“Madhouse” is less of a bad movie, and more an antecedent, a complete misfire of the potential towards its concept from beginning to end. The plot and its characters are so ripe with possibilities and writers William Butler, and Aaron Strongoni completely sidestep that in exchange for attempted style. Which is a shame because “Madhouse” has all the ingredients for easy bake horror. There’s atmosphere, gruesome imagery, good looking actors, a mental institution, nutty patients, a shady staff, and a killer offing people (two total), but nothing is ever really accomplished here. Director Butler does have a knack for sheer style and atmosphere creating a setting that is both visually appealing and utterly sick. He sometimes pays homage to Barker and Lovecraft–or at least he tries, and sometimes he succeeds and this wasn’t completely difficult to look at.
The nuthouse depicted here looks utopian on the outside, dark on the inside, and the basement is hellish as we’d expect. Who knew they stored supplies beside mental patients? Regardless I liked most of what Butler shows us here, and some of the gags and killings are fun including one death involving electrocution which had me literally cringing in my seat. Butler almost gets it right in the visual department, now if only he could have directed a watchable film. Writers William Butler and Aaron Strongoni are so intent on squeezing all sorts of elements for horror films in that its collapses on to itself becoming an illogical jumbled mess that left us with not only a question mark, but a sheer exclamation point. The climax either means that the production crew ran out of money and just ended it, or had no idea how to end this.
The mental institution, very similar to a modern day Dante’s inferno of a sorts has a slasher, ghosts, mental patients resembling the ghosts from the “Thirteen Ghosts” remake (how sad), dangerous supporting characters, and main characters whom may or may not be dangerous, meanwhile the plot basically runs on fumes. Joshua Leonard (Sounding shockingly similar to Brad Pitt) has zero charisma and plays a bookish and extroverted main character who is interning at a mental hospital and learns the ropes from its staff and a hot nurse named Sara ala Jordan Ladd. Ladd is listless here yet again with no real character traits that make her a likable protagonist whatsoever and serves as a mere love interest, but plays a big role in the climax that would have made a much bigger impact had she been featured more prominently.
There’s something obviously going on at this institution; it’s as subtle as a kick in the head, but with cliché one-liners like “Buildings are like people; sometimes they remember the things that hurt them”, we’re never given what we’re promised. It’s chestnuts like that that make this terribly derivative dreck. With uneven pacing, the film is often very dull and lifeless, with a story that mostly drags on serving its purpose as padding with so much empty character emphases, and there are even appearances from Lance Henriksen and Natasha Lyonne whom are both properly wasted.
We’re pulled in all sorts of directions on this story that lead us to believe one thing, and then another until we’re not sure what the hell is going on around this place.
“Madhouse” is never as smart as it tries to be, delving in to so many Faust-ian themes that are mostly shallow concepts than deep observations that serve as plot devices. The character Clark constantly talks to a mental patient located in the basement of the institution where the most dangerous and colorful of patients lurk, and he seeks counsel about who or whom may be killing the staff members and he’s never given a very clear answer, and neither are we, and we’re left with the “Prom Night” climax that left so many plot holes and lapses in logic out on the table that were never resolved and it just ends up becoming yet another vapid straight to video that will remain on the half price bin. Jordan Ladd is hot, Joshua Leonard does a great impression of Brad Pitt, two people die, and nothing happens. “Madhouse” is a whole lot of elements and plot devices that ultimately amount to nothing and leave many unanswered questions, but the problem is the movie isn’t good enough for me to want to decipher it’s mysteries.