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May 13, 2007

Madhouse

madhouse 1.jpg

Jim Clark - 1974
MGM Region 1 DVD

One of the films I was thinking of writing about for the Shakespeare blog-a-thon was Theater of Blood starring Vincent Price. The DVD was not forwarded to me in time. Kimberley of Cinebeats also had Vincent Price in mind which was a pleasure to read. Now that I do have the DVD, I was able to see the companion feature, Madhouse.

While Theater of Blood gave Price a last opportunity to perform Shakespeare on screen, Madhouse serves as a retrospective of his work with American International. The film is not as good as it could have been, but was deserving of better treatment than than the shabby release the film was given. This was Price's last starring role where ironically he co-starred with Robert Quarry, the actor American International had intended to be their new horror star. It was Quarry's last film for AIP as well. Madhouse was also the last film directed by Jim Clark, who found greater acclaim as an editor.

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Price portrays horror film star Paul Toombes. Several people close to Toombes are murdered by someone dressed as Toombes screen alter ego, Dr. Death. The story allows for clips of Price's films, primarily his work with Roger Corman, to be shown. Dr. Death bears strong resemblance to Price's character of Dr. Phibes. It could be that the film was hobbled by a limited budget or a hastily written script, but much of Madhouse suggests that there could have been more cleverness that no one had the time or interest to explore.

In addition to the films within the film, the act of seeing is further touched on in other ways. Clark employs several shots of Price looking at his reflection. There are also some shots looking through the lens a television camera. The film is about Paul Toombes possible confusion between himself and his screen character, as well as the perception audiences may have of actors to closely aligned with a specific character. The ideas are familiar ones, but the problem with the film is that more could have been done. Madhouse seems to have been made with the idea that a few in-jokes, like seeing Peter Cushing dressed as a vampire, would be sufficient to entertain the fans. Madhouse almost gets it right with the scenes of Adrienne Corri as the deranged wife Cushing keeps in his basement. The biggest horror of Madhouse is that it is ultimately a film comprised of missed opportunities, from a studio that never fully appreciated the star that helped bring them substantial financial success.

Posted by peter at May 13, 2007 01:01 PM

Comments

I haven't seen this film in years and now I want to watch it again. I can't remember it much so that's probably not a good thing, but it does have the fabulous Linda Hayden in it who happens to be one of my favorite British actresses.

Posted by: Kimberly at May 17, 2007 03:33 PM

Irrelevant aside: I somehow wound up with a copy of Quarry's self-published cookbook. The recipes are pretty terrible. What happened to his career? not much around about him, do you know why he didn't do more at AIP?

Posted by: Campaspe at May 18, 2007 03:43 PM

IMDb indicates Quarry worked steadily in low budget films until 1999, at age 74, in what appear to be mostly supporting roles. I suspect AIP decided to mothball the gothic horror films in favor of more contemporary horror and science fiction with younger actors. There is a funny story about Quarry in Victoria Price's biography of her father. Vincent Price had encountered Quarry singing during the shooting of the Dr. Phibes sequel. Quarry boasted to Price, "I bet you didn't know I could sing." Price reportedly responded, "Well, I knew you couldn't act."

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at May 18, 2007 07:54 PM