French journalist Gaston LeBlanc is assigned to write a story about an infamous mental institution renowned for its unique methods of treatment. The asylum is guarded by two armed soldiers, surrounded by a forest populated by perverse woodsmen and the building itself runs rampant with a variety of kooky patients who are allowed to live out the insanity which fills their minds. But Gaston soon discovers the dark secret of the asylum, where it appears the patients have taken control with disastrous results...
Moctezuma's MANSION OF MADNESS is a film with a reputation that precedes it. However, it is up to each individual viewer to decide whether it lives up. The pace is slow and unlike the director's later ALUCARDA, the film doesn't kick off with bizarre visuals and mind-boggling horror elements. Each character is introduced and given a back-story before Moctezuma throws them into his world of peculiar delights. Gaston entering the institute to be greeted by screeching nude patients rushing about on the balcony above him is an appropriately bizarre introduction to the world of Dr. Maillard. A bizarre chicken man lives in a henhouse and eats feed out of the doctor's hand; Dr. Maillard's daughter indulges in a bizarre scantily-clad dance number which almost results in a fatal stabbing (!); patients are kept in glass incubator cages and jail cells; a bizarre bathhouse features patients cavorting in the nude; Maillard oversees a crazed sort of court where he sits on a throne and his patients gather around him decked in costumes and feathers, playing strange instruments incessantly and performing puppet shows for his amusement; a fascinating bird-man musical number with the dancers wildly wielding scythes; and of course the climax of the film, with the patients and the doctors violently clashing!! However, characters don't even have to be in the asylum to experience its madness. The unfortunate young wife of a neighboring doctor is chased from her carriage into the woods. She hides in the underbrush, but is found by a fellow with antler's horns attached to his head! He calls to his fellow perverts with the strangest screaming this side of 1978's INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS!
Moctezuma's fascination with the macabre writings of some of history's most bizarre authors is evident throughout the film. Not only is the film based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, but Dr. Maillard's harp-playing daughter, Eugenie, is named after de Sade's virginal heroine. The film itself even resembles the 1967 film MARAT/SADE, where the patients of a mental hospital put on a play based on the work of the infamous writer, but is moreso influenced by Moctezuma's friend and collaborator Alejandro Jodorowsky. The hollowed-out asylum resembles one of his sets perfectly. At the center of the film is the unhinged performance of Claudio Brook, who would also appear in Moctezuma's ALUCARDA and a slew of other shot-in-Mexico exploitation films. As Dr. Maillard, he jumps back and forth from a refined man of culture to a maniacally laughing madman just as sick as his patients! MANSION OF MADNESS takes its time getting started and some viewers may bail out before the adventurous and worthwhile final half of the film, but it's an interesting flick not for all tastes which is at least worth a rental.
The 2003 release of Juan Lopez Moctezuma's quintessential ALUCARDA was one of the very first stateside releases by UK-based Mondo Macabro. Experts in weird cinema, Pete Tombs and Andy Starke, included tantalizing clips from Moctezuma's earlier arthouse-meets-exploitation wonder MANSION OF MADNESS in the disc's accompanying documentary. Now, two years after teasing sleaze mavens with just a taste of this obscure gem, it has finally hit DVD in a package with no rival. Though the movie begins with a disclaimer explaining that there are some imperfections with the materials used for the transfer, it is nothing to worry about. The film itself looks slightly worse than ALUCARDA, but anyone who saw the Magnum home video version will be happy to upgrade to this disc. Colors are solid and bright, there are few instances of grain and debris to concern the viewer and overall this is an acceptable, good-looking transfer. The film itself has an ugly color palette anyway, so this is the best it will look. The English mono audio is also very strong. A Spanish audio mix with optional English subtitles is also included, but because the film was shot in English, this alternate language option is recommended for completists only. A few sequences play out in Spanish only with English subs, which reveal which scenes never appeared in the U.S. version.
The majority of the supplements are transferred from the previous ALUCARDA disc, including a superb documentary discussing Moctezuma and his career and an interview with Guillermo Del Toro (DEVIL'S BACKBONE, CRONOS, HELLBOY) about his love for Mexican horror cinema and the influence of Moctezuma on his work. The U.S. trailer, under the great moniker DR. TARR'S TORTURE DUNGEON, is included and is much better than the film. Well-written essays on Moctezuma and his filmography, as well as the film's history, a rare text interview with Moctezuma circa 1977, a fascinating stills gallery and the trusty Mondo Macabro "coming soon" reel round out the disc. (Casey Scott)
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