“Madhouse”: Julia’s twisted twin sister & her demonic devil dog go on a bloody killing spree!

By on October 28, 2017

We here at Night Flight HQ can hardly believe that our favorite month of the year is nearly over — it flew by on bat wings! — but there’s still a few days left before Halloween to enjoy all of the Horror Month titles we’ve got streaming over on Night Flight Plus.

One of the titles we’re recommending that you check out is legendary Egyptian-born filmmaker Ovidio G. Assonitis’s cult fave from 1981, Madhouse.

This one combines American early ’80s-era slasher film thrills with bloody Italian giallo-ish kills, making for a film so over-the-top with shocking violence that British authorities added it to their “video nasty” list, meaning it was never screened theatrically in the UK!

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Assonitis (originally billed as “Oliver Hellman”) and his Italian production crew shot this highly-entertaining film entirely on location in Savannah, Georgia, inside the notorious Kehoe House, which has a reputation for being haunted.

Re-titled Madhouse for the VHS market after it had previously been released in theaters as There Was A Little Girl, Assonitis’s film — from a screenplay was written by Assonitis, Stephen Blakeley, Peter Sheperd and Roberto Gandus — was reportedly inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s short six-line poem “There Was a Little Girl”:

There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

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In the film, Trish Everly stars as the pretty Julia Sullivan, a teacher at a school for the deaf, who is dreading the arrival of her twenty-fifth birthday in just a few days.

She’s not sleeping well either, disturbed by haunting nightmares involving her sadistic and psychotic twin sister, Mary Sullivan (Allison Biggers), who just happens to be a mental patient locked up in a nearby sanitarium.

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Julia hasn’t visited her sister in several years, and we learn that Mary — who blames Julia for her problems — used to torment her when they were children, with Mary often using her pet dog to threaten her sister.

Four days before her birthday, Julia decides to pay her sister a visit, where she learns from her Catholic priest uncle, Father James (Dennis Robertson) that Mary has become hideously-disfigured with a strange skin disease.

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Julia’s insane sister Mary threatens her, and vows to exact a particularly cruel revenge — she wants Julia to “suffer as she had suffered” — and promises that she’s going to get a birthday surprise this year that she’ll never forget!

Shortly after her visit, Julia learns that Mary has escaped from the mental hospital, just in time to crash her surprise birthday party.

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Julia’s consoled by her supportive boyfriend, Sam Edwards (Michael MacRae), but he also has to take a business trip out of town and that means Julia’s going to be left alone in her big house to fend for herself.

Then, people close to Julia start to go missing, or they’re found dead, murdered in gruesome, bloody ways, including being mauled to death by a savage Rottweiler.

What happens next? You’ll have to pay a visit to Madhouse to find out.

Read more about Ovidio G. Assonitis’s Madhouse below.

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True horror cinéastes always have a great time playing spot-the-easily-identifiable references in some of Assonitis’s best-known titles, including Beyond the Door (1974), Tentacoli (1977), The Visitor (1979), and Piranha II: The Spawning (1981, which Assonitis co-directed with a pre-fame James Cameron), with scenes that seem lifted wholesale from popular U.S. box-office smash hits like The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975), and The Omen (1976).

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This film’s cinematography by Roberto D. Ettorre Piazzoli was clearly influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), and some of the production design and various other aspects found in Madhouse may, indeed, remind some of you of great ’70s-era horror films like Sisters (1973), The Sentinel (1977), and Italian director Dario Argento’s ’77 horror classic, Suspiria.

Speaking of Italian films, there’s an obvious nod here and there to giallo films, including a final twist at the end that we’re not going to spoil for you.

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The graphic slasher-like violence — characters are dispatched a number of particularly cruel ways, including a frenzied axe attack and being ripped apart by a bloodthirsty demonic devil dog — were so over the top that this film was added to the “video nasty” list of 72 films singled out and banned in the UK.

These were film titles in the early-to-mid-Eighties targeted in a hate campaign by right-wing Christian nutjob Mary Whitehouse and fellow members of the watchdog group, the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (NVALA).

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These über-vigilant and uptight housewives, snobbish movie critics and conservative politicians felt that there were some titles that were so offensive in their use of violent or crude, obscene material that the deserved to singled out by the British Board of Film Censorship (BBFC).

This led to the “Video Recordings Act of 1984,” which imposed a stricter code of censorship on videos than was required for cinema release.

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These titles were banned and sometimes seized from video shoppes in the name of moral righteousness, in order to keep England’s youth safe from “nastiness.”

There Was a Little Girl/Madhouse — it was also known by And When She Was Bad, and Party des Schreckens! — was, in fact, released four times on home video, but we’re streaming the newly-restored HD version from our partners, Arrow Video!

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This horrific, shocking film also features a wild score by Italian composer Riz Ortolani, best known for his musical score for Paolo Cavara and Gualtiero Jacopetti’s 1962 “mondo” pseudo-documentary Mondo Cane, although he scored all or at least part of more than two hundred films during his career.

Watch Madhouse and other titles we’ve selected for you in our Horror Month section on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.