BADass SINema Unearthed - Blu-ray Review

Madhouse (1974) - Blu-ray Review

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Madhouse (1974) - Blu-ray Review

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4 stars

There is so much to say about this darling little horror flick. Jim Clark’s Madhouse is a film that – had there been some sort of coordinated effort behind the scenes to get everyone on the same page – could have been a financial success. As it stands, the film is near and dear only to a select few of Horror Hounds and dedicated followers of Vincent Price. This fun co-production between Amicus and American International Pictures isn’t exactly forgotten but it is largely ignored by those who know better. Kino Lorber, with their release of the film on blu-ray, do their part in giving the underappreciated horror film some attention.

Starring Price and Peter Cushing, Madhouse is a disturbing film about two aging Hollywod icons – known for their creation of Dr. Death – who join forces to reintroduce the character to television audiences while poking fun of their past in the vaults of horror. Only the fun stops when the real life killing that ended the trajectory of their creation resumes once again as soon as the Dr. Death makeup is applied to Price’s face. And these murders are bizarre, unpredictable, and threaten to shut down the production of Dr. Death’s resurrection once and for all.

Writer Herbert Flay (Cushing) and Paul Toombes (Price) parted ways long ago when Toombes entered an insane asylum after finding his fiancée beheaded. Toombes has tried to put the past behind him but Hollywood keeps rapping upon his door. Twelve years later, it is Flay who convinces him to give the character a proper sendoff. Unfortunately, a series of bizarre and ghastly deaths plagues the television production and all eyes are on Toombes.

The biggest problem with Madhouse that limits its appeal is the fact that it was written on the fly – with script changes coming in at the last minute (sometimes from its own stars) – and had no clear direction when it was edited together. For large parts, the film works powerfully. It has wonderful things to say about the role of the horror film in modern society and then, due to misguided attempts to please everyone, shoots itself in the foot with red herrings and head-rotating leaps in logic.

Yet, notice what I rated it: a solid four reels. In spite of all that, the film – complete with its shock ending – works as a horror film and it is so blisteringly ahead of its time with its use of footage from Price’s own career (featuring cameos from Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone) that one can’t help but get all metacognitive about it. In one scene, Cushing dresses up like a Dracula and Quarry (being groomed to take over Price’s spot in the genre) dresses as his own Count Yorga and the “I know you can’t act” one-liners are classic.

In a tongue and cheek manner with co-stars Robert Quarry and Adrienne Corri, it is so gracefully aware of itself that it can’t help but not be a fun picture. I’m sure audiences didn’t know what to make of the footage used from Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum. It’s creative, though, and far too clever for its own good as the script – with rewrites being handed in every day by the actors – drops some damn good opportunities. This is all forgivable when you consider it is one of the final lavishly produced AIP films. And, yes, they simply do NOT make movies like this anymore.  

At the time of its release and, when all the receipts had been counted, Samuel Z. Arkoff suggested that Madhouse was the end of AIP’s foray into the horror genre. There was little more money to be earned from their continued production. He was right and wrong. None of that; however, was the fault of Madhouse. It was a sign of the times and, ironically enough, probably Price’s last best goodbye to his audiences.

While we can talk and debate on end about the ending, just look at the special effects. There’s an early beheading that is brutal and still shocking. In what goes down as some of the most creative (and simple) of skeleton makeup jobs, Price nails his performance as Dr. Death and a washed-up B-movie horror star.

Madhouse, especially after viewing this blu-ray, is a true revelation. You have to miss the production values when the colors are this saturated and the women so British and beautiful.

Hammer eat your heart out.

Madhouse (1974) - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: Unrated
Runtime:
89 mins
Director
: Jim Clark
Writer:
Ken Levison
Cast:
Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry
Genre
: Horror | Thriller
Tagline:
If Stark Terror Were Ecstasy... living here would be sheer bliss!
Memorable Movie Quote: "Now I must play the final scene, the death of Dr Death!"
Distributor:
American International Pictures (AIP)
Official Site:
Release Date:
March 1974
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
July 21, 2015
Synopsis: A horror movie star returns to his famous role after years in a mental institution. But the character seems to be committing murders independent of his will.

Madhouse (1974) - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - July 21, 2015
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: 25GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A

Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Madhouse with a crisp 1080p transfer. There are some scratches in the print used but the production values really are striking. Colors are well-saturated. The makeup and special effects remain strong even if the blood is obviously corn syrup. Black levels are strong. Shadows run deep and the contrast is high. The release is offered in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • If my review can’t convince you to give Madhouse a chance, then maybe film historian David Del Valle’s feature length commentary will.

Special Features:

Fascinating. That’s all I can say about the 10-minute featurette that accompanies this release. In quick fashion, it covers the shooting and problems that occurred on the set. Check it out. A theatrical trailer rounds out the release.

  • Making-of Madhouse (10 min)
  • Theatrical Trailer

 

 

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