Madhouse (1974)


(director: Jim Clark; screenwriters: from the novel Devilday by Angus Hall/Ken Levison/Greg Morrison; cinematographer: Ray Parslow; editor: Clive Smith; music: Douglas Gamley; cast: Vincent Price (Paul Toombes), Peter Cushing (Herbert Flay), Robert Quarry (Oliver Quayle), Adrienne Corri (Faye), Linda Hayden (Elizabeth Peters), Natasha Pyne (Julia), Catherine Willmer (Louise), Ian Thompson (Detective Bradshaw), John Garrie (Inspector Harper), Jenny Lee Wright (Carol Clayton), Michael Parkinson (TV Interviewer), Julie Crosthwaite (Ellen Mason); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Max J. Rosenberg/Milton Subotsky; AIP; 1974-GB)
“Cheesy but enjoyable.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A cheapie A.I.P actor’s revenge story employing pop psychology inferences and over-the-top hysterical acting. It’s Vincent Price’s Theater of Blood (1973) follow-up role. Price as the successful Hollywood star Paul Toombes has trouble distinguishing real life from his movie role as he plays the sinister Dr. Death. Paul has recurring dreams as he plays opposite lovely leading ladies, whom he kills off in the ‘movie within a movie’ in gruesomely novel ways. At a Hollywood New Year’s Eve party honoring him for his latest film, he announces his impending marriage to the sexy blonde who will appear in his 5th Dr. Death film as the victim, Ellen Mason (Julie Crosthwaite). Paul is reluctantly congratulated by Faye (Corri), like Ellen an ambitious and attractive actress who was a victim in one of the earlier Dr. Death films. She’s jealous Paul chose someone else to promote career wise and to marry. While Paul is gloating at his good fortune and celebrity an adult movie producer, Oliver Quayle (Quarry), introduces himself and congratulates the couple and also spitefully tells Paul that Ellen worked with him making porno films. This new knowledge sets Paul off in a tizzy, as he comes down off his high and looks at the expensive pocket watch gift Ellen just gave him with disgust. His best friend and the writer who created Dr. Death, a former actor, Herbert Flay (Cushing), says “Paul’s on the make. Ellen is on the take. That’s Hollywood.”

Still at the party someone in Dr. Death’s movie disguise of a death mask and tails and top hat, lops off Ellen’s head in the boudoir with a pitchfork. That similar murder was also done in one of the Dr. Death films. The police have not enough evidence, as a jury fails to convict him of murder charges. But Paul has a nervous breakdown and all the bad publicity stops him from working again in Hollywood, though his films become even more popular and take on a cult following. Paul is uncertain whether he did the killing or not, and in anguish wanders Sunset Boulevard in his Dr. Death costume.

After 12 years of neglect, Herbert invites Paul to London to revive the Dr. Death episodes on TV. On the boat over Paul is harassed by Elizabeth Peters, a wannabe starlet, who steals the now admired watch Ellen gave him before kicked out of his quarters. Soon a costumed Dr. Death murders Elizabeth, and Scotland Yard investigates.

To Paul’s dismay the now legit Oliver is the television producer of Dr. Death. Though Paul is cheered that nice girl PR, Julia Wilson, makes things bearable for him on the set. At Herbert’s home, he’s surprised to learn that Faye married his friend and wears a mask because her face got disfigured when her car overturned. Faye is now batty and talks to spiders as if they were her babies, as she like Paul can’t distinguish fantasy from reality. Meanwhile, another starlet (Wright) in his latest episode gets hung by her hair in imitation of one of his past films and Paul becomes a suspect in this grisly homicide.

In a clever scene, Paul’s television director for Dr. Death gets killed instead of Paul and the production doesn’t miss a beat. It shows how the television director is insignificant, as his absence is not even noticed.

It’s all played tongue-in-cheek and is rather cheesy but enjoyable. Vincent Price plays himself as a movie actor, as the film covers his film career. It shows several sequences from the The Fall of the House of Usher and The Raven, and there are a number of in-jokes about horror films.