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JULIA, A TEACHER IN A SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF, HAS A HIDEOUSLYDEFORMED & DERANGED TWIN SISTER THAT RESIDES IN THE LOCAL LOONEYBIN. SHE ESCAPES TO GATE-CRASH A SURPRISE BIRTHDAY PARTY FORJULIA BY MURDERING ALL THE PARTY GUESTS WITH THE HELP OF AGIANT KILLER ALSATION DOG.
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Built around a slasher/crazed relative plot, the film stands above it's rivals due to some really good cinematography. The story tells of a young teacher named Julia (Trish Everly) who has lived under the shadow of her abusive sister Mary since childhood. Her adult life has been relatively peaceful until news reaches her that Mary is suffering from a disfiguring disease and wants to see her. Julia's visit to the hospital is one among several scenes that stayed in my mind. As she walks through the ward, the atmosphere is quite dreamlike, with the room seeming like a huge white theatre, festooned in curtains. Mary makes for a rather belligerent and ungrateful patient however, and Julia's life is turned upside down by this encounter with her cruel sibling, and in the days following the visit, people around her start dying.
The film is enjoyable and capable of sustaining interest throughout it's running time. Trish Everly makes a very likeable heroine, and a lot of trouble is taken to gain the viewers sympathies for her, especially in the early scenes set in the school for deaf children where she works. She's rather timid, but armed with a fairly good script, she makes for an appealing heroine. Another good character is the fiesty girl friend who agrees to sleep over in Julia's apartment when events start to take a more sinister turn. Sadly this companion soon falls prey to Mary's brutal scheme to terrorize Julia all over again, and left only with a boyfriend who is conveniently never on hand when he is needed, it is left to Julia to find the strength to somehow outwit her sister.
Although some of the time the action can get rather slow, the film features two pretty over-the top gore scenes that seem almost out of place in a movie that exercises restraint in most aspects. The most infamous sequence is the one that shows just how you can put down a dangerous attacking rottweiler with a handy power drill. The other is an axe attack that is so drawn out it becomes almost surreal. The only things letting the film down are some rather over-the-top performances from the supporting cast, such as Julia's landlady and her Uncle James, both of whom are very eccentric and colourful weirdos. But they certainly enliven the action, unlike the character of Mary, who appears on screen with pantomime-style evil rantings and some very unconvincing looking "facial disfigurement" make-up. This may be due to it having been laid on with a trowel in an attempt to disguise the fact that the two sisters look nothing like each other - despite the fact that they are supposed to be twins!
The old Medusa pre-cert release (in the UK at least) panned and scanned the picture horribly, producing a muddled mess of what is a nicely composed and shot movie. The film needs to be seen in widescreen, including all the violence, even the dog-drilling scene (don't worry, it certainly doesn't look real!). I bought the UK DVD of this whioch was let down by the sound quality - it's APPALLING. Half the time its far too quiet and even with the volume turned way up, there were times when I couldn't even make out what people were saying. A big dropped clanger there.
I hope this has been corrected in the R1 disc...it certainly has a better cover. I am glad to see another release of this and hope we get more along these lines... if they can give DVD releases to other, far inferior video nasties like "Unhinged", I guess anything is possible.
Story: Julia is a teacher for hearing impaired kids, with a boyfriend, and an awful secret. Julia has a maniacal twin sister, who is suffering from a disease, which causes her deformity. Mary is her name and she wants to make Julia suffer. Soon Mary escapes, with the help of her trusty canine companion, mayhem ensues, just in time for Mary and Julia's birthday.
Strengths: Decent story, good acting, decent characters, good effects, terrific score/soundtrack, foreboding atmosphere, great eerie sets, and a good cast.
Weaknesses: At times a few scenes drag, but the film remains an overall decent pace.
Fun Facts: Had a spot on the video nasties list. Had other titles, there was a little girl, and when she was bad. The film was released about the same time as Happy Birthday To Me, and just like it, features a macabre dinner party.
Final Thoughts: Its definitely better than some of its other slasher siblings, like, The Slayer (1981). I love the antagonists, they're wicked and twisted, especially our actual lead killer, not Mary or her dog, but rather a surprise maniac. I really adore the film's score and soundtrack. The film throws several aspects from other films into its plot, Halloween, Happy Birthday To Me, etc. Overall I like Madhouse it's not that bad.
My rating: DVD 3/5 Film 3.9/5
People complain that it's a little slow and I do agree that the death scenes play out in slow motion. It's all very bizarre and has this very dream-like feeling that adds to the atmosphere.
The leading lady is very likable and it's a wonder that she wasn't in anything else. She really pulls off the bizarre plot and is what really holds the film together.
If you love slashers, you'll probably enjoy the film. There's plenty of the red stuff for gore enthusiasts and some pure suspense. It's a rarity and a was known as a 'video nasty' in the UK back in the 80s. Check it out!