10 Days in a Madhouse (2015) Is Both Terrible & Excellent


It’s a sad state of affairs when hugely important stories about historical women don’t get adequate attention on film or TV. Such is the case of 10 Days in a Madhouse, a 2015 film (currently available on Amazon) about journalist Nellie Bly going undercover in the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island in the 1880s. The subject matter is excellent, but the production is terrible!

10 Days in a Madhouse (2015)

Caroline Barry attempts to portray Nellie Bly.

10 Days in a Madhouse (2015)

Christopher Lambert (from Highlander) plays the evil doctor in charge of the asylum.

10 Days in a Madhouse (2015)

Kelly LeBrock (from Weird Science) has a bit part as one of the nasty nurses doing the doctor’s bidding. With requisite cheesy mob caps.

Most glaringly, to us of course, the costumes just plain suck. They’re cheapie, no-budget, bullshit versions of vaguely Victorian nonsense, usually topped by terrible wigs and elastic-y mob caps. But the acting is also fairly awful. The lead was an unknown before and after this flick, and the supporting cast is not worth noting either — they all deliver their lines flatly and with little nuance, which is pretty pathetic considering the source material. Much of the script was taken directly from Bly’s book of the same name, and some of the text is read in voiceover as well. The wooden acting and the voiceover readings combine to make this feel like a really weak-ass audiobook with shitty pictures.

10 Days in a Madhouse (2015)

The first outfit we see Nellie in is so.damn.shiny.

10 Days in a Madhouse (2015)

Oh do let’s make a fitted garment out of the cheapest, wrinkliest stuff imaginable — that will look great on camera, surely!

10 Days in a Madhouse (2015)

Shockingly, one corset was used in this production.

10 Days in a Madhouse (2015)

This blue suit is maybe the best costume in the whole thing?

10 Days in a Madhouse (2015)

But then there’s this thing covered in cheap lace, so yeah.

All that said, the topic is incredibly important, and there are powerful scenes showing the brutality of the asylum and how the system was stacked against these women. One inmate who was committed by her adulterous husband comments ruefully, “A woman has no voice when a man sends her away as insane” (if that doesn’t resonate with women today, you aren’t paying attention). It’s just  hard to watch, not simply because the subject matter is uncomfortable, but because the acting and production quality suck so hard. You want this amazing story to be told, but with legit actors wearing not-so-shitty historical costumes. For every thought-provoking scene, there’s three more super cringe-worthy ones. UGH.

10 Days in a Madhouse (2015)

The Lifetime network is supposedly working on a Nellie Bly TV movie starring Christina Ricci. We can only hope it’s better than this one because Bly deserves it!


Have you tried to watch 10 Days in a Madhouse? Have you read Nellie Bly’s book?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Facebook Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

15 Responses

  1. Jana

    Is that corset backwards? And possibly upside down? It should have an open busk in front, surely. But that seems like small potatoes in the face of the rest of this nonsense.

    • Nzie

      I had the same question! It’s front lacing and looks very high. I just made an 1880s corset (admittedly only my second corset) and it only went mid-bust. There’s no shaping in that piece for boobs either…. and if it’s a busk in back… yikes. wraps arms around self protectively

  2. Bronwyn

    Ugh. Nellie Bly is so amazing. We need a movie that does her justice! (I don’t hold hopes for Lifetime and Christina Ricci after that Lizzie Borden mess…)

  3. Elizabeth Mahon

    I’ve written about Nellie Bly, who is one of my favorite women in history, so no I think I’m going to skip this and wait for the Christina Ricci one. Also, I live in New York and I can go visit the remains of the asylum on Roosevelt Island, and I can read various books about her rather than watch something that looks like it was made for $50.

  4. picasso Manu

    Could have told you it was shitty as soon as Lambert was mentioned. Dunno why, but appart a couple of films at the beginning of his career, the man has radar for really, really crap stuff. And costume wise, I could add an historical actress proverb: “When wearing fitted satin Victorian(ish) garment, thou shall wear corset too, or look bloaty in front and frumpy in back”

  5. Saraquill

    Bly wears a corset in one scene, but not in the one where her bodice buttons pull something awful. For shame director.


    This movie was so upsetting, it’s such an important story, and to have it reduced to substandard highschool drama club levels of production is just so sad.

  7. Boxermom

    I think they did a great job on ” Drunk History”. It was the first episode I ever saw, and I kept thinking that the actress playing Nellie Bly looked just like Laura Dern (p.s. it was her). :)

  8. Jen

    Looks like one of those movies they make not to make money off of, but to retain the rights or keep to a contract cheaply. Basically, they enter a contract to make the book, some either doesn’t want to loose the rights to the material or after signing they loose the big money/support, so instead they make something uber cheap just to execute the contract. I can totally see some sexist a-hole deciding that this wasn’t money material after some thinking person bought the rights. Or worse, bought it with zero intention to make a decent film just to prevent someone else from doing an awesome Nellie Bly movie based on the book.