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October 27th, 2014


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08:08 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Madhouse
Wikipedia informs me that Madhouse is based on a novel called Devilday by Angus Hall. Reading up on the novel, I can see that it bears little resemblance to the movie, which is usually cause for despair, but in this case it sounds like a blessing.

Madhouse stars Vincent Price as the famous horror actor Paul Toombes who starred in the long-running series of Dr. Death movies. As the film begins, Toombes is at a party celebrating his most recent film, and his co-star is mudered shortly after he announces his engagement to her. Toombes is institutionalized, but his guilt in the murder is never established. It doesn't matter, though; Toombes' reputation is ruined and while nobody quite accuses him outright, nobody quite believes he's innocent either.

Some time after his release, Toombes is approached to reprise Dr. Death in a television series, but as production commences, so does a series of murders: cast and crew are dying like flies under circumstances that replicate scenes from the Dr. Death movies. Toombes fears for his life, and everyone else fears that he's responsible...

For the longest time, Madhouse was the only movie that came up when you searched on Netflix for Vincent Price, and while I can't see it worming its way into my Top 10 Vincent Price Films (and yes, I could make a list of my Top 10 Vincent Price Films), it's a nice horror thriller, and a nod to the sort of movies Price was known for. I think it falters a little as psychological horror; they're clearly trying to make a mystery of Toombes' guilt, but his innocence never seemed in question to me. That's not much of a spoiler--Toombes is only one of many suspects.

If anything, Madhouse really excels as a tribute to its genre. Dr. Death, as far as I can tell, is more or less an alternate version of Dr. Phibes, and the cast of Madhouse is dotted with British genre stalwarts, including Robert "Count Yorga" Quarry and Peter "Grand Moff" Cushing, who make numerous references to their own movies, and their real-life relationship with Price. In one of the cleverer scenes, talk show host Michael Parkinson (playing himself) interviews Toombes about his career, and plays several clips of Toombes' previous movies, taken from Price's actual films including The Raven, The Haunted Palace, and Tales of Terror. Indeed, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone are credited in the opening titles with "special participation".

I am of two minds about Madhouse. On one hand, it's a little pedestrian, a little too much like everything else Price was doing at the time. If you've seen the Dr. Phibes movies or Theater of Blood, you've already seen a better version of the Vincent Price-surrounded-by-creative-murders movie (granted, his character is actually the murderer in those). On the other hand, if you're familiar with Price's body of work, there's a great deal of self-parody in Madhouse. Parodies are rarely brilliant, but they're fun when you're in on the joke. On yet a third hand--because this is Halloween, after all--if you're not already familiar with Price's other films, this might be a good introduction to his personal brand. So I guess I'm giving a vaguely thumbs-uppy sort of verdict?

Anyway, here's the trailer.

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31 Days of Halloween: Madhouse - Garmonbozia for the soul.

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