Madhouse (William Butler, 2004)
An hour into William Butler’s Madhouse, a thriller that should have been much, much better than it is, I was ready to sing its praises to the moon and back—it’s just the right combination of weird characters, weird situations, and outrageous mystery to press all my buttons. Then, after a bit more meandering, we get to the Big Reveal and, well, the movie has set so many traps for itself that it would’ve taken an immortal director to sidestep them all. Which is not to say it’s not worth watching, but it sets the viewer up for some unreasonable expectations.
Plot: Clark Stevens (The Blair Witch Project‘s Joshua Leonard) is a new intern at an asylum being held together by spit, duct tape, and the indomitable will of Dr. Franks (Lance Henriksen), who runs the place with both an iron fist and an iron Girl Friday, Nurse Hendricks (The Fighter‘s Dendrie Taylor). As soon as Clark bunks down for his first night, weird things begin to happen, and pretty soon, he’s seeing the ghost of a small boy roaming the halls, striking up a friendship with Ben London, the scariest guy in the psycho wing, and embarking on a friendship-which-could-end-up-being-a-tentative-romance with a fellow intern, Sara (Grace‘s Jordan Ladd). The last of those may be the weirdest of all. But when Nurse Hendricks is discovered the next morning murdered in the basement, Clark seizes the opportunity to investigate as a way of trying to uncover what he suspects to be corruption in the Franks regime.
It’s all quite wonderful until we get to the Big Reveal, which kind of falls flat before immediately going as far over the top as it can. But I still had more fun with this movie than I expected to, which in the end is what it’s all about, as far as I’m concerned. Good acting, good pace, and a well-earned atmosphere for most of the film gets a recommend from this camp. ***