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Madhouse (1974)

Madhouse was the third trip to the revenge well for American International Pictures and star Vincent Price following their success with the vengeance-minded The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) and Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), as well as Price's profitable Grand Guignol-inflected Theatre of Blood (1973), released by United Artists. The law of diminishing returns guaranteed that Madhouse would be the runt of this outr litter but, whatever its failings fright-wise, this AIP-Amicus co-production does pit Price against fellow horror icons Peter Cushing and Robert Quarry, and offers some juicy subtext concerning the dark side of the Hollywood dream.

In a throwaway supporting role, Adrienne Corri, cast as a Favershamesque ex-starlet turned scarred shut-in, delivers a chilling monologue about having been raped and disfigured while cruising for sex in Tinseltown that is more disturbing than all the rote blandishments of the Madhouse shock syllabus. (Corri had played a victim of an especially malevolent gang rape in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange [1971] two years earlier.) If the mayhem feels paint-by-numbers, the sense of curdled expectations is painted from memory, evoking an aura of discomfiture and decay.

Film publicist Greg Morrison's script was rewritten on-set while moneyman Milton Subotsky ordered severe cuts in postproduction, making blame for the film's shortcomings difficult to assign. Nonetheless, Madhouse would have benefited from the presence of a visionary behind the camera, a more perverse sensibility that might have made a true meal out of the material.

Producer: Samuel Arkoff, John Dark, Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky
Director: Jim Clark
Screenplay: Ken Levison, Greg Morrison, Angus Hall (novel)
Cinematography: Ray Parslow
Film Editing:
Art Direction: Tony Curtis
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).
C-89m. Letterboxed.

by Richard Harland Smith

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Madhouse (1974)

Madhouse was adapted from the 1969 novel Devilday by Angus Hall. A horror and crime writer, Hall had written the novelization for Amicus rival Hammer Studios' Scars of Dracula (1970).

Madhouse had been intended originally as a vehicle for Vincent Price and The Abominable Dr. Phibes director Robert Fuest and was announced in the trades as such as early as April of 1970.

During pre-production, Madhouse was known as Devilday and throughout principal photography as The Revenge of Dr. Death.

In an interview published in 2000, Robert Quarry maintained that his dialogue was so bad that he rewrote it and that Vincent Price asked Quarry to rewrite his dialogue, too.

Interior scenes of Herbert Flay's country home were filmed at Surrey's Pyrford Manor, a 15th century residence often used by Queen Elizabeth I.

The recording of "When Day Is Done" sung over the end credits is performed by Vincent Price and was removed from video cassettes of Madhouse due to copyright issues.

During the editing of Madhouse, producer Milton Subotsky ordered drastic cuts that greatly affected dialogue exchanges, prompting a letter of protest from director Jim Clark to star Vincent Price decrying Subotsky's "pure butchery."

Research compiled by Richard Harland Smith

The Horror People by John Brosnan
Vincent Price: A Daughter's Biography by Victoria Price
Peter Cushing: An Autobiography and Past Forgetting

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Madhouse (1974)

In a 1949 "expos" of Communists active in Hollywood, Vincent Price was named alongside Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Kirk Douglas, Katharine Hepburn and Frank Sinatra as one of "Stalin's Stars."

Theatrical actress Natasha Pyne got her break in films with an ingnue part in Hammer's swashbuckler The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964), starring Christopher Lee.

Jenny Lee Wright, who plays Paul Toombes' doomed leading lady, had previously been seen in John Cassavetes' Husbands (1970) and as a stock player on The Benny Hill Show.

Relegated to a minor role as the luckless director of Paul Toombes' comeback series, stage actor Barry Dennen had just reprised his Broadway role as Pontius Pilate for the film version of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar (1973).

Madhouse director Jim Clark began his career as a film editor, assisting cutter Jack Harris on the Ealing comedy The Ladykillers (1955) and editing Jack Clayton's horror classic The Innocents (1961), as well as several films for John Schlesinger.

The birthdays of Vincent Price (born 1911) and Peter Cushing (born 1913) were only a day apart. Price made his film debut in 1938, Cushing in 1939. Price died in 1993, and Cushing the following year.

Both Peter Cushing and Robert Quarry had appeared in Price's earlier film, Dr. Phibes Rises Again.

Although he had extensive experience in theatre and film, Peter Cushing was known primarily as a television actor prior to his breakthrough success in Hammer Studios' The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958).

Newly arrived in Hollywood, aspiring actor Robert Quarry lived for a time at the Pacific Palisades home of Joseph Cotten, whom he had met while working as a bellhop in the Santa Rosa, California hotel where the cast of Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) were quartered.

Research compiled by Richard Harland Smith

The Horror People by John Brosnan
Vincent Price: A Daughter's Biography by Victoria Price
Peter Cushing: An Autobiography and Past Forgetting

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Madhouse (1974)

"...Price is now at a point in his long career where his familiar flamboyance is used to evoke audience sympathy as much as fear.... Price and Cushing mellifluously outdo each other as uncharacteristic nice guys..."

"...a totally predictable, superbly entertaining horror film...efficiently controlled, adequately frightening and excellently acted throughout... For once, Price is not the villain and brings dignity and sympathy to his role. A number of clips from old AIP movies double for "Dr. Death" movies...Thus, Madhouse becomes something of a Sunset Boulevard [1950], horror-film style...The music by Douglas Gamley includes a song...sung charmingly over the closing roll by none other than Mr. Price himself."
Hollywood Reporter

"...The premise of Madhouse is too good to have been wasted on a film that is as ineptly developed as it is titled. Still, the film has some visual elegance: Vincent Price, leonine as ever, holds forth in great form, and his fans may be willing to overlook a plot that totally defies credibility...Price and his director, Jim Clark, achieve some genuinely ambiguous moments, suggesting the blurring between fantasy and reality, art and life, that belong in a far-better-realized film...With more care and thought, Madhouse could have been another Targets (1968), the Peter Bogdanovich film that made such excellent use of the byplay between Boris Karloff the man and his menacing screen image."
Kevin Thomas, The Los Angeles Times

"A partially successful mixing of squeal-worthy shocks and in-jokes for film buffs."
Cinema TV Today

"Good, if somewhat unimaginative."
Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide

"More jokey than terrifying, the film gives Price a few over-the-top opportunities which he takes with zest and the film's structure makes good use of clips from Price's old AIP appearances in what purport to be clips from his 'Doctor Death' movies. There were additional laughs from British viewers at the sight of BBC television chat show host Michael Parkinson uneasily and ineffectively impersonating a chat show host."
Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook

"This meeting of three horror stars is pretty lame."
Michael Weldon, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film

"This American International/Amicus poorly directed but still worth seeing, not least for all Price's candid performance; it may not be his Targets, but it's the Targets of his AIP years. The one of the most astonishing fade-outs in the genre.
Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog

"What a great premise, but unfortunately, the overall cheap feeling and general dreariness keeps it from kicking in...unfortunately it stands as a lasting memory of wasted potential both in story and in talent.
Frank Kurtz, Monsterscene

"Let down by poor production values (Quarry's office door has letraset instead of a brass plate) and some strange direction (the aimless sequence where Toombes is interviewed on a chat show is particularly clueless), the film does nonetheless have some wonderful surreal touches...In places, this is a truly unsettling movie...
Andy Boot, Fragments of Fear

"Although Price and Cushing had appeared together before... this story offered an opportunity to give their interplay an extra dimension. Instead, both Price's flamboyance and Cushing's cool, more introverted style are simply used - often as the subject for facile in-jokes - but never explored in Clark's competent but humdrum direction."
Aurum Encyclopedia of Film: Horror

"...Madhouse is by no means a classic, especially by comparison with the vaguely similar Theatre of Blood. It's choppily edited, undercast in its supporting roles and indifferently coloured, with a narrative incoherence reminiscent of Italian giallo films but with none of their redeeming visual flair...Price's back catalogue snippets are shoe-horned into the film without much rhyme or reason, other than to shore up the action whenever it threatens to flag, which is often."
Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic

"A cheapie A.I.P actor's revenge story employing pop psychology inferences and over-the-top hysterical acting...It's all played tongue-in-cheek and is rather cheesy but enjoyable."
Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews

"Madhouse was another missed opportunity, all the more frustrating for the handful of Genuine Moments between two gentle gentlemen."
Lucy Chase Williams, The Complete Films of Vincent Price

"Much of the story is routine and predictable, and using footage from most of Price's Poe films becomes excessive to the point of monotony. But the film does present some nice twists towards the end, and seeing Price, Cushing and Quarry (who even gets to dress up as Count Yorga at a fancy dress party) is a real treat."
George R. Reis, DVD Drive-In

Though it at times aspires to the level of Price's classic of macabre humor Theatre of Blood, this film tends to stumble due to a middling script that dodges the opportunity to generate energy from the interaction of its two superb leads."
Cavett Binion, All Movie Guide

"... old fashioned but entertaining horror whodunit..."
Stephen Jones, The Essential Monster Movie Guide

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

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Madhouse (1974)

"As you know, in 'Dr. Death' pictures, there is always a young and pretty victim. Sometimes I strangle her, sometimes I boil her alive... and sometimes, if I'm lazy, I just slit her throat from ear to ear. Well, tonight I would like you to meet my latest victim, Ellen Mason. Oh, I have a terrible fate in store for her...I'm going to marry her."

"That's Hollywood for you, sweetheart. He's on the make, she's on the take."

"You're marrying a fine monster."

"I can do something for your career...I can kill it."

"The case was never solved. After that, he turned into some kind of weirdo."

"I'm in public relations, not criminal aftercare."

"Miss Peters, as they say in horror movies, you will come to a bad end."

"How does it feel to be in England, Dr. Death?"

"Everybody thinks I'm dead, including me."

"Why must you kill everything?"

"How are my babies? How are my pretty, furry little babies?"

"I had my own car. I, I'd just pick up anyone... you know what I mean, I, I wasn't particular. I used to go out but, but stories of girls being beaten up by guys just for the hell of it...well, the stories were true. Only these guys got scared. They set the car on fire and pushed it down the hill. When I came out of it, I wasn't pretty anymore."

"Successful people always pay great attention to detail."

"I don't make that cheap crap anymore, I'm in television now."

"This is Scotland Yard, you know...not a blasted picture palace."

"In our day in Hollywood, the monsters didn't need makeup...they just came as themselves."

"How long do you think this clambake will go on?"

"Your drama school accent is slipping."

"The impulses that we don't dare admit, impulses that sometimes we don't even know we have. Animal cruelty, brutal violence and blood lust. They're tamed and caged. Sometimes they prowl around inside of the cages that we built for them and then there comes a time, in between our sleeping and our waking, that they whisper to us that they want to be set free, but, well, we don't set them free. I think maybe that's why the pictures are successful, because they do set them free."

"He arrived early and left early, too. He, he did, in fact, I suppose, once play The Invisible Man, but this is daft, isn't it?"

"No, no, not again! Not again!"

"Who is Dr. Death? Well, I will tell you. Herbert and I created him between us. No, we didn't create him...he was there. We found him in ourselves. We looked into the depths of our souls and he was there. He was already there. And he will always be there."

"Man is born to live. He creates life, he welcomes life, he cherishes life, he creates new life. But deep in our souls, there lurks an instinct which welcomes death. It makes it easier when it comes. It isn't very strong, this death instinct. It's only needed once."

"There is always room for more in the coffin of time."

"Now I must play the final scene...the death of Dr. Death."

"They like him now... the babies wouldn't go near him when he was alive."

"Aren't you good boys and girls? You ate up every bit of him...full of nourishment."

"It's your favorite, Paul. Sour cream and red herrings."

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

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