I don’t always upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray but when I do, it’s for a movie that I especially enjoy on a visual level. MADHOUSE is just such a film. I’ve already fawned all over this underrated gem way back HERE so I’ll try not to repeat myself by focusing on this particular release from the always impressing folks at ARROW VIDEO. Not surprisingly, the movie (and its star TRISH EVERLY) looks more gorgeous than ever before thanks to a brand new restoration from the original camera negative (I usually don’t remark much on something as superficial as an actress’s looks but EVERLY is the most beautiful lady I ever did see and her character Julia should be sainted for the sweet way she delivers bad news to deaf children). My eyes can barely handle all of this candy: MADHOUSE’s nights are darker, its stain glass windows shine brighter and suddenly tiny details I’ve missed before are popping up like daisies.
All of this beauty comes to a head in the film’s final scene; the strings of glowing Christmas lights at Julia’s gruesome birthday party look positively stunning and suddenly I’m spying a shelf of creepy baby dolls that I’ve somehow never noticed before. This is why I love MADHOUSE so much; it really digs the juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness, the sacred and the profane, the cheery and the dismal. Plus I think it has something interesting to say about how organized religion may not always be rooting for the righteous team and how family ties can be excruciatingly difficult to sever. It rather neatly falls into the Kindertrauma spectrum since Julia was cruelly abused in her youth and no matter how she tries to spin a positive life for herself, that original bite continues to gnaw. I can almost see Julia’s plagued twin sister Mary as a less scary precursor to PET SEMATARY’s twisted Zelda as she is able to conjure up feelings of familial guilt and pity along with the terror.
Plus there’s a commentary from the THE HYSTERIA CONTINUES! I usually shy away from commentaries because I hate to demystify a favorite film but this particular commentary was more like watching the movie with fellow horror fan friends. Actually, I was left with a strong feeling of camaraderie because they went and mentioned our old pal Amanda (buy her book HERE!), referenced my current new wave obsession CHINA CRISIS and spent time discussing their distaste for onscreen violence towards animals and their relief that MADHOUSE’s dog death is clearly realized through puppetry. I’ve read they’ll also be providing the commentary for ARROW’s upcoming release of THE SLAYER and now I’m looking forward to that even more (if that’s possible).
There is also an anecdotal interview with charming character actress EDITH IVEY (who went on to work with DAVID FINCHER), cinematographer ROBERTO D’ETTORRE PIAZZOLI who delivered MADHOUSE’s sleek, glossy look and an informative short featuring producer/director OVIDIO G. ASSONTIS who reveals his three main inspirations were THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE-DAME, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and THE SHINING. In addition, there’s an alternate opening sporting OVIDIO’s preferred title, THERE WAS A LITTLE GIRL. I do seem to appreciate this movie more than some of its creators (it’s certainly not PIAZZOLI’s cup of tea) but that’s what being a fanatic is all about.
And finally I have to give a special shout out to MARC SCHOENBACH’s fetching new cover artwork! It’s usually a fool’s errand to try to improve upon the classic eighties poster art that we’ve all grown fond of but somehow he did it. Am I just a sucker for dark silhouettes with glowing eyes? I love this illustration! It reminds me of the poster art for THE CHILD (1977) or CHILLERS (1987). If MADHOUSE had this artwork on its VHS sleeve, I’m sure it would have been difficult to keep on the video store shelves. It really does do a superior job of conveying the movie’s mood over previous attempts. I’m so glad I indulged myself with this ultimate upgrade. Now I can visit my lovely Southern Gothic MADHOUSE in its best possible condition whenever I like.