Being locked away with a vampire, a witch and a voodoo priestess should send anyone running off into the night, but Sci Fi Channel's Mad, Mad House
will more likely scare viewers to another channel.
What the producers told the contestants to get them to take up residence in this home is anyone's guess. Before meeting the harrowing hosts, one contestant wonders if they're a family, or if they have kids, saying, "I hope they're nice." Maybe they told her she was being adopted.
Executive producers Arthur Smith (Battle of the Bands, You Gotta See This!) and Kent Weed (Farm Aid, All That Jazz) formerly collaborated on Paradise Hotel and Forever Eden, but this is Sci Fi's latest attempt at reality programming. Pairing a group of five proponents of alternative lifestyles (Alts) with 10 everyday people as contestants sounds good on paper. But the Alts are as unique to the mainstream as they are to each other and are almost too disjointed to pull off the scare.
The show starts with each of the Alts choosing a contestant to sleep alone in a room with them for the night. Over the course of its 10-hour run, the Alts will banish one of the guests with the winner taking $100,000 to his or her own home.
Fiona is a Wiccan who toured with No Doubt and once interviewed Britney Spears. She's tall, blonde, shows lots of cleavage. Her demeanor is so inoffensive that her most controversial attribute is her pet snake, Oscar.
Iya Ta'Shia Asanti, the voodoo priestess, could double as the former Miss Cleo. A rare moment of tension happens when she hosts a voodoo ceremony where the majority of the contestants refuse to participate. She berates the only African-American in front of everyone for not recognizing his ancestry.
David "Avocado" Wolfe has no trouble getting out as a naturist who eats raw plants and believes in a "clothing optional" lifestyle. In one scene, he wanders around naked without regard for his roommate that night, a virgin.
The modern primitive, Art, uses "body modification" for spiritual growth. No, this is not your daughter's boyfriend. Art respects the guests and smiles easily. His stretchers, jewelry similar to earrings that stretch the holes in the lobes of the ears, and tattoos are still not distracting enough to divert the eye when he sunbathes without trunks, to the discomfort of the war vet from Texas who wants to eat his lunch on the deck.
If Art is the house's lighter side, Don Henrie, the vampire, provides its, er, dark shadow. With his white contact lenses and long, pointed fingernails, he drinks "blood" from a wine glass, trying to conjure the aura of Dracula. But his persona smells more like teen spirit as he invites one guest to try his casket, then smiles as he leans on top so the poor guy can't get out.
Don Henrie also hosts a bloodbath contest. Not for the faint-hearted, house guests dive into a fountain of "blood" and retrieve items in order to win.
The alternatives are just that—they're not frightening or gruesome. Even the Christian contestants are initially tolerant of the witch and the vampire. In spite of its attempts at shocking behavior and bizarre events, Mad, Mad House is filled with flat scenes, lackluster tension and, in the end, a house full of "strangers."
Mad, Mad House bows on March 4 at 9 p.m., leading off the network's Sci Fi Thursday, which also includes a second season of hidden camera show Scare Tactics and animated entry Tripping The Rift.