Netflix for the Poor Kids: Madhouse (Confirmed: Good)

     Madhouse is a slightly interesting and somewhat ridiculous British horror film from 1974 starring horror icons Vincent Price, Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin), and Robert Quarry. Heck, this movie even manages to claim special appearances from horror icons Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff (both of whom were dead at the time) by using footage from two of Price's older films, The Masque of the Red Death and The Raven, in which Price starred alongside those actors.  Perhaps this is actually fitting because Madhouse is a very "meta" film, produced long before being meta was even cool.  While the story is fictional (neither Vincent Price nor Peter Cushing nor Robert Quarry murdered dozens of innocent actresses that we know of), it does playfully borrow elements from Price's filmography in weaving a story about a famous horror actor who may be getting too wrapped up in his character.  Interested in watching a movie about making horror movies filled with crazy Vincent Price one liners, a spider-obsessed burn victim, a killer that dresses like Darkman, hot 70's girls, some PG- rated stabbings, and Peter Cushing, who's always suave whether he's staking Dracula or blowing up planets?  Then read on and see if this Madhouse is right for you!

     Vincent Price plays Paul Toombes, a horror actor who has made his career based on the character "Dr. Death", a skull-faced villain who's always finding new ways to deplete the world's supply of attractive women.  He's a fiend, alright, and also incredibly popular and successful due to the Dr. Death film series.  He's also a feisty old codger and is getting ready to marry his much younger co-star (Price was in his early 60s when the film was made and this girl might be 20) who it turns out made her way into Hollywood by making "aardvarking films". At a New Year's Eve party, Toombes learns about his fiance's sordid past from director Oliver Quayle (Quarry) and acts all offended about it, although he does claim that he's going to have to secure her films for "a private viewing".  Research.  Whatever, buddy. Anyways, Toombes stomps off to bed in front of all his party guests and his fiancee ends up getting decapitated by a mysterious figure (don't get excited, it's just a PG decapitation), leaving everyone to naturally assume that Toombes killed her.  He spends some time in an asylum but never gets convicted of the crime. Upon release, his best buddy and writer of the Dr. Death series, Herbert Flay (Cushing), gets him a gig in turning Dr. Death into a British TV series.  As soon as Toombes crosses the pond, however, sexy British girls start dying left and right.  Is Toombes a relentless killer? Is Dr. Death committing these murders independently of Toombes?    
    This is definitely not the best film that Price or Cushing ever made, but it's not unwatchable by any means.  It's still pretty fun and a treat for Vincent Price fans to pick out all of the little nods to his previous works
Lots of older films from Price's work with Roger Corman are used here to recreate the fictional Toombes' filmography.  There are some other in-jokes such as Peter Cushing dressing like Dracula at a party (he was famous for playing Van Helsing) and Robert Quarry basically wearing his Count Yorga costume.  While there are a few great sets reminiscent of the Hammer era of horror films and a few exciting fights and/or killings, the film definitely feels like a last gasp of breath for a dying genre.  Which it was.  After the release of the Exorcist in 1971, moviegoers were asking for more intense and shocking horror films, and the more playful films of the 60's and early 70's just wouldn't cut it anymore.  This movie certainly has some fun moments, such as the creepy spider lady/burn victim, a dude getting crushed in a trap bed, some poor lass getting impaled through the throat with a pitchfork, and some great scenes of people jumping through movie screens (something I've always wanted to do, but have never found the right moment). What's actually really funny is that as soon as the medical examiner sees the body of the woman killed, he immediately recognizes the wound as being from a pitchfork.  Apparently he's seen his share of pitchfork related murders. Lord knows I have.
     This is not really a frightening movie, but rather a campy, silly horror film about horror films that embraces the love of those campy classics and vaguely explores the idea of what can happen when an actor loses his or herself in a character.  Directed by Jim Clark (who's actually worked as an editor on some really good films like The Mission) and loosely based on the book Devilday by Angus Hall, Madhouse is a pretty average film for all but most ardent viewers of 60's and 70's campy horror cinema.  If you're really wanting a great Vincent Price film from this period, watch both The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises.  If you're up for anything and just want something crazy, give this one a go. I'd give it a Good, as it proves to be entertaining and silly in it's sinisterness, if nothing else.
Confirmed: Good


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