The Curator of Schlock #341 by Jeff Shuster

Madhouse

It’s February. I’m watching slasher movies. 

I escaped a vampire house and lived to tell the tale. Here’s the story: I gave three copies of my spec screenplay called The Taming of the Screw, a kind of My Dinner With Andre, but with vampires. Wally, Celestial, and Jervis read over the pages with rapt attention. Halfway through reading, Wally raises his head and says, “I think you’ve written yourself into a corner.”

That angered me. I then read a magic spell that I translated from ancient Aramaic, to send all vampires within a five mile radius straight to hell. The lights flickered, and then a distant toilet flushed.

Wally told me the spell would have worked if I had read it in the original Aramaic. Then he bared his fangs. …

schlock mansion

For the rest of 2021, I’ve decided to venture into the world Arrow Home Video, once described as “the Criterion Collection of shitty movies.” This week’s Blu-ray is 1981’s Madhouse from director Ovidio G. Assonitis. Yes, that is really his name. This odd, Italian-made slasher movie made for American audiences tried to capitalize on the early 1980s slasher movie craze. Oh, and it looks like Assonitis directed Beyond the Door, one of my earliest reviews (The Curator of Schlock #9). The good old days before world- wide pandemics and HBO Max.

Madhouse begins with a rather creepy credit sequence that features an unsettling rendition of “Rock-a-bye Baby” being sung by a man who isn’t really committed to the tune. The camera slowly crawls forward until we make out a little girl bashing in the face of her twin sister sitting in a rocking chair.

 

Fade to black. Begin movie.

Julia Sullivan (Trish Everly) is a teacher for children who are hearing impaired. Julia has a deep, dark secret. She has a psychotic twin named Mary (Allison Biggers) who currently resides in a mental hospital. At the behest of her Uncle James (Dennis Robertson), a Catholic priest, Julia visits Mary in the hospital.

Father James warns Julia that her sister is now a deformed shell of her former self and that her appearance might appear unsettling, because it most certainly is. Mary grabs Julia’s arms and vows to make her suffer as she has suffered. Turns out when Julia was little, Mary would torture her on their birthday by burning her arm with matchsticks. Mary also had a pet Rottweiler that she’d send into Julia’s room late at night while she was trying to sleep. Mary is bad people.

Mary escapes from the hospital, and Julia freaks out. Her doctor boyfriend, Sam (Michael Macrae), and Father James tell her there’s nothing to worry about. Meanwhile, there’s a nasty Rottweiler on the loose in Savannah attacking and killing unsuspecting people like Julia’s favorite student. Sam has to go to San Francisco for a medical conference leaving Julia all alone on her birthday in her creepy apartment building. But that’s okay. Father James is there to throw her a splendid birthday party. What could possibly go wrong? Did I mention that Uncle James is off his rocker?

Arrow Video delivers Madhouseon video with a splendid transfer and some neat extras. You get an interview with the director, Ovidio G. Assonitis, and an audio commentary track with the hosts of The Hysteria Continues. Worth checking out if you’re a horror collector.


Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131episode 284episode 441episode 442episode 443, episode 444, and episode 450) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.