Friday, October 1, 2010

Don't Open The Door!

Video Nasty #4




Actual Title: There Was A Little Girl
Alternate Titles: And When She Was Bad, Flesh And The Beast, Scared To Death
NTSC Running Time: 93:16
Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis
Written by Ovidio G. Assonitis, Stephen Blakely, Roberto Gandus, Peter Shepherd
Produced by Ovidio G. Assonitis and Peter Shepherd
Starring: Trish Everly, Dennis Robertson, Michael MacRae, Morgan Hart, Edith Ivey and Allison Biggers
Body Count: 5, plus a cat, a dog, a child (not shown), and the shock opener that has no relation to the rest of the film.
Availability: Uncut Region 1 DVD from Dark Sky Films.

BBFC Status

Why it's a Nasty: Animal stuff.  No one is really sure which scene caused the most trouble, as all of the violence is rather sadistic and gruesome...but the power drill in the dog's head is probably the biggest offender.
What was cut: Well...nothing.  After being seized and prosecuted, Madhouse was not released until...
Current BBFC Status: The uncut version of Madhouse was awarded an 18 certificate on April 27, 2004.  Available on Region 2 DVD from Film 2000.
Madhouse was successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, making it one of the DPP39.

Ahhh, the scourge of alternate titles.

One of the things about the Video Nasties is not just how many alternate titles have piled up for some of these films, but which title is the "true" title.  In this case, it is not hard to figure out which title is correct: The case and disc of the film said plainly Madhouse, but the film itself carried the title card There Was A Little Girl, and after viewing the film I cannot possibly call it anything else.

Since this is the first time that we've needed to deal with a film with many titles, now is the time to explain how I will handle it.  The courier-fonted bold-italic-underline at the top of the article is the Video Nasty title.  After that, I will refer to it by whichever title I like best, which is usually the original, filmmaker-intended title...but not always.  We'll talk about this more as we go through the list.

The film opens with a slow zoom in on a pair of twin girls in a black room under the opening credits.  When we finally get close enough to see anything, we can see that one is being rocked in a chair by the girl standing next to her...who then pulls out a large rock and repeatedly smashes the other in the face.  It's a great shock opener, and while it can be related to the events we are about to witness, it has nothing to do with the rest of the film.  We are watching a story about twin girls, but not these twin girls.

We get a title card telling us that it is November 6th, and Julia's birthday is 5 days away.  Then we meet Julia, a teacher at a school for deaf children.  She goes to visit her sister Mary in the hospital (it's never clear whether it is a mental or physical hospital, but it doesn't matter because she's sick and crazy) for the first time in seven years.  Big mistake, Julia.  See, Mary spent their childhood torturing Julia, especially on their birthday, and Mary also has a pet Rottweiler that kills whoever it meets up with.

Before long, Mary escapes, her dog goes on a murderous rampage, and a mysterious station wagon is shadowing Julia.  Most of the murders take place inside of her home, an apartment building in the middle of being renovated that has exactly two tenants: Julia, and her new-age freako landlady Amantha, who delivers one of the best lines of the film: "You know, dear, sometimes those of us with a sensitive temperament are often tried by the brutality of this world.", which could serve as this film's thesis.  When the violence comes, it is definitely brutal and drawn out, in one instance leading a repeatedly terrorized character to engage in an act of overkill that is refreshing to see in a "slasher" movie, where those who are attacked often stab once and run, guaranteeing that they will be facing their merely wounded attacker again.  Seeing a character who has been repeatedly put upon unload a tidal wave of rage on the tormentor is a "FUCK YEAH!" moment that horror movies (at least of this period) don't take the opportunity to include very often.

The acting in this picture is first-rate.  The performance of Trish Everly as Julia was really a standout and I was hoping to find other movies that featured her.  Of which there are none.  I can find no other information about this woman except that she starred in There Was A Little Girl.  Not even a guest shot on Gimme A Break or St. Elsewhere.  It's a shame, because she would have been one hell of a scream queen, as demonstrated by the final reel of this film.  Where are you, Trish?  We'd love to see more of you!  Also of note in the cast are Michael MacRae as Julia's rockin'-the-70s-moustache doctor boyfriend, Edith Ivey as spacey Amantha, Allison Biggers as deformed-and-loony Mary, and veteran TV actor Dennis Robertson as Father James, the twin's uncle.  Most of the cast is no longer working in film or TV, sadly, since they are a talented bunch, but life is more than acting.  Morgan Hart, who plays Julia's friend and co-worker Helen, lives one county away from me with her husband, Don Most, and their children.  I wonder if she'd do an interview...

Speaking of interviews, the Dark Sky DVD has an interview with Ovidio G. Assonitis as a bonus feature, and I'm pretty sure all the stories are true.  He states plainly that he is only interested in producing, directed when he felt the people he had hired weren't doing a good job, and that budget is king.  I personally disagree with almost everything he said (and he damn near admits ghost-directing Piranha II), but I can't deny that the man has skill.  There were several impressively shot sequences in There Was A Little Girl, especially a "final confrontation" scene between the sisters that effectively ratchets up the tension.  He says in his interview that he was disappointed with the special effects, especially the dog-drilling scene, but I think he's being a bit harsh.  It's a movie, jackass, it's gonna look a little fake unless you do it for real!  Quit bitching.  I had my hands over my mouth through the whole sequence, going "DAMN!" and cringing at the sheer harshness of it.

I definitely enjoyed There Was A Little Girl (a much more ominous title than Madhouse, don't you agree?) and I would recommend it if you like suspenseful psychological horror with a bit of gore and some surprises.  One thing I love about insane characters is that they don't have to behave like anyone would in real life, and that is the case here, so don't be a stickler for reality and just go with it.  It's creepy, well-acted, brutal, and a lot of fun.  I'd also like to mention that at one point, Julia says to Helen "Don't open the door!"  There are four Video Nasties with titles that begin with "Don't" and it would be great to see a re-release of There Was A Little Girl under the title Don't Open The Door, just to make it more confusing!

If anyone knows whatever happened to Trish Everly, please let me know, and I will feature it in a later column.  I hope she's at least on the stage or something, her acting was better than what you normally see in a low-budget horror film.  I'll stay on the lookout, too.  Because my name's Justin.  JustinCase.

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