Tomb of Forgotten Film: There Was A Little Girl a.k.a Madhouse (1981)

Hello and welcome back to the Tomb. What are the chances after twin Van Cleefs that my next film would revolve around identical twins again? Well, they’re pretty good because today I have the tale of a couple of sisters who have a special bond, but unfortunately for one of them, the other needs to be in bonds. 

There Was A Little Girl [a.k.a Madhouse] (1981) starring Trish Everly, Michael MacRae, Dennis Robertson, and Allison Biggers. Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis. 

Julia is a beautiful young teacher at a school for deaf children, and one afternoon her uncle, Father James, convinces her to visit her twin sister Mary in the mental institution where she is confined. Julia is terrified of her sister who used to torture her as a child, but she agrees to go. When she arrives to find her twin horribly disfigured and threatening to killer her, Mary regrets making the visit. Soon strange things begin to happen around Julia’s home, and she discovers that Mary has escaped from the hospital. 

The Bugg Picture

There Was a Little Girl is a film with a setting in the American south, it’s roots firmly planted in the Italian cinema director Assonitis was known for. Ovidio G. Assontis is perhaps best known as a producer of films such as Man from Deep River and American Ninja IV, but he did find the time to direct a few films including Beyond the Door and tonight’s feature, which he also wrote. There are definitely some of the earmarks of Italian horror cinema, flawed logic, shaky effects, and a score by Riz Ortolani who is best known for his Cannibal Holocaust. However, the film takes many stylistic tones from the Southern gothic surroundings. 

Filmed on location in Savannah, Georgia, the location itself definitely became part of the film. Julia’s home is located in The Kehoe House which, as is mentioned in the film, was once a funeral home. It does have a history of haunting which stems from a legend about twin children who were killed while playing in a chimney. It is said that all the chimneys in the house, which are shown many times in the film, were blocked up and decorated with angels to remember these children. If that was not enough, the house was owned at the time by none other than Broadway Joe Namath who was hoping to turn the property into a nightclub, but due to the protests of his neighbors, the project never came to fruition. At one point in the film there is a broadcast about an NFL player being given a hard time by his team mates for doing a Sassoon jeans commercial, and I can only assume that this was a nod to Namath’s own past and Beautymist pantyhose commercial.

One of the most surprising things about this film is the acting, and none more surprising than Trish Everly. Her turn as Julia was her one and only film role, and that’s really a shame. The weight of the film mostly rested on her, and she does a good job portraying the guilt and fear her role demanded. Also very good in the film was Dennis Robertson. The kindly Father James is not all he seems and became all the more creepy when I realized he resembled Ted Haggart, the evangelical preacher who became notorious for his connection to a gay prostitute and meth use. Robertson who played bit parts mostly in TV from 1964-1990 gives a very unsettling performance that is extremely convincing. Less convincing was Allison Biggers as the homicidal twin Mary. She shows up in very few scenes and when she does, there is not much to her role. I think the film could have been improved by making her character a bit more fully developed. 

Where the film really stumbles is its special effects. While they are effects, I’m not so sure they are particularly special. Most of the kills in the movie do not come at the hands of Mary, but rather at the paws of her dog, a vicious Rottweiler. Unfortunately while it is actually a dog in the long shots, in the close-ups it is replaced by a rubber dog head which looks more akin to Triumph the Insult Comedy Dog’s ugly brother. They try to keep it in the shadows, but by the time the dog meets its grisly end via a drill to the head, the effect has more than worn out its welcome. The few other kills are relatively bloodless, but there are some nicely made up “corpses” near the end of the film. All in all, I had to wonder why this film was slapped onto the Video Nasties list by the British government in 1984. 

The film making itself is nothing to write home about. The film moves at a laconic pace, and it could definitely have benefited by a tighter hand in the editing room. There are some striking shots, and Assonitis was working with veteran cinematographer Roberto Piazzoli who also worked on Cozzi’s Starcrash and Deodato’s Raiders of Atlantis. The shots in Julia’s home are the most well done, and they fully utilize the gothic architecture to build tension on the screen. 

While the acting in the film is fairly strong, there are too many other detractions in the film which leave it as a half baked attempt at best. For anyone in the market for an offbeat slasher, then check this one out. There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When her film was good it was very good indeed, but when it was bad, it was horrid. 

Bugg Rating

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