The first entry in the short film career of director Juan Lopez Moctezuma, The Mansion of Madness is a fine example of South of the Border Surrealism, and as such, shares more of a kinship with the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Fernando Arrabal, than with Moctezuma's later film (also on DVD) Alucarda. Based in part on Edgar Allan Poe's The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Feather, The Mansion of Madness tells the story of Gaston (Arthur Hansel) who, having recently returned from abroad, travels to an asylum nestled in the heart of a secluded forest. During the opening voice over, Gaston reveals that it was in this remote asylum that his father died, and under the guise of meeting with the head of the institution (a doctor named Maillard who employs unorthodox methods of treatment for patients) Gaston hopes to uncover the mystery shrouding his deceased father. However, this initial motivation is quickly abandoned once Gaston is given a grand tour of the sanitarium by the infamous "Dr. Maillard" (played with psychotic abandon by Claudio Brook) resulting in the discovery that the lunatics are actually running the asylum, and that the real Maillard and his staff are being held captive.
Unlike Alucarda, the premise of The Mansion of Madness provided Moctezuma with a concept in which to explore his Surrealist inclinations, and let his crazed imagination run wild. The film also reveals Moctezuma dabbling with absurd humor, the results of which are quite funny, and again help solidify his association to Surrealism. Although this film marked his directorial debut, Moctezuma's direction seems confident, his artistic vision clear, and he does not display many of the telltale signs of a novice director. In addition, the cinematography is of a high caliber, as are many of the performances from a very large cast. In this type of a story the mise-en-scene is crucial and thankfully the locations are wonderful, helping to create a palpable atmosphere of decay, and yes, madness. Perhaps due to the freewheeling nature of the narrative, the film does tend to lag on occasion. However, there is enough going on throughout to hold the viewer's interest, and the final fifteen minutes (highlighted by inmates performing a synchronized chicken dance) are well worth waiting around for.
This is another fine release from Mondo Macabro, featuring a great film transfer and a Spanish audio track with English subtitles. The handful of extras include - a director bio, the U.S. trailer, an interview with director Guillermo del Toro (also on the Alucarda disc) who discusses Moctezuma and actor Claudio Brook, an essay on the film, a director filmography, and a Mondo Macabro trailer highlighting past, present, and future releases.