(Ovidio G. Assonitis, 1981)
Madhouse begins with a bang as a little girl bashes in her twin sister's face with a rock to a rather disturbing rendition of Rock-a-Bye Baby. Years later, Julia (the rock-happy one) has become a teacher at a school for deaf children. Her now deformed and insane sister Mary, however, has been locked in a psych ward since the incident.
Only a few days before their birthday, their uncle, Father James, approaches Julia with the idea of visiting her sister in the ward. Though apprehensive initially, Julia does so, only to be scared away. It's revealed that on past birthdays, Mary would hunt down Julia with her vicious, massive dog, and burn the poor girl with matches. No wonder she got her face bashed in! That same night, Mary escapes the ward. With her dog in tow, she starts offing Julia's friends so as to prepare a surprise birthday party for her sister.
Made in 1981, the same year as Canadian horror film Happy Birthday To Me, Madhouse soon found itself added to the infamous Video Nasties list in Britain, and for good reason. It's a gory and somewhat shocking film, depicting acts of violence against children, animals, and all around good-natured characters.
Regardless of it's body count and small budget, Madhouse is an exceptionally stylish horror film. First and foremost is the lighting, or lack thereof. With the exception of the outdoor scenes, everything is bathed in shadow and light is used only to highlight certain objects and passages. The soundtrack by Riz Ortolani bounces between bizarre synthesizer effects and childrens' music, adding another dimension to the already ominous shots. I recommend this title, as it's a fine example of 80's Italian horror that actually works. Buy it here.
6 months ago