If "Theatre of Blood" were the only film on this DVD it would still be worth the price. Make that the Price. Made more than a decade before the legendary actor's graceful last act, which began with "The Whales of August" and culminated in "Edward Scissorhands," this was by far Vincent Price's best film. Playing the demented (and supposedly dead) dreadful classical actor Edward Lionheart, Price gets a chance to strut his stuff like never before in a host of Shakespearean snippets (and his Shylock and Richard III are gems). In addition, he gets to gruesomely murder the critics who have assailed him over the years -- dead critics...what's not to love? Even more fun is the fact that the smarmy critics are played by a host of some of the best supporting actors Britain then had to offer.
"Madhouse," made only a year later, doesn't exactly try to copy the format of "Theatre of Blood," but it has certain elements of it in its story of horror film actor Paul Toombes (Price) who may or may not delve too deeply into his signature character "Dr. Death" and kill young women. "Madhouse" is basically a murder mystery disguised as a horror film, and not a bad one, but it suffers from a few too many ingredients. The character of Dr. Death (Price in rather simple, but very effective skull-face makeup) is clearly patterned after "Dr. Phibes," the two-film series that had been hugely successful a few years earlier, while Paul Toombes (who is nothing like the character from the source novel, "Devilday," by Angus Hall) is slightly reminiscent of the character Jon Pertwee played in "The House That Dripped Blood" -- a role for which Price had been sought. In structure, the film is also a bit reminiscent of the 1969 oddball film "Scream and Scream Again," which involed a serial killer stalking young girls in London, and there is a very peculiar subplot with Adrienne Corri as a burn-scarred and crazy former actress hiding in Peter Cushing's cellar, which seems like something out of a mid-1960s Italian horror film. It's quite a stew. Where the picture really drops the ball, though, is as a conscious effort to do for Price what Peter Bogdanovich's "Targets" did for Boris Karloff: present him with a canny career summation role in which he more or less plays himself. Price does more or less play himself -- an affable, good natured man who has managed to retain his professional integrity even after years of questionable films, which he gamely continues to make even as he believes himself to be unfairly exploited -- but the use of old film clips from past AIP epics (including "House of Usher," "Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Raven") does not have the resonance that "Targets"' employment of old clips from "The Terror" did. A prolonged sequence of Toombes appearing on Michael Parkinson's chat show is more dull than illuminating. "Madhouse" does at least offer Peter Cushing a decent role, after years of wasteful cameos in AIP's British productions, and a good one for Robert Quarry, who AIP was then grooming as a horror man for the 70s, as a shady producer. Director Jim Clark stages some very effective, atmospheric scenes of Dr. Death stalking the countryside, but it must be said that the identity of the killer is not a big shock to anyone paying attention. "Madhouse" was not widely released in the US and for years was something of an "unknown" Price movie, which makes its availability doubly attractive. It's no "Theatre of Blood," but it's fun.