#298 -- Madhouse (1974)

Director: Jim Clark
Rating: 4 / 5

This was another one of those, "Ah, fuck it" type of deals. I was searching through Netflix for a while and couldn't decide on what to watch. I happened upon this one, Netflix thought I might like it, and I knew that Vincent Price was in it. I was tired of looking. So I trusted Netflix, and used my instinct and the knowledge that Vincent Price fucking rules, and I settled on it. Turns out, it's a pretty great movie.

Vincent played Paul Toombes, a man who became famous by playing a character called Dr. Death in a series of horror movies. During a party for the movies, his soon to be trophy wife was brutally murdered and be-headed. Paul honestly didn't know whether or not he committed the murder, and this led to his being institutionalized. He was never convicted of the murder, he was released back out into the public, and then he was sent to London to start working on a TV show based on his old movies. He stayed with his old friend Herbert, as well as an old co-star, Faye, who had lost her beauty, lived in the basement and was obsessed with spiders. They started shooting the television show, and before long, more people started getting killed by a strange man dressed as Dr. Death. And Paul still wasn't sure whether or not he was to blame. It seemed like, any time Dr. Death was involved, he went into a sort of trance, and woke up with someone dead. But could there be more to the murders?

Vincent as Dr. Death
What I liked about the movie was the suspense factor. Usually, in older movies like this, there's practically none -- at least not for me. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's actually quite suspenseful and fast paced. In the beginning, it's obvious to everyone that Paul is to blame for the murders. But as the movie progresses, more people are added to the list, until practically everyone Paul knows becomes a suspect. I really didn't know who to blame for the murders, though I did have my suspicions. That was the fun in it. There was practically no gore whatsoever, and where it was present it was in very small amounts. It wasn't a gore fest, but it was exciting. The excitement came from the chase. It came from trying to figure out just who the murderer was, and if Paul was, in fact, killing people without remembering it. By the end, it turned into a full-blown slasher movie, with people running through the studio being chased by the Dr. Death style killer.

Vincent Price was wonderful as usual, but his role in this movie was kind of weird for me. Since he wasn't sure if he was the murderer or not, his character played out like one of the victims, which is strange. I'm used to seeing him as a villain, and this movie showed me that 'ol Vince really didn't know how to scream. Any time he'd find a dead body, he'd let out the weirdest scream I've ever heard. I guess he was used to making other people scream, and it all just sounded weird to me. But that's probably just because I prefer him as a villain. By the end of the movie, his old creepiness came back, and he ended things with a rather magnificent soliloquy that, for me, answered the age-old question "why in the hell do people like horror movies?" So, if nothing else, Madhouse was a learning experience. Now when people ask me that question, I have a definite answer for them, and I thank it for that. It's nice to finally understand my weirdness.

The killer Dr. Death
I'd also like to mention one Adrienne Corri, who played Faye, the basement-dwelling spider lover. This woman was creepy as shit, and I think she should have been the star of the show, rather than the fake Dr. Death (alongside Vincent Price, of course.) She could have been one hell of a serial killer, and he was pretty frightening. I really loved the character, and Corri played her extremely well.

So, despite the lack of gore, and Vincent Price's weird screaming, Madhouse is a wonderful slasher movie with bits of humor, a cool story, great actors, nice suspense, and a fast pace. It's great for Price fans, or horror fans in general, I say. Check it out. You won't be sorry.

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