Madhouse (1974) – By Duane L. Martin

Paul Toombes (Vincent Price) made a fine career for himself starring in a series of movies in which he played a character named Doctor Death.  The films were written by a close friend of his named Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing), who gave up his own acting career to write the films.

After the murder of his fiance, Paul finds her body and goes insane.  No one knows who committed the murder, and while he’s suspect, they never found proof that he’d actually done it.  He spent years in a mental institution, and now twelve years later a former adult film producer who’s now working at a big television production company has brought Paul back to play the character in a television series.  Unfortunately, a new string of grisly murders starts taking place during the production, all of which are based on murders that occurred in the Doctor Death films.  Is Paul losing his mind?  Is his alter ego of Doctor Death committing the murders, or is there something more insidious afoot?  You’ll have to watch the film to find out.

Where to begin with this one?  Well, anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love Vincent Price, and I’m also extremely fond of Peter Cushing, so that was a good start for a film right there.  Unfortunately, it takes more than two beloved actors to make a film enjoyable, and while this particular film wasn’t bad, it wasn’t one of the better Vincent Price films I’ve seen.

Part of the problem is that the story itself was illogical in some ways, but a huge part of the problem was that Peter Cushing disappeared completely throughout most of the middle section of the movie.  Price’s character came to stay with him in his home, and yet we see very little of him throughout the middle section of the film, even though he has a very key role to play in everything.

Another problem with the film is that they make it a point to constantly heap accolades on Paul by showing clips of his past films, which are actually some Poe films that Vincent Price had made in the past.  These scenes seemed to take up far too much screen time needlessly.  I’m not sure if they were designed simply to promote his other films, or if they were being used as filler, but it started to get a bit irritating.  I could see maybe one small scene of that for a very short time, but there was more than one, and they ran for far too long.

Then there’s the spider woman.  She was an actress in one of the Doctor Death films who got raped and set on fire in a car.  Now she’s insane and living down in Herbert’s basement with a bunch of spiders that she keeps as pets.  Why he has her living down there is a complete mystery to me and makes very little sense.  She belonged in a mental institution, not in a basement with a bunch of pet spiders.  She has a key role to play in the film as well, but having it play out the way it did required her to be there for whatever reason, so they simply came up with some way to make her both creepy and present that didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

One pleasant surprise for me in this film was the inclusion of Jenny Lee Wright in a small role as Paul’s co-star in the new Doctor Death television series.  For those who don’t know who she is, if you’re a fan of Benny Hill, you’ll recognize her almost immediately.  She was the blonde haired actress who appeared in many of his sketches over the years and was one of the regulars on the show.  She’s one of the victims in the film, and as such isn’t in it throughout, but it’s ok.  Her character wasn’t all that pleasant anyway, so good riddance.

I own this movie on a Midnite Movie DVD from MGM, and to say that the blu-ray was an improvement on that would be an understatement.  This new release from Kino Lorber includes audio commentary by film historian David Del Valle, the original theatrical trailer and a featurette.  The visual quality is great, but the sound is a different matter entirely.  It’s not the fault of the people who restored and remastered it.  It’s the way it was in the original film.  Most of the sound is fine, but there are parts with audience applause that are very heavily flanged for whatever reason.  If you don’t know what it is to have a flanger effect on the sound, type in flanger on YouTube and you’ll find any number of flanger demos.  I’m assuming it’s because it was canned applause and it was like that to begin with, but there had to have been other applause sounds they could have used that were of a higher quality.

All in all, this was a rather mediocre outing for Vincent Price.  While he always has a commanding and regal presence in any film he’s in, but regardless of that, some of his later films were of varying quality.  This one’s not bad, but it’s not one of my favorites either.  If you’re a fan, you’ll want to add this one to your collection since it’s far superior to the MGM release, but it’s probably not one you’ll watch all that often.

If you’d like to find out more about this new release from Kino Lorber, you can check out its page on their website here: http://www.kinolorber.com/video.php?id=2063