forward don’t worry because we also get a weird out of left field twist towards the end that makes very little sense but is fun.

I’m going to switch up my normal routine and talk about the kills first. Since this is a slasher movie this is an important measuring stick. We get a respectable eight kills in this movie, though they are tame and repetitive. There are a couple stabbings and a couple deaths by dog. Yeah you heard that last one right, death by dog. The killer in this movie has a trained rottweiler that does some of the killing on command. This means some throats get torn out and eventually the dog gets a drill to the noggin’ by one of our heroes. This is executed by cutting footage of the dog “attacking” the actor into a hand puppet chewing on their neck. It looks silly, but I give them credit for the design of the kill. I mean death by dog… I don’t remember seeing that sort of thing in a slasher movie before or since. At least not by the killer. We do get on really great kill and that is the last one where an axe gets buried in the back. Again, it is pretty tame stuff, but I give them an “A” for creativity.

Madhouse is a strange movie. It has that by the numbers feel of a normal slasher with the killer’s identity and motivation known from the beginning. The impending victims are lined up neatly and as expected knocked off one at a time. Without spoiling anything there is one unexpected victim where this movie crossed a line that, especially this early in eighties, not many movies did. There is also an unexpected reveal about the killer that is a huge surprise. Again, I’m trying to keep this as spoiler free as possible. The main reason for that is because while the movie has a familiar feel and the story has a couple mind boggling silly turns, I still sort of liked it. Maybe it is because I’ve seen so many slashers, but I appreciate the new take on the familiar formula.

If you are looking for something different, I can recommend Madhouse as an interesting diversion. Though unlike the classics of the genre I don’t ever see myself revisiting it. I can’t recommend purchasing the movie and would say your best bet is to find it streaming somewhere. I watched it on Shudder and if it is still on that service, I’d say that would be the way to go.


© Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

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