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Film / Madhouse

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The Bannisters are a young couple, enjoying a comfortable existence in Los Angeles that seems to just be getting better. Mark Bannister is an up-and-coming stockbroker who's on the verge of making huge money for a big client. Jesse Bannister is becoming prominent as one of the hosts of L.A.'s biggest network news show. Life is looking good.

Then Mark gets a call from his cousin Fred, who's coming out to visit from the East Coast with his pregnant wife Bernice. It's only for a week; What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Madhouse is a 1990 comedy that goes to answer just how bad things could get. Starring John Larroquette and Kirstie Alley as Mark and Jesse Bannister, it's basically The Thing That Would Not Leave, The Movie.

Not to be confused with the animation studio. Or the 1974 horror film.


This film contains examples of:

  • Animated Credits Opening: Courtesy of Playhouse Pictures, who also did the memorable credits sequence for Ruthless People.
  • Back from the Dead: Scruffy, Fred and Bernice's pet cat, dies four times in the film, and he comes back every single time. And it's quite evidently the same cat - as shown in the finale, as the police use Scruffy's overdosed carcass as evidence of cocaine in the house. Not only do the police have to apologize when the only evidence of cocaine use in the house disappears, a healthy Scruffy reappears with an evidence tag on his leg.
  • Black Comedy Rape: At one point, Kirstie Alley's character thinks she's having sex with her husband but it's a kid's pet snake.
  • The Bus Came Back: Fred eventually returns from his self-exile. Naturally, he brings yet another guest - Tiny the baby elephant.
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  • But I Can't Be Pregnant!: Inverted - Bernice's gynecologist eventually gets through on the phone to let her know that she isn't actually pregnant and doesn't have to remain immobile anymore. Bernice refuses to believe it at first.
  • Call to Adventure: Fred hears this after a pep talk from Mark, to break free of the rut that Fred feels he's fallen into. The problem is that he takes off after it... leaving Bernice, under doctor's orders to remain stationary, under Mark and Jesse's care.
  • Career-Building Blunder: In the end, the company whose stock that Mark recommended at the beginning has all charges dropped against them. Because Mark screwed up and didn't drop the stock when it started to plunge, the investment ends up making millions and Mark gets offered a VP position at three times his original salary. Also happens to Jesse - her on-air meltdown at the end proves extremely popular and she gets her own show.
  • The Cat Came Back: Taken to perhaps its most ridiculous extreme - when Mark and Jesse convince Jesse's sister Claudia to try shacking up with their neighbor, this eventually causes his house to burn down, which not only means that Claudia returns, but that the neighbor moves in as well as he waits for his insurance to pay up.
    • Also literally, for Scruffy, "the cat from Hell." For more, see above.
  • Chainsaw Good: Mark's Weapon of Choice in the finale is a circular saw, scaring Katy by cutting the phone cord and threatening Dale with it. Of course, he finds out why chainsaws are usually used instead - the power cord is too short for rampages. Good thing for Mark that Jesse had an extension cable.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Jesse's last shown "person on the street" interview is asking how the interviewees would kill someone. Based on her subsequent comments (about how the drug mentioned by the doctor is nigh impossible to obtain, and how bleach in the bean dip just gives people the runs), it's pretty clear that she actually tried them.
    • Also, pretty much the entirety of the climax.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: How does Jesse decide to get her sister to leave? Spray-paint all of her designer clothes.
  • Disaster Dominoes: Much of the film, with the smallest incident snowballing until it results in further humiliation and houseguests for Mark and Jesse.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Mark was called Pudge as a child because he was overweight - much to his embarrassment, not only does Fred still call him that when he first sees Mark as an adult, but he brought video to show Jesse. To Fred's credit, he does apologize, and comes up with a new nickname ("Stretch") to recognize how far Mark has come.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Tiny, a baby elephant. Not really a danger, really - just young and way more than the house is equipped to handle. Also, has a bout of diarrhea.
  • From Bad to Worse: Pretty much everything related to Claudia. Find someone with a family for Claudia to seduce to get her out of the house? She comes back with said family in tow. Find a job to get Claudia's son out of the house? He's dealing cocaine, and now Mark is being pegged as a drug kingpin because the packages were addressed to him.
  • Funny Background Event:
    • During the police assault on the Bannister house, Katy sees the television cameras and tells her friend to call her. The phone rings almost immediately after.
    • Another is when the police arrive to lock down the Bannister residence. They make Fred do the "spread your legs and put your hands against the wall" routine. Tiny the baby elephant, probably imitating its master, does the same thing, making it appear that the cops are about to arrest a pachyderm.
  • Gold Digger: Claudia, Jesse's sister. At one point, she comes up with a list of men to seduce, organized by wealth, with asterisks for those over 80.
  • Heroic BSoD: Jesse loses it by the end when they cut to a news story that turns out to be about their house being a suspected crack den, with the police brining out a battering ram to get in. Her face is somewhere between this and Oh, Crap! when she sees an elephant walk by, not knowing how it got there.
  • Jerkass: Bernice and Claudia in particular stand out as being demanding and selfish, even towards those helping them out.
  • Joisey: Mark is originally from New Jersey, and Fred still lives there. That said, Fred's wife Bernice is the one who acts (and talks) like the stereotype.
    Bernice: We're not insane. We're from New Jersey.
  • Laughing Mad: When Jesse plugs in the absurdly long extension cord to let Mark chase Dale with a rotary saw.
  • Oh, Crap!: Mark, when he learns that, because he was so distracted by the houseguests that he didn't dump a stock for a company being investigated by the government, the stock he recommended plunged nearly 95% from where he recommended it to be bought.
  • Phone Aholic Teenager: Katy. In fact, she ends up nearly being the Unwitting Instigator of Doom, because she clogged up the phone lines preventing Dr. Penix from telling everyone that Bernice wasn't pregnant until the climax.
  • Rage Breaking Point: At day 51, Mark and Jesse go to the near-ruins of their once-beautiful dream house, at this point determined to simply salvage what they could. That's when one of them incidentally kicks the answering machine, and discover Bernice's gynecologist has been trying to call for weeks to let them know she isn't pregnant. This finally prompts the two to angrily confront Bernice and get her to agree to leave - literally throwing her out of the house. And once that's done, they note all the other freeloaders and decide it's time to get everyone else to leave, too.
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: By day 50, Mark admits to a co-worker (played by Dennis Miller) that they just have ceded their house and pretty much their entire paychecks to the houseguests, and he and Jesse have taken to foraging in the backyard. When he asks her what's for dinner, she holds out a pigeon and says "Squab. Again."
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The finale of the film, when Mark and Jesse decide to definitively rid their house of their guests once and for all.
  • Running Gag: For as wonderful as their house is (at least until the guests take over), the toilet just doesn't work right, and there are constant reminders to jiggle the handle. After the LAPD promise to pay for all damages to the house, Mark takes a sledgehammer to it.
  • Slasher Smile: Mark and Jesse during the climax.
  • The Sociopath: C.K., the neighbor kid who finds it fun to torture animals (and is responsible for one of Scruffy's deaths).
  • Squick: In-Universe, Jesse's reaction to Bernice peeing in one of her fine glasses so that it can be sent to her gynecologist in New Jersey, because Bernice doesn't trust LA "quacks."
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: By the end, the Bannisters have ceded their entire house to five different houseguests (plus a cat), with two that had left still ending up causing problems for them. By day 50, they've taken to camping in the backyard.
  • Toilet Humor: And not just the Running Gag about the toilet, either.
  • Trash of the Titans: By the end, as the guests obviously don't care about cleaning.
  • Unfortunate Names: One of the names that Bernice considers for a child is Treblinka - a Nazi concentration camp. Lampshaded by Claudia. Also, Bernice's gynecologist, Dr. Penix ("With an X!").
  • Valley Girl: Katy, though she's probably the least problematic of the houseguests.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Mark and Jesse achieve success and buy a new home in Malibu, living happily ever after... until their parents came to visit.
  • Why Won't You Die?: The subtext (and not very sub- at that) to Jesse's on-air breakdown about houseguests.


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