= Highest Rating
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.
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 —
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.)
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.)
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.