| June 13, 2017

I can’t possibly begin talking about Ovidio G. Assonitis’ Madhouse without immediately drawing comparisons between the film and J. Lee Thompson’s Happy Birthday to Me. Both films were clearly made to cash in on the slasher horror craze in the immediate post-Friday the 13th years. Both films were released in 1981 in fact (though Madhouse wouldn’t come to the States until 1983). Both films center on a female protagonist suffering from the effects of a major childhood trauma. And both films build ominously toward a climax coinciding with our protagonist’s birthday.

Still, there are considerable differences between the two films. The most significant difference between is that Madhouse is less of a traditional whodunit than Happy Birthday to Me with Assonitis preferring instead to revel in the killer’s madness. So while Happy Birthday to Me focuses less on the characters and more on the inventive kills, Madhouse celebrates the scenery-chewing antics of the antagonist… as well as the neck-chewing antics of the killer’s dog. As such, Madhouse offers a similar exploration of one woman’s psychosis to that in Happy Birthday to Me, just without all the red herrings and with the addition of a vicious, bloodthirsty dog that conspicuously becomes a puppet whenever it has to interact with an actor’s neck.

Between Madhouse’s mincing murderer, the hilarious use of puppetry in the gory dog attack scenes, and the use of a gothic Georgia funeral home converted into apartments for the central location, there’s a lot for horror hounds to sink their teeth into here (pun totally intended, btw). What’s more, that Madhouse proves to be such an incredibly fun watch is totally unsurprising given that writer/director Assonitis is also the man responsible for at least two other delightfully wacky horror viewings in The Visitor (1979) and Piranha II: The Spawning (1981). This is all to say then that if you enjoy Happy Birthday to Me even in the slightest, Madhouse will likely be right up your alley and that you might want to nab the newly released Arrow Video US Blu-ray release of Madhouse before the Halloween season gets here! It’s an incredibly fun film that to my mind would be great when watched with friends and beers—a terrific addition to this year’s Halloween marathons.

Madhouse is available today on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Video US, a distributor who’ve risen to the top of the boutique horror distributor ranks with shocking speed thanks in no small part to the quality of such releases as this. The release includes a gorgeous new 2K restoration from the original camera negative; audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues podcast; brand new interviews with Assonitis, actress Edith Ivey, and director of photography Robert D’Ettorre Piazzoli; alternate opening titles the newly-transferred trailer in HD; and reversible cover art featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach. The first pressing of Madhouse from Arrow also features a 24-page booklet boasting John Martin’s essay, “The Occult, Octopi and Ovidio Nasties: The Amazing Exploitation Career of Ovidio G. Assonitis.”

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).

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