Madhouse (1974)

Vincent Price and Peter Cushing star in an interesting but over-long AIP/Amicus co-production. MGM USA R1 DVD.

The Film

Many years ago in Hollywood, horror icon Paul Toombes (Vincent Price) is presenting his latest Dr. Death horror movie to his fans. After the film he credits his writer, Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing) with doing all the real hard work and introduces his new wife Ellen. However, the slimy producer Oliver Quayle teases Toombes with the fact that she used to work in his 'adult' movies and Ellen runs off in tears, only to be killed moments later by someone disguised as Dr. Death. Toombes has a meltdown after this believing himself responsible, but without any evidence he is released although his career is destroyed. Many years later, Toombes arrives in England where Herbert Flay and Oliver Quayle have been working on a Dr. Death television series. However, when people start to turn up dead, Toombes himself becomes the suspect, but is he really behind the killings?

The storyline, very loosely based on a novel, is well conceived, combining a tribute to classic horror movies with an effective murder mystery story. The mystery element is well written, keeping the audience really on their feet with four potential suspects and plenty of hints and red herrings, with a surprisingly satisfying ending. Unfortunately the story does contain some very obvious gaps in logic, that although forgivable in a pure horror film, are quite noticable here - particularly the unnecessarily deadly trap used in the television filming that kills the director (health and safety would have a field day!). Most detrimental however is the film's incredibly slow pacing in the mid-part, with the story becoming quite repetitive and stale - even the climax seems overly drawn out and addition of a couple of daft subplots involving Flay's unbalanced wife and the parents of a young actress trying to bribe Toombes, get very annoying. The story would perhaps have been better served by the 20 minute run-time of an Amicus anthology film, or at most a 50 minute television slot - as a feature length film it simply doesn't have enough story.

Director Jim Clark does a decent job here and there are some rather impressive sets (notably Herbert Flay's horror movie themed basement) as well as some interesting special effects in the death scenes. However there is nothing much to note from the rest of the production and the rather generic soundtrack. The use of clips from Price's earlier AIP horror films is effective, allowing the use of some sadly passed actors, notably Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, although it might have been fun to see some invented clips of a "Dr. Death" movie (and it would surely have passed the time better).

Vincent Price takes the lead role - the last of a nearly 20 year continuous run of horror films and gives a rather superbly understated performance as Paul Toombes - moving from the carefree young actor at the film's start, to the haunted shell of a man towards its end. Peter Cushing gives a typically strong performance, and it is certainly amusing to see him dressed as Dracula at a fancy dress party. Their scenes together are the best in the film and it is a shame that they are so brief (Cushing actually gets very little screen-time). A few familiar faces pop up the rest of the cast, including the rather gorgeous Linda Hayden (Blood on Satan's Claws (1971)) as a wannabe femme-fatale, Adrienne Corri (Vampire Circus (1972)) in a strong performace as Faye and Robert Quarry from AIP's Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) as the producer. British fans will of course recognise the television interviewer Michael Parkinson playing himself.

Madhouse is clearly intended as a tribute to the classic 1960s horror films and by giving us Peter Cushing and Vincent Price together as themselves in a few scenes, this makes the film worth seeing, but sadly some unforgivably slow pacing ruins this good acting and the well conceived story. Even the rather generic title does the film no favours, originally scripted under the much more exciting moniker The Revenge of Dr. Death. Partly recommended for some good performances, but with little other merit.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Vincent Price - the iconic star of the AIP Poe movies, he earlier worked in film-noir, including classic Laura (1944)
Peter Cushing - British Hammer and Amicus regular, including the iconic Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Directed by anyone interesting? im Clark - a very little known director, he worked extensively as an editor, including work on the war film Memphis Belle (1990) and recent Bond movie The World Is Not Enough (1999).
Any gore or violence ? Several death scenes, with some blood although nothing vivid.
Any sex or nudity? None.
Who is it for? Fans of Vincent Price and Peter Cushing might enjoy this, but it is far from their best work.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print quality is strong with good colours, and only mild grain and print damage.
Audio English mono - sounds fine.
French and Spanish dub tracks.
Subtitles English, French and Spanish.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Original theatrical trailer.
Availability Available on a double-disc with Theatre of Blood, or on an identical disc as part of the 7 film Vincent Price Scream Legends collection.
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? None known.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. The print is English language.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 23rd September 2007.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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