Friday, September 11, 2015
MADHOUSE On Blu-ray
I bought Kino's Blu-ray of MADHOUSE earlier this summer. Even before the disc was officially released there were reports that the dialogue did not synch up with the actors' lip movements. When I got my disc I watched it and honestly felt that the problem wasn't really all that bad. However there was a hue & cry about it all over social media, and Kino decided to ship out replacement discs. I went ahead and signed up for one, and this one has no sound issues. What will I do with the first disc? How about a Hitless Wonder Movie Blog giveaway contest? Anyway.....
Now that I have a "fixed" Blu-ray, I can go ahead and write a blog post on this film. It's rather ironic that so much attention has been paid to it recently because of the sound problems, because, quite frankly, MADHOUSE is a flat-out mess.
MADHOUSE (1973) holds the distinction of being the very last film Vincent Price appeared in for American International Pictures. In the 1960s, AIP and Price (along with producer/director Roger Corman) helped redefine the American Gothic horror film. By the early 70s, Gothic horror was on the wane, and so was Price's relationship with AIP. The company decided to hook up once again with Amicus productions in England for Price's next horror movie. This time Price would get to really co-star with Peter Cushing (both men had appeared in SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN and DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN, but they shared no scenes together). Price would also have to deal with Robert Quarry again as well--Quarry was becoming AIP's new horror star, and a rivalry was beginning to develop between the two men.
MADHOUSE would also feature scream queens Adrienne Corri and Linda Hayden. With all these elements--Price, Cushing, Quarry, Corri, Hayden, American-International, and Amicus--what could go wrong? Plenty.
MADHOUSE tells the tale of Hollywood horror star Paul Toombes (Vincent Price), who has become famous playing a character known as "Dr. Death". The character was created by Toombes' friend Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing), who writes the Dr. Death movies. During a New Year's Eve party Toombes finds his fiancee horribly murdered, and he suffers a breakdown. After years of therapy Toombes is invited to England by Herbert to appear in a new Dr. Death TV series. Toombes fears reviving the character--most people assume that it was Toombes who killed his fiancee--and sure enough, bodies start dropping all over the place, forcing the actor to once again question his sanity.
If MADHOUSE had actually been about the Dr. Death character, it probably would have turned out a lot better. (The original title of the film was even supposed to be THE REVENGE OF DR. DEATH). Having Vincent Price play a horror movie actor instead of a horror movie role could have turned out interesting, but the jumbled screenplay fails to capitalize on the idea. Because the movie opens with the murder of Toombes' love, and someone dressed as Dr. Death runs around for the rest of the film and kills people in gruesome ways, the audience just assumes that Toombes is crazy all along, and the situation of a real horror movie actor commenting on his life through a film gets lost.
The Dr. Death makeup for Price (see picture above) is rather striking, and so is the Doctor's costume--black cloak, wide-brimmed black hat, and black gloves. That costume has caused some to venture that MADHOUSE has some similarities to an Italian giallo film. MADHOUSE has nowhere near the visual style of a typical giallo, and the screenplay certainly isn't up to the usual intricate standards of that genre. Where you can compare MADHOUSE to a giallo is in the fact that a black-gloved killer who likes to fondle knives commits brutal acts of violence against women. You could even make the point that MADHOUSE has a misogynistic bent to it. At one point Toombes complains that "everyone's on the make", and he's referring to women. Just about every female cast member gets finished off, and the one who doesn't--Adrienne Corri's character--is disfigured and mentally imbalanced. In her small role Linda Hayden almost steals the film, due to her sporting some eye-popping costumes, but since she's a predatory golddigger you can guess how she winds up.
Peter Cushing doesn't have much to do until the end, but unfortunately it is too little, too late. Robert Quarry gives another one of his snide performances--he doesn't have much to do here either--but I have to admit he's the perfect guy to play an arrogant producer. Vincent Price spends most of the story looking tired and dispirited. Of course you could say that's what Paul Toombes is supposed to look like, but I have feeling it was much more than that. While making MADHOUSE Price was going through personal issues, and he was disappointed with the script and angry at AIP. Price gets to have a nice soliloquy toward the end, but you can't help but feel that MADHOUSE should have been more of a showcase for the genre legend.
One point that needs to be made about MADHOUSE is that throughout the running time, many clips from Vincent Price's 1960s AIP films are presented as "highlights" of Paul Toombes' career. It seems like every ten minutes somebody turns on a projector and shows a Paul Toombes "movie"(The late actors Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone even get a "special participation" credit!). The clips featured are from such films as HOUSE OF USHER, TALES OF TERROR....we even get to see the "burning barn" footage again!! Not only do these clips bring the actual story to a halt, they remind us how great these films were compared to the one we are watching now.
There is one thing that makes MADHOUSE a true madhouse, and that is the ending. I'm not going to give it away, but it is so far out of left field that you will either be grudgingly impressed or you will look at the screen and say "Whaaa??" Needless to say, the ending makes absolutely no sense.
Kino's Blu-ray of MADHOUSE has far superior picture quality than the old MGM "Midnite Movies" DVD of this title. As I stated at the start of this post, the sound issues appear to be fixed. The Blu-ray extras are a nice little featurette from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures concerning the making of MADHOUSE, and a gossipy audio commentary from David Del Valle, who personally knew many of those involved in the production.
If MADHOUSE is a disappointment, why would you want to buy it? Well, classic monster movie fans like me will buy just about anything representing the genre--like I've mentioned, there was a huge uproar over the sound issues when this Blu-ray came out. It is the only real teaming of Vincent Price and Peter Cushing in a horror film, and it is the last time Price worked for American International, the studio that made him an icon. MADHOUSE was supposed to have been Vincent Price's SUNSET BLVD., but the final result falls way short of that level.