Combustible Celluloid
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With: Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, Adrienne Corri, Natasha Pyne, Michael Parkinson, Linda Hayden, Barry Dennen, Ellis Dale, Catherine Willmer, John Garrie, Ian Thompson, Jenny Lee Wright, Julie Crosthwaite
Written by: Ken Levison, Greg Morrison, based on a novel by Angus Hall
Directed by: Jim Clark
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 89
Date: 12/04/1974

Madhouse (1974)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Act of Killing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Telling a story not too far removed from Theater of Blood (1973), Madhouse stars Vincent Price as an actor named Paul Toombes (get it? "tombs"?). A veteran of horror films (clips of his Roger Corman/Poe movies are used), Toombes is mainly known for playing a character called Doctor Death (with skull-face makeup and teeth painted on his lips). In the prologue, everything seems to be going great for him, but a girl is unexpectedly murdered and Toombes looks like the killer. He is acquitted, but retreats from the limelight, tormented by what happened. Years later, he reluctantly returns for a new Dr. Death TV series, and lo and behold, the murders start happening again, with Toombes painted to look like the killer.

Peter Cushing co-stars as Herbert Flay, an actor-turned-writer who pens all of the Dr. Death stories, as well as Toombes' best friend. Robert Quarry is a former producer of adult movies now working on the series, and Adrienne Corri is an actress, at one time in the Dr. Death movies, now disfigured, driven mad, and obsessed with spiders. Though it's fun to see Price doing his stuff, being actorly and wearing a big black cloak and a wide-brimmed black hat, and it's fun to see him interacting with Cushing, I can't think of a film in which it was easier to spot the secret killer. In the year of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this must have seemed terribly old-fashioned, and it's not great, but worth a viewing for fans of Price. (Plus, we get to hear him sing!)

Kino Lorber initially released Madhouse on Blu-ray in July of 2015, but that release (which I did not see) was reported to have some sound-sync issues. So the company has corrected the problem and issued a new version in September of 2015. They are offering a disc-exchange to anyone who purchased the previous version. (There's a sticker on the plastic wrapper of the updated version, but if you're buying a used copy, there's no real way to tell until you watch the movie.) Extras include a commentary track by historian David Del Valle, a featurette, and trailers for other Vincent Price movies.

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