12/04/2019 06:23

Film: Madhouse

Year: 1974

Director: Jim Clark

Writer: Ken Levison and Greg Morrison

Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Robert Quarry



This was a film that I had never heard of and sought out, because I saw it had Vincent Price and Peter Cushing in it, two of my favorite actors of all time. I didn’t even know what this was about and came into seeing this one without additional details aside from what I provided. I’ve now given this a second watch as part of my Foray through the Fours.

Synopsis: a horror movie star returns to his famous role after years in a mental institution, but the character seems to be committing murders independent of his will.

We start this by learning through this first sequence that we’re in the past and in Hollywood. They’re at the house of Paul Toombes (Price). They’re celebrating his latest movie being another success. He’s the horror movie star from the synopsis. His iconic character is Dr. Death. At this party, he reveals that he’s marrying Ellen Mason (Julie Crosthwaite), much to the displeasure of Faye Carstairs (Adrienne Corri). She hoped her career would take off after staring in one of the Dr. Death films. Also at the party is the writer of the Dr. Death character, Herbert Flay (Cushing). Oliver Quayle (Robert Quarry) reveals information that upsets Paul about his fiancée. She used to star in pornography. Paul is rude to her and he goes up to his room. She does the same, but someone dressed as Dr. Death murders her.

The film then shifts into the present of the movie and in London. Paul has been in a mental hospital since the incident. He is freshly out and Oliver is going to do a Dr. Death television show starring Paul. He has Julia Wilson (Natasha Pyne) meet him at the docks when his ship arrives. Paul agreed to help out his friend, Herbert, who he thought was struggling since that fateful night.

Something to bring up as well was that on the ship Paul met Elizabeth Peters (Linda Hayden). She wants to be famous and thinks sleeping with him will help her career. He kicks her out of his room. Before she goes, she steals a gift from his late fiancée. Elizabeth is persistent even when they arrive in London.

Paul goes to Herbert’s house first. It is there that Paul learns his friend married Faye, but she has lost her mind after she was in a horrific attack and car accident. She stays mostly in the basement where she raises spiders. Her relationship with her husband soured even before what happened to her. She is still in love with Paul.

The murders start up again in London with Paul being the prime suspect as it is his character that is doing the killing. The murders are also taken straight from his old movies. The police aren’t convinced he is behind them, but they tail him since they revolve around wherever Paul is.

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Now where I’ll start is the first thing that struck me is that this film has the feel of a United Kingdom/United States giallo. I know the purist of that subgenre think that’s blasphemous, but we have a blacked glove killer. It is a murder mystery, has a meta feel and there’s some red herrings. The only thing is that the main character isn’t working with the police or trying to figure out who the killer is. Paul is literally just trying to keep from losing his mind while this is happening around him. You could also call this a proto-slasher.

Where I’ll go from there is that I like the mystery here. I love that they mirrored Paul around Price. They even use clips from his old movies when they’re showing films in the movie itself. It is such an interesting meta thing to do and it adds a layer. It works even better that the killer is using deaths from his movies, which in turn makes him a suspect as this is also the character he was in these pictures as well. I will say though that I guessed who the killer was halfway through and ended up being right. The problem is there aren’t a lot of people it could be and they kill off the suspects them. It hampers the movie, but I’ll give credit that it isn’t a cheat. I do think this might have worked a bit better to have another red herring or two.

Even though I guessed the reveal, I do like how this is paced. It doesn’t take long for that initial kill and we don’t have to wait for them to start back up either. That keeps it interesting and the mystery itself had me hooked as well. The reason these kills are happening makes sense so that was good. The ending is interesting and makes me wonder if another character knew of the plan. It is dark what is done for sure.

That moves me to the acting, which I’m going to be honest, is great. Price and Cushing are both just experts in their craft. We don’t get a lot of the latter, but when we do it is great. Price though just commands the screen when he’s on it. He has such an arrogance to him that fit this role. He is shaky in his mental state as well which makes for an interesting duality within the character. Quarry was also good. He’s a snake as this former producer for porn turned to TV. He made me dislike him, which is a good reaction. Corri loses her mind after the trauma that happened to her, which I liked. We see she was unstable before the accident and it’s gotten worse. She has an interesting look too. I also thought that Pyne was good in the role that she had. Hayden is quite attractive and we see her half naked, which I enjoyed. I’d say the rest of the cast rounded this one out for what was needed.

I’ll end with filmmaking. The effects, which I was slightly disappointed by. We don’t get a lot of them, which I can forgive, but the ones that we do I had some issues with. The blood looks good, but the wounds don’t. We can clearly see a death by a pitchfork doesn’t pierce the skin. I think they probably should have hidden them a bit better if they couldn’t make them look better. They were done practical so I will give them that. There’s also what looks like a dummy that was obvious. I’m not going to harp too much on that, but I also think that before that we can see the person breathing when they shouldn’t be dead. Dummy deaths make me smile though. This does slightly hurt the cinematography to not hide this better. I know this was an American International Pictures that was co-produced with Amicus. They weren’t working with a large budget, so there’s that as well.

In conclusion, this has a good mystery and that sucked me in. This is giallo like, but it does lean more into a proto-slasher. It did come out the same year as Black Christmas. I did predict the reveal, which hurts it slightly. Another red herring or two would have fixed that. The acting is great, especially by Prince and Cushing. This is made well enough. I thought it moved at a good pace, we have solid kills, it is just the framing that is an issue for not hiding when an effect couldn’t be made to look better. It could also be an issue watching this on a 4K TV. There’s also an earlier meta feel with Paul being a horror movie actor and the deaths mirroring his movies. I’d recommend this if you’re fans of these legends and want to see an interesting early slasher film.


My Rating: 7.5 out of 10