It's Halloween, so here's an appropriate random movie trailer. So not so random really. Madhouse is a seventies British horror flick I have a soft spot for, although I always feel that it represents something of a missed opportunity. It claims to be based on Angus Hall's novel Devilday, but beyond the basic idea of a washed up US horror star trying to revive his career with a TV series, but dogged by a series of murders, and some of the character names, it bears little resemblance to its supposed source. Which is a pity, as I have a real fondness for the book, a paperback horror potboiler from the late sixties which conjures up a great deal of atmosphere and has some interesting ideas, including reincarnation, psychic detectives and even concludes with a modern version of the mob of villagers attacking Frankenstein's castle, which seemed to climax just about every Universal monster movie from the thirties and forties. Best of all, it had cynical first person narration from a dislikeable 'hero' and a fascinating background of local independent television. Indeed, 'South Coast TV', the company featured in the book was clearly based on the old Southern Television ITV franchise, which I grew up watching. However, all of this is jettisoned by the film, which instead focuses on a pretty standard revenge plot, clearly designed to cash in on star Vincent Price's success in similarly revenge-themed horrors The Abominable Dr Phibes, Dr Phibes Rises Again and Theatre of Death.
Which isn't to say that the resulting film isn't fun. Co-produced by Amicus and AIP, it features both Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, although the latter is somewhat wasted in what is essentially a supporting role. Price is as flamboyant as ever in his role as Paul Toombes, alias Dr Death, desperately looking to resurrect his career on British TV. A highlight is watching him putting the wind up TV interviewer Michael Parkinson, (playing himself, badly). This sequence includes clips from several of Price's old AIP Edgar Allan Poe movies, purporting to be examples of Toombes' 'Dr Death' movies, featuring Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff. But despite all of this, the film feels somewhat unsatisfactory and perfunctory. It has no real depth of characterisation or plot and no strong narrative drive. One of a handful of films directed by Jim Clark, best known as one of the UK's top film editors, Madhouse reportedly suffered a high degree of interference from Amicus producer Milton Subotsky in post-production, which could explain its uneven tone and fractured story telling. Despite its deficiencies, Madhouse is an entertaining enough picture while it is on and is notable for the fact that it was Price's last film for AIP. It was also one of the last horror films produced by Amicus - its poor takings reportedly convinced AIP that the horror cycle was over. As such, it represents the end of an era.
Labels: Random Movie Trailer