Madhouse (2004) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Madhouse (2004) Review

Horrorific content by TE Simmons on June 15th, 2021 | Movie Review | Psychological, Madness, Medical, Mystery, Asylum

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It’s about a madhouse – in which the patients might be saner than it seems.

Madhouse was the directorial debut of William Butler (Gingerdead Man 3 and Black Velvet Pantsuit) who also wrote the screenplay. It stars Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project), Jordan Ladd (Death Proof), Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll) and Lance Henriksen (Near Dark and Aliens).

Whose home is it, anyhow?

Madhouse Review

Pay attention to the hint in the opening montage: “There’s no place like home.” We’ll come back to that.

Madhouse starts our promising. It knows its own filmic context. In its opening sequence, it gives a nod to Asylum (1972). The new intern correctly discerns that a welcoming white-coated gentleman is not a doctor, but rather a patient, in nothing flat. (In Asylum, this deciphering took up the whole film.)

Madhouse also references One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Indeed, at one point, it flirts with fashioning itself as a socially conscious expose of the institutionalization of mental illness – with a tablespoon of the paranormal folded in. There’s electro-shock treatment. There’s something fishy with the patients’ medications. There’s even a stand-in for Nurse Ratched in the form of Nurse Hendricks (played by Dendrie Taylor).

The chief problem with Madhouse is in the way it reaches its conclusion. The film’s final act is reminiscent of an episode of Last Cake Standing in which bakers compete against one another for the title of “Best Cake Artist in America.” In one episode, a talented but too-eager pastry chef takes her cake one ingredient too far. It’s so over-decorated that it collapses.

Madhouse is like that. By the end credits, there’s just a heap of failed frosting smeared all over the floor. But for a lack of restraint, it might have taken home a prize. It has a lot going for it.

It’s got a serviceable score. It’s got a nice The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari vibe to the sets. It’s got the rock-solid gravitas of Lance Henriksen right where we need it (he’s the institution’s warden). It’s got a sparkling performance by Jordan Ladd (Alan Ladd’s granddaughter! Cheryl Ladd’s daughter!) as a pretty nurse with a dash of schizophrenia. And it does provide a clever solution to its opening hint – indeed there is no place like home. But the journey there is just too much.

After starting out as a One-Flew-Over-the-Cuckoo’s-Nest-with-Ghosts idea, it switches to a murder-mystery. Then it switches tracks again and presents its protagonist questioning his own sanity with audience-participation encouraged (is the reappearing ghost-boy real or a hallucination?). We get a conspiracy theory teaser. Then we get a sage-like patient feeding the protagonist clues from his cell. We get an implausible romantic sub-plot. But in the end, even the most attentive viewer won’t be able to locate any cake-like substance in all that genre-frosting.

Worth Watching?

No, but for the performances by Jordan Ladd and Lance Henricksen.

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