1987 U.S. VHS artwork
|Directed by||Ovidio G. Assonitis|
|Produced by||Ovidio G. Assonitis|
|Written by||Ovidio G. Assonitis|
|Music by||Riz Ortolani|
|Cinematography||Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.[i]|
Madhouse (originally titled There Was a Little Girl; also known as And When She Was Bad) is a 1981 Italian-American slasher film directed and co-written by Ovidio G. Assonitis, and starring Trish Everly, Dennis Robertson, Allison Biggers, and Michael Macrae. The plot follows a schoolteacher in Savannah, Georgia being stalked by her psychopathic twin sister in the days leading up to their birthday. The film's original title takes its name from a poem of the same name by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
The film features a musical score by Riz Ortolani and cinematography by Assonitis regular Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli. Though it received theatrical distribution in Italy, West Germany, and the United States, it was one of the many films on the "video nasty" list, a list of horror and exploitation films banned in the United Kingdom by the BBFC in the 1980s for violence and obscenity.
Julia is a young schoolteacher for deaf children living in Savannah, Georgia. She has horrid memories of her childhood, which was scarred by her sadistic twin sister Mary. At the urging of her uncle, James, a local Catholic priest, Julia visits Mary, suffering from a severe skin disease, in a mental institution. The meeting does not go well and Mary vows to make Julia "suffer as she had suffered".
As their mutual birthday approaches, several of Julia's friends and neighbors begin to die gruesome deaths in the house she lives in, some involving a mysterious Rottweiler dog who attacks its victims, mauling them to death. One of Julia's students, Sasha, is killed in a park by the Rottweiler one afternoon.
Meanwhile, Julia becomes increasing unnerved that someone--possibly Mary--is hiding inside the large house she lives in. One evening, when being dropped off by her psychologist boyfriend Sam, she witnesses a light come on on the second floor of the house, but finds no one there. Helen, Julia's friend, offers to spend the night with her. In the middle of the night, she is attacked by the Rottweiler on the staircase; the dog attacks and kills her, tearing open her throat. Julia awakes the next morning and finds Helen gone. Given there is no evidence of the attack, Julia assumes she went home early. Sam visits her, and tells her he is forced to take a business trip to San Francisco over Julia's upcoming birthday.
Later the same day, Julia's uncle, Father James, is carrying things into the basement of Julia's home. A local parishioner, Amantha Beauregard, passes by and offers to help him carry a large bag; he tells her he is throwing Julia a surprise birthday party. Once in the basement, Amantha realizes she has just helped James carry a corpse; he then chases her through the house, and stabs her to death in the attic.
The next day, on Julia's birthday, James meets her after work, and takes her to her house, blindfolding her for a surprise. In the basement, he removes the blindfold, revealing a table seated with corpses. When she attempts to escape, Julia is confronted by Mary, who James murders shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, Sam's taxi to the airport is stalled by a flat tire, and he returns to the house, where he is attacked by the Rottweiler. The dog attempts to break through a door, and Sam kills it by driving a power drill into its head.
In the basement, Sam is able to free Julia, who then murders her uncle James by repeated blows with a hatchet. The film ends as Julia sits on the basement stairs next to her dead sister.
The film's title refers to the poem "There Was a Little Girl" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
There was a little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid.
Madhouse was released theatrically under the title There Was a Little Girl in Italy on March 4, 1981. It was subsequently distributed theatrically in West Germany in November 1981 through Warner Bros., who owned distribution rights to the film in European markets.
The film was re-titled Madhouse for the video market, was released several times on video. A truncated version was released on VHS in the United States by Virgin Vision, discontinued and then released again in 1989.
The film's graphic content resulted in it being classified as a "video nasty" by the BBFC, and the film never saw a theatrical release in the United Kingdom. It was released in its uncut form in January 1983 on VHS by Medusa Home Video before being pulled from circulation during the "video nasty" panic in November 1983.
In 2004, the film was passed by the BBFC and was released uncut on DVD by Film 2000, and was released in the U.S by Dark Sky Films in 2008. In June 2017, the film was released in the United States and United Kingdom in a Blu-ray & DVD combination package from Arrow Films, featuring a new 4K restoration of the original film elements.
Mick Martin and Marsha Porter of the DVD and Video Guide awarded the film three out of five stars, noting: "Although the story sounds simple, there are some surprises. Stylishly filmed and well acted, with a bigger budget this might have been a classic. As it is, it's worth a look."
Ian Jane of DVD Talk wrote: "Despite the ridiculousness of the script and the mediocrity of the acting, Madhouse has enough gore and ludicrous set pieces to make it worth a look for slasher fans." Tom Becker of DVD Verdict opined, "Little touches of audacity notwithstanding, Madhouse ends up being a mediocre chiller with some unintentional laughs."
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