Madhouse (2004)
By: Julian on July 23, 2009  | 
Lionsgate (Australia), Region 4, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. English, Spanish subtitles. 91 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: William Butler
Starring: Joshua Leonard, Jordan Ladd, Natasha Lyonne, Lance Henrikson
Screenplay: Aaron Strongoni, William Butler
Country: USA
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Not to be confused with the 1974 Vincent Price shocker or the 1981 Italian video nasty of the same name, Madhouse came as something of a surprise – an overlooked keeper made available in R4 four years after its initial release. The story of haunted mental hospitals is not a new one but some good performances and a terrific atmosphere conjured up by writer/director William Butler puts Madhouse towards the top of such-themed movies.

Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project, Hatchet) plays Clark Stevens, a med student who needs to do an internship to complete his degree and flesh out his résumé. Clark selects Cunningham Hall, a dilapidated, understaffed mental hospital, and brings with him a portfolio of ideas to revamp the place.

Cunningham Hall's chief administrator Dr Franks (Lance Henrikson, B-grade genre hero) cuts the zealous Clark down to size, outright rejecting his ideas without giving them a glance, and just telling him to behave while he sits out the internship. Franks gets Sara, a pretty young nurse who completed her internship the year before, to show Clark around and both are under the command of the sinister and excessively austere Nurse Hendricks.

Sara gives Clark a tour of the facility, bringing him down to the basement and into the "Madhouse", a long, dank cellblock that houses Cunningham Hall's most depraved and irreparable residents. The occupiers of the Madhouse aren't like the benevolent loonies upstairs, who masquerade as doctors and prophesise calamities – these are stone-cold psychos, responsible for the most heinous crimes.

When Cunningham Hall awakes to the brutal murder of Nurse Hendricks, Clark decides to do some investigating and he gets involved talking to the occupant of Cell 44 in the Madhouse, a figure shrouded in darkness who speaks too intelligently to really belong at Cunningham Hall. As Clark digs deeper with the assistance of Sara, he discovers Dr Franks and the other doctors' shocking mistreatment of patients, as well as a supernatural force that threatens to bring every resident and employee to their knees.

I was really impressed by Madhouse, a copy of which I picked up off the shelves at JB for a pittance. Director William Butler has had some brief genre forays as an actor (Savini's Night of the Living Dead) and SFX crewman (From Beyond, Army of Darkness), but he's put his name to very little of significance until this picture. He does a really good job – Madhouse is stylish and pretty scary. It's by no means a wildly original concept, but Butler injects a good bit of life into whatever's trite – the scenes in the Madhouse are particularly effective.

The performances are worthy of a nod too – Josh Leonard does a fine job as Clark and Jordan Ladd, who plays Sara in this, has the CV of a firmly established scream queen – Madhouse was sandwiched by her roles in Cabin Fever and Club Dread, and Death Proof and Hostel Part II. Not much genre material on the horizon for either actor unfortunately, but ol' dependable, Lance Henrikson, has his hands full of horror goodness (and by horror goodness, I mean more in the vein of Pumpkinhead and Hellraiser sequels, but who needs quality?).

Madhouse is stylish enough and scary enough to warrant your immediate attention. Seek it out!
The picture is presented in 1.85:1, with 16:9 enhancement. It looks crisp but the film itself is very dark in a number of scenes. DOP is Viorel Sergovici, a Romanian chap who's lensed a few low-budget horrors. He also worked on Butler's 2006 feature Furnace with Danny Trejo, which looks like Madman translated to a maximum-security prison.
One English Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Sounds great.
Extra Features
The Verdict
Definitely worth a look, Madhouse is a very atmospheric and an unfortunately little-known entry into the mental hospital horror film canon (I'm grasping at straws for a subgenre, "mental hospital horror film" isn't an eloquent enough term… nutsploitation, perhaps?). Track it down.
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