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A titanic ding-dong...
on 10 October 2014
A daft, illogical late runner in the British horror genre, 1974's Madhouse features Vincent Price playing a Hollywood horror movie actor who goes doolally after his former adult film star fiancée is butchered in the style favoured by the famous maniac he plays on screen, and he can't remember whether he did it or not. After a long recovery period he finds himself attempting a comeback on British TV, only for a new series of murders to start, chipping away at his sanity yet again...
Price's final film for American International Pictures, here co-producing with Amicus (and featuring arguably the star's last genuine leading role), on paper the movie sounds like it could be worthwhile, teaming him as it does with Peter Cushing (playing his shifty scriptwriter) in what is really their only genuine co-starring vehicle, and featuring several other UK horror stalwarts like Linda Hayden and Adrienne Corri in smaller parts. The movie, however, is not only howlingly stupid in the way that its plot progresses (it doesn't seem to matter how many members of the cast and crew of Price's new television show get killed, they just carry on making it anyway), it presents us with a mystery that is totally transparent in the way it will eventually play out. Robert Quarry, AIP's early 1970s answer to Hammer's Shane Briant, appears as a sleazy producer whose revelations about Price's betrothed set the plot in motion, and gives a singularly unattractive turn; and frankly, I could have done without the self-reflexive cameo from Michael Parkinson, of all people, as well.
A curiously anaemic film for the time (several of the killings are gore-free and occur devoid of any real suspense, so the current BBFC '18' certificate is laughable), and one that doesn't exactly stretch its legendary leading actors (considering he's second-billed, Cushing is wasted, and I always prefer Price when he's being commandingly villainous rather than paranoid and terrified, as he is here), the best one can say about Madhouse is that, unlike the previous year's Theatre of Blood (which also featured Price as an unhinged actor who may or may not be a killer), it doesn't outstay its welcome. It is also the only film in history to boast having Cushing, Price, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone all in its cast list, due to the cheeky use of clips from older AIP-released efforts featuring the (by 1974) deceased stars, here passed off as the Price character's previous movies.