Welcome to the Madhouse

If I really cared about traffic, I would have spent the month posting reviews of the newest mainstream horror movies with clever titles like “Orphan Prequel Comes Up Short”. I would have told you the Hellraiser reboot is worth a watch, despite its arbitrary decision to turn Pinhead female, and that Halloween Ends is a huge improvement over Halloween Kills, which isn’t saying much. Or, perhaps I would have taken part in one of those annual viewing challenges and covered 31 classics. But that’s not what this blog is about. It’s half about my old favorites, half about the obscure, brain melting stuff others neglect, since that’s what I enjoy watching these days. The tagline at the top is “adoring reviews of egregious cult, exploitation, and horror movies.” I chose the word “egregious” because according to Google and Oxford, it carries the contradictory double meaning of “shockingly bad” and “remarkably good”, and the movies I speak of qualify as both. Todd Sheets has been a reliable source of bad-good entertainment for me as of late, so let’s see what else he’s got. Hmm, his 1991 effort Edgar Allan Poe’s Madhouse has zero external reviews on IMDb. Perfect.

Todd Sheets is the George Lucas of SOV horror in the sense that he alters many of his early works out of a misguided need to improve them, not that he fathered a child at 69 with a woman young enough to be his daughter. Based on how wrong the Cinema Home Video VHS blurb is, it seems the version of Madhouse I pulled up on YouTube in glorious 240p, likely ripped from the DVD set “Decrepit Crypt of Nightmares”, is also a re-edit. At this point, I’m just assuming every old movie of his that I watch is a re-edit. I believe, no matter the budget, original versions of movies should be kept in rotation, just as art is preserved, for history’s sake. Offering them alongside “Director’s cuts” and “unrated editions” is fine, but outright replacing them leads to confusion and outrage. In this case especially, the changes perplex me. I can’t imagine what came before being any more of a mess than what we’ve got here. As it stands, Madhouse is a 4-part anthology written, directed, and hosted by “the king of SOV” that falsely claims to be based upon stories written by Edgar Allan Poe. At most, two of the segments were shot expressly for the movie, and have fuck-all to do with the esteemed author. The others are shorts from years earlier. It’s amazing just how little effort went into this thing, and how misleading it is. For that reason, it might be my favorite Sheets movie yet. Join me as I take a look.

The credits are the first sign that something is wrong. As always, they’re completely unprofessional and full of stupid in-jokes. This time, they even contain a few errors. For example, a “Kim Adler” is listed alongside Kim Alber and many of Sheets’ regular actors. I can only assume the former is a misspelling of the latter that somehow got left in. Furthermore, Charles Monroe is listed but does not appear. The opposite goes for Mike Hellman.

The opening theme is recycled from Nightmare Asylum. It’s not long enough, so it stops and starts over. Casting is credited to “Eddy Poe”, who’d been dead for 142 years. Writing was done by Roger Williams, a pseudonym Sheets often used, as well as a cop in his movie Dominion.

Sheets introduces the first segment. He tells us that it’s a vampire story, killing all hope of suspense. A quick Google search reveals that Poe never wrote any vampire stories. Sheets is wearing a black cape and reading a book to an object that’s either a lamp or a Halloween mask on a stand. “I’ll be back when it’s over to make sure you’re still alive.” he says with entirely too much confidence. He could have at least perched a crow on his shoulder.

Mike Hellman and Deric Bernier are seated on a sidewalk in front of an oil drum, passing a bottle of whisky, shouting unintelligibly about the 60s. Matthew Lewis stumbles into view and falls over. He drunkenly wrestles Bernier. Bernier gets up and walks to a train crossing. Jenny Admire beckons him to the side of a building. She kneels before him, then turns into this:

Pictured: a vampire.

RIP Bernier’s dick. Lewis rolls onto his back like a turtle. He announces a bum owes him money, gets up, and wanders off toward the same building Bernier did. We can see the cameraman’s thumb for a second. Lewis staggers past Admire. He slurs “put it in reverse” and backs up to hit on her. Admire says nothing, just does the come here gesture. Take 2. Lewis repeats his line and backs up again. Admire kills him.

Finally, Admire walks up to Hellman and starts rubbing his neck. She stops to unbutton her blouse while Hellman screams “Ow yeah!” Don’t get your dicks out, it’s only a tease. She continues rubbing his neck with her side to us now. The camera slowly rises from her feet. Admire whips toward our POV wearing this giant, ridiculous mask:

If all she does is suck blood, why the gaping maw?

Bobby Westrick opens a door. Two detectives step in. One is played by Mike Hellman, investigating his own death. The other is played by Chuck Cannon. Hellman’s character is named Johnathan Killraven, after a lesser known Marvel superhero. The partners explain how they followed a trail of blood to the building. Westrick is using a distinguished European accent. He denies any wrongdoing, claiming he’s only a tenant. The coppers take him at his word that he lives there, even though the building is unfurnished and falling apart. Westrick invites the men in to look around. Jenny Admire, Tonia Monahan, Kim Alber, and Veronica Orr watch on from the shadows while posing seductively.

Admire knocks on a door. Westrick bursts out surrounded by fog. He commands the women to kill the old cop, referring to Cannon, and turn the young one into a vampire. The partners split up. Hellman enters a room full of junk and is grabbed by the women. Monahan closes the door as he screams bloody murder. Cannon desperately tries to get in for twenty-three seconds, then leaves.

The lighting inside his apartment is pink and blue. This is where the out of place footage added to the end of Dominion originates. I want to know what happened between this scene and the last. Did he at least stop at the station and tell his superior about the attack, or just head straight home, pretending it didn’t happen? You’d never guess watching Dominion that Cannon’s partner was met with foul play moments earlier. He looks like he’s coming home from a tough but otherwise normal day on the job.

He sees one of the women behind him in his bathroom mirror. They disappear as he turns around. “I must be losing it.” he mutters. He sits down and turns on his TV. The image on the screen is of Admire beckoning him. It won’t turn off. He tells himself that he’s losing it two more times. Nothing phases this guy. He lies down in bed. Admire and Monahan appear next to him, sporting normal vampire fangs. They lick and bite him, without turning into giant-mouthed monsters. The end. I would not be surprised to learn that the portion with the hobos was originally unrelated to the portion with the cops.

Pictured: losing it.

Sheets rolls his eyes and dismissively flails his hand at the clown face like it’s saying something ridiculous to him. “Ah, back so soon?” he asks, noticing us. “What you’ve just seen is a small, horrifying story about vampires. But, what about werewolves? Do you have a fear of werewolves in the dark, dank forest? Well, if you do, this next story is right up your alley… because this one is all about werewolves.” Wouldn’t having a fear of werewolves mean it’s not up our alley? By the way, Poe never wrote any werewolf stories either.

Jenny Admire and Kim Alber break down on the side of the road. They hike off into the woods. Mike Hellman advises them to watch out for a wolf that’s been mutilating his cattle. A wolfman attacks him. The women don’t see it. A minute later, the wolfman attacks them. They run back to their car, where they encounter a man wearing the same clothes as the wolfman. They frantically tell him how a monster just killed a guy, even though they have no way of knowing that, and plead with him to fix their car as fast as he can. The man leans over their engine. He turns around with a wolfman face.

Sheets informs us the next segment is titled “Dead Things” and hypes it up as a “heapin’ helpin’ of hellbent hillbilly hospitality”. It’s an old short from 1986. A newly edited version appears in the compilation set Sheets of Gore put out by SRS Cinema, streaming on Tubi TV. Sheets remade it as a full-fledged movie in 1997. Confusingly, an IMDb user applied the VHS cover of the remake to the short, making it seem like the short was issued by itself at some point.

A hillbilly emerges from a dilapidated shack. There are pieces of wood strewn all over the ground. It’s early Spring or late Fall as there are no leaves on the trees. The man’s cheeks are black and white in some shots. It could be dirt, a painted-on beard, or residue from an effect we see later. He says “here boy” and slaps his thigh like he’s calling a dog. Clouds of dust shoot off his overalls. His braindead son comes running out of the shack. There’s no way he didn’t just see him in there. It’s half the size of my dining room. The son, who I’ll refer to as Junior, is seemingly unable to straighten his spine or stand still for more than a second. I hate the way he says “Daddeh”.

Showing zero emotion, the father announces, “They done killed your baby brother, boy.”

Junior doesn’t care. “City slickers?” he asks.

“Hyeahp…” the father replies with a big wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth. “Killing time is here.” The thought of it brings a smile to his face. He lets loose a burst of redneck laughter.

“Who we gonna kill, Daddeh?”

Are you serious? He just… he just told you a moment ago. City slickers. I feel like we missed the beginning. Why are we already halfway through this story?

Five kids who can’t be much older than eighteen are walking down a trail. They fight and tease each other so much that you wonder why they’re friends. There’s a girl with a backpack, a sassy girl, a mulleted playboy, a scrawny mullethead, and a guy with an obvious mental or social disability. The mulleted playboy says he’d rather be cruising for hookers. The guy with the disability claims he once hired Morgan Fairchild as a hooker for $10. The others call him a liar. Junior spies on them from the weeds. Disabled Guy hears him and tries to warn the group that it’s Bigfoot, who he spotted before with his dad.

Junior excitedly tells Daddeh that five people are camping nearby. I didn’t see any tents. Daddeh asks what they’re doing. Camping! Christ, don’t either of them listen? Daddeh grabs a rifle and axe. He and Junior head the kids off. Gun raised, he shouts, “Don’t you know this ain’t private?! It’s not for you!” If it ain’t private, it’s public, meaning you have no authority, numbnuts.

Junior is hunched over like this pretty much the whole time.
Credit: Sheets of Gore, Tubi TV

Backpack Girl calmly tells him they’re on a hike from the Miskatonic Mental Health Center (Miskatonic University of course being the setting of the 1985 classic Re-Animator).

Daddeh identifies her as the one who took his baby’s life. It’s safe to assume he’s mistaken and crazy. He gives the hikers a chance to leave before shooting. Why the warning? I thought killing time was here. There are people standing by cars in the background. It’s probably where everyone parked.

Junior tauntingly shoves a baseball bat in Backpack Girl’s face. Daddeh says “Get back, boy, or you’re gonna be next on my list.” If he follows through with that threat, then, by his logic, he’ll have to kill himself too.

The friends scatter. Junior runs down Scrawny Mullethead and drags him to the shack, where Daddeh is waiting. They strangle him with a rope, kick his keister, and tie him up. Daddeh demands to know who caused the death of his baby. He previously said it was Backpack Girl. What changed? I’ve seen enough horror movies to know that whatever Scrawny Mullethead says, it won’t lead to his release. Sure enough, he’s eliminated. Daddeh chops off one of his legs at the knee.

By now, the other four hikers have realized that Scrawny Mullethead is missing. They agree to sit down in the middle of the path until he shows up. Disabled Guy mentions that his uncle was Babe Ruth. Nobody buys it. He storms off in anger. Junior sneaks up behind him and nudges him with his bat. Disabled Guy fishes for sympathy, claiming his friends hate him and aren’t his friends anymore because they never believe his tall tales.

“They hate you? Why?” Junior asks. “Can I kill ya?”

Disabled Guy answers no and without missing a beat uses the bat as a way of steering the conversation toward Babe Ruth.

I love how casually Junior sneaks in “Can I kill ya?” and how it fails to register with Disabled Guy. Did Junior really think that would work? This brief exchange is one of my favorite parts of the movie. It’s edited out of the higher-quality Sheets of Gore version on Tubi. Hand over the tapes, Mr. Sheets. You can’t be trusted.

Junior smacks Disabled Guy across the face with his bat, then tells him to go. As soon as Disabled Guy runs, Junior hollers “Hey! Where’re you going?” 😂 The dialogue is hilariously stupid. I’m here for it. Junior eventually catches up and bludgeons the poor guy until he convulses. “Now that one’s outta the ballpark.” he giggles.

The remaining hikers walk toward the shack. They’re horrified to see a dead baby lying on the ground. Backpack Girl falls at Daddeh’s feet. Her friends ditch her. Daddeh says “No, fuck you.” in response to nothing. He swings a claw hammer into her throat. While she gurgles and dies, he adds “Fuck me? Fuck you.” — again, in response to nothing. Man, that comment nobody made really offended him. In the Sheets of Gore version, Backpack Girl leads off with a defiant “fuck you”. Fans refer to this controversial change as “BG fucked first”.

Mulleted Playboy returns, picks up a knife, and shanks Daddeh. Daddeh pretends to be hurt. Then, he laughs and retaliates. He says you can’t kill somebody who’s already dead, turning this story supernatural.

Credit: Sheets of Gore, Tubi TV

Credit: Sheets of Gore, Tubi TV

Credit: Sheets of Gore, Tubi TV

Sassy Girl makes a break for it. She follows railroad tracks for a while, but somehow winds up back where she started. These woods are inescapable. They’re like Gatlin or Springwood in Freddy’s Dead. Daddeh retrieves a dead baby from a culvert. Apparently there are two. Junior drags Sassy Girl to the shack, saying he needs a new mommy at home. Daddeh suddenly has big, crusty prosthetic lips. He pushes the baby toward Sassy Girl. It coos like it’s actually alive. Fade to black.

Fast-forward a few years. Daddeh is back to his old self. He’s bent over hitting a branch with a hammer. Junior is doing the same with his bat. “Boy, what are you doin’?” Daddeh growls.

“I’m cuttin’ wood, Daddeh.” With a bat? I—

Sassy Girl walks up, cradling the baby. She kisses its forehead.

“You know what?” Daddeh starts “I just love my family!”

They all embrace as the camera zooms into a bag stuck in a tree. Finally, a happy ending. Wow, this plot makes so little sense once all the details emerge. Here it is, boiled down: demonic hillbilly seeks revenge against innocent teens for the death of his still-living baby, yet all he wants is a wife.

Speaking of boiling, a slutty witch is now stirring a brew. “Oh, hello. Did you like that last story?” she asks. Where are we? Who is this woman? What did she do with Todd Sheets? She delivers a brief hostage statement in which she throws to another old short titled “Gone But Not Forgotten”. A newly edited version of this one can also be seen in Sheets of Gore.

Three friends are wandering around an abandoned “town”. To me, it looks like one of those “living history” sites where they reenact Colonial farm life. Zombies charge out of a cellar. One has a machete and wields it effectively. What’s interesting about these zombies is that they don’t consume human flesh, they kill for the sport of it. One character is slashed above the knee and apparently dies from it. Another takes shelter in a small, rickety structure that’s more screen than wood. His intestines are ripped out and his brains are bashed in. Does the final girl survive? Tune in and find out.

Credit: Sheets of Gore, Tubi TV

Credit: Sheets of Gore, Tubi TV

The movie concludes with a fat Elvis lookalike doing a sales pitch directly into the camera. He’s standing in the street, wearing a skin mask, holding a chainsaw. He brags about how the woman next to him gives it to him hard and fast, then rattles off his company’s slogan “Come to Tom’s Meat Market! You stab ’em, we slab ’em! You kill ’em, we chill ’em!”

Edgar Allan Poe’s Madhouse, everybody.

There is no central theme or gimmick linking these segments beyond groups of people wandering into danger. They span a period of four or five years and vary greatly in quality and length. The shortest is #2 at 5½ minutes. The longest is #3 at 25½ minutes. As you can tell from my overview, 1 and 3 have the most meat on their bones, whereas 3 and 4 I’d say show the most promise and offer the best gore effects.

The end credits divide the actors into three sections, making me think there were three segments originally. The middle section lists characters named “Mr. Usher” and “Mrs. Usher”, presumably in reference to Poe’s famous short story The Fall of the House of Usher. This means the only segment with any kind of connection to Poe was removed 👏

Let’s talk about the Cinema Home Video VHS box. The cover has two images. The top half is a photo of a silly looking corpse made of spray foam wearing a top hat. The bottom half is a poorly cut-out illustration of an imp yanking cables out of a man’s temple. Neither image, needless to say, appears in the movie. Text clearly states there are three tales of terror. The blurb on the back may as well be describing a different movie. It reads:

First up is the story of a lonely man who thinks he’s found the girl of his dreams. Unfortunately for him, she’s found the meal of her dreams… Someone she can really sink her fangs into! Next up, a group of winos find out how bad booze can really enlighten your life. Lastly, a young stripper shows her true colors to a fan by the light of the full moon.

The first two descriptions could loosely apply to the first segment. The last one sounds like a werewolf story, but not the one in the movie. None of them describe The Fall of the House of Usher. There is no mention at all of “Dead Things” or “Gone But Not Forgotten”.

I’m running long so I’ll wrap this up. Nothing I say can prepare you for how mystifying this clip show of unrelated nonsense really is. It has to be seen to be believed. Take a look for yourself. The only way to stream it right now is on YouTube.

David DeCoteau: (calling from his Corvette, circa 1991) “Todd, good news, I got your movies Zombie Rampage and Nightmare Asylum onto video store shelves, but there’s still demand for more product. Do you have anything else?

Todd Sheets: (nervously) “Anything else? Uhm, well, I, uh… I mean, yeah, duh, of course I do. I’ll bring it by tomorrow.” (spends fifteen minutes cobbling Madhouse together)