Madhouse
U.K. / 1974
Directed by Jim Clark
Starring
Vincent Price
Peter Cushing
Robert Quarry
Color / 91 Minutes / PG
Format: DVD
Double Feature Disc / R1 - NTSC
MGM Home Entertainment
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
4
    7   10 = Highest Rating  
In his last film for American International Pictures (AIP), Vincent Price essays a tailor-made role as a famous horror movie actor who may or may not be a psychotic murderer. As he's supported by the great Peter Cushing and Count Yorga himself, Robert Quarry, Madhouse should be a delight for fans of classic horror stars and the B-movie/drive-in favorites who followed in their wake... but it doesn't quite work out that way. Instead, this flat, uninvolving and occasionally silly bit of hokum struggles to attain even a respectable level of mediocrity.
    Price plays Paul Toombes, aging star of the "Dr. Death" series of horror films. (The character seems to be a tip of the black slouch hat to the skull-faced Dr. Phibes, only dressed like the skulking phantom of House of Wax.) At a Hollywood party, Toombes is crudely informed by sleazy producer Oliver Quayle (Quarry) that his much younger 'trophy' fiancée was at one time a porn actress something she neglected to tell him. Later that night Toombes finds his betrothed murdered, her head cut off. Though naturally suspected of the crime Toombes isn't charged due to a lack of evidence. Even he himself isn't sure whether or not he's guilty... Could he have killed her during some kind of blackout, without even realizing it? A psychiatric breakdown ensues and Toombes is hospitalized. His career would seem finished.
    Some years later Toombes is discharged from the nut ward, supposedly cured. He travels to England to reunite with old friend Herbert Flay (Cushing), the actor-turned-writer with whom Toombes collaborated to create the Dr. Death character. Flay has sold a script for a new Dr. Death television series and Toombes has been hired to reprise the role — this is to be his comeback. Toombes isn't very pleased to learn that the show's producer is none other than Oliver Quayle, now gone 'legit' and working in British TV. He also confides to Flay that he's worried about what effect resurrecting Dr. Death could have on his mental health. Then a young groupie who'd been pestering Toombes (zaftig sexpot Linda Hayden of Taste the Blood of Dracula) turns up murdered, stabbed in the throat with a pitchfork — just like one of the victims in a Dr. Death movie...
    I'm really not giving away anything to tell you that Price's character did not commit these murders (or the ones to follow); the film itself makes this quite plain even before the third act. The whodunit angle mainly concerns who is setting Toombes up and why. In truth it's not much of a mystery, as the pool of suspects is extremely limited and the guilty party's identity is rather easy to guess. Sadly, the horror/thriller elements aren't much to get worked up about either. The murder sequences, involving a masked, black-gloved killer in the giallo mold, are perfunctory in their execution and fail to generate suspense. (One killing, a prearranged 'accident' on the set of the Dr. Death show, is simply not believable.) It also strains credulity to the breaking point to imagine that a TV production would not shut down after its director and female lead are murdered. The 'twist' ending is pretty ridiculous, too. Compounding the boredom, too much of Madhouse is taken up by clips from a number of AIP films Price made with Roger Corman in the '60s (The Haunted Palace and The Fall of the House of Usher among them), passed off here as Dr. Death pictures.
   
Given its lame story and routine execution, Madhouse is only made tolerable by the presence of its beloved stars. Price is relatively subdued as Toombes, though he is afforded an opportunity to cut loose towards the end with a scenery-chewing soliloquy. Cushing is for the most part wasted. He has only two major scenes in the film, otherwise merely hovering in the background when he's even around. Quarry plays the slimy producer to a 'T' but he, too, gets very little to do. (It was rather cheeky, though, to dress him up as Count Yorga for a costume party scene.)

In August MGM released a slew of anticipated new Midnite Movie DVDs, all of them double feature "flipper" discs. In a cynical move on MGM's part the company decided to reissue films that have already been released as singles. However, some of these titles — Madhouse, for one — have never been on DVD before. In this case the double feature billing is most appropriate: Side A contains Theater of Blood, another Seventies British horror featuring Vincent Price as an actor at the center of a series of grisly murders. (To check out EC's September 2001 review of Theater of Blood , click HERE.)
   
As for A/V quality you can expect the typical MGM treatment: a good looking, nearly blemish-free transfer in the film's original aspect ratio, complimented by a strong and clear mono audio mix; the theatrical trailer is included. NOTE: My DVD rating of "7" for this disc factors in its value as a double feature DVD. 11/02/04
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