Directed by William Butler
Produced by Mona Vasiloiu, Tom Fox & Henry Winterstein
Written by William Butler
Director of Photograpy Viorel Sergovici Jr.
Music by Alberto Caruso
Cast: Joshua Leonard, Jordan Ladd, Natahsa Lyonne & Lance Henriksen

2004/91 mins/Color/5.1 Dolby Digital
1.85:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1

Review from the Lions Gate Home Entertainment DVD

There are many settings which have become staples in horror films, such as an old house, a cemetery, a summer camp, or an isolated cabin. Another one which isn't used quite as often is the mental hospital, or as it's more often called, the insane asylum. In these films, the hospital is always presented as a dark, dirty place where the patients are out of control. (In my work, I've never been to a large state-run mental hospital, but the smaller facilities and psychiatric units that I've visited are nothing like this.) MADHOUSE is the latest film to follow this trend, and along with the stereotypical setting, we get a stereotypical plot as well.

In the film, intern Clark Stevens (Joshua Leonard -- THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT) arrives at Cunningham Hall, a sprawling mental hospital, which is filled with violent patients, cruel guards, and apathetic nurses. Clark has finished his studies in medical school and hopes that his time at Cunningham Hall will help boost his resume. His enthusiasm is deflated when he meets with Dr. Franks (Lance Henriksen), the chief administrator of the facility, who shoots down Clark's ideas for improving the hospital and tells him that their job is too simply house the patients. Clark's day does improve when he meets the lovely Sara (Jordan Ladd), a fellow employee who shows him the ropes.

However, things begin to get weird as a series of murders occur in the facility and Clark begins to see a young boy wandering the halls of the hospital. When the rest of the staff report that there are no children in the building, Clark begins to question the reality of what he's seeing. Sensing that no one in Cunningham Hall cares about what is happening, Clark begins to investigate the murders on his own, gaining some insight from the mysterious patient in Room 44. As Clark gets closer to the truth, he makes a discovery that will change his life forever.

Like many direct-to-video features, MADHOUSE isn't very original. Many films of this nature take a familiar plot and attempt to add a new twist to it. However, seems to have been cobbled together from pieces of other films. The story is nearly identical to that of ASYLUM OF THE DAMNED and it is also similar to the major release, GOTHIKA. The look of the film is reminiscent of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1999) and THIRTEEN GHOSTS. In short, there is very little to set MADHOUSE apart from any of its contemporaries.

Having said that, there's nothing wrong with familiarity. Watching MADHOUSE is similar to ordering spaghetti in a restaurant -- It may not be the best thing ever, but it's satisfying for the moment. The film was shot in Romania, and the building used for the hospital is certainly creepy, with the interiors having a grungy, disturbing look. The murders are gory and there are some quick cuts that have a troubling feel. The cast is good, with Jordan Ladd really standing out. Lance Henriksen, and another familiar face, Natasha Lyonne, don't have much screen-time.

Director/co-writer William Butler, whom many will remember as an actor from LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990), has thrown as much as he can into the film, both visually and storywise, and some of it works. Once again, the real drawback to the movie is the plot. If you're not too busy identifying where you've seen certain elements of the story before, you'll be miffed by the fact that you've figured out who the killer is very early in the movie. (For once, using common sense and logic will reveal the ending.) MADHOUSE is a fine low-budget effort that makes for a good rental. It won't stick with you, but there are far worse ways to pass the time.

MADHOUSE is committed to DVD courtesy of Lions Gate Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly clear, but it does show some noticeable grain in the darker scenes, which are numerous. However, the image is never too dark. Considering the low-budget nature of the film, Butler has given the movie a nice look. The colors are good and the image has a nice depth to it. There is some artifacting on the image, but it isn't intrusive. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track has hands-down the loudest subwoofer channel that I've ever heard. I literally had to turn the subwoofer all the way down just to hear the movie. Once I'd done that, I found that the dialogue was clear, and there was a nice usage of surround sound during the scare scenes.

The MADHOUSE DVD carries a few extras. We start with an audio commentary from co-writer/director William Butler and actor Joshua Leonard. This is a fairly good track as the pair talk in-depth about the film's production and the challenges of shooting in Romania. They have several amusing anecdotes about the language barrier there and what the crew was like. Butler never gets too technical and they both applaud the actors in the film. The DVD contains 2 "Deleted Scenes", which are actually extended scenes with minor differences. The third deleted scene is the "Original Ending" to the film, and I have to say that it's much better than the ending in the final cut. According to the commentary, the producers demanded that the ending be changes, but had they kept in the original ending, the film would have been much more satisfying. There are also three "Outtakes", one of which is quite amusing.





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Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2005. ©