Madhouse (1974)

Director: Jim Clark

If nothing else, Madhouse‘s place in history is sealed by the fact that it’s the only film of its kind in which Michael Parkinson plays himself… his only other acting credit being Love Actually, according to IMDB, which is a different sort of film to this one. Again, this is more of a Vincent Price vehicle, but Peter Cushing’s part in it is a fairly significant one, so I’m counting this towards the blogathon. Price plays a horror movie star best known as “Dr Death”, the character he created with Cushing, who’s got him back into the business after years away from it following a nervous breakdown. It seems the poor fellow has had a history of trouble drawing a line between himself and the good doctor, and it rather looks like he might be involved in a series of Dr Death-inspired killings… Madhouse (whose title otherwise bears no relation to this plot) takes a hint from Targets in using some of Price’s own older films to depict his character’s past work, but it also appears to take some cues from the giallo (not just because of the black-gloved killer), a notion that struck me while watching the film mainly because the copy of the film I got from Youtube has Spanish subtitles. I’ve said before that some films feel to me like they should’ve been made in another language, and that was the impression Madhouse gave me: seeing those subtitles made me think it really should’ve been a continental production, not an Anglo-American one. Dub it into Italian and see how it goes… As it is, the film doesn’t actually make a great deal of sense on various levels, not least the true identity of the killer (i.e. Cushing, who’s felt he should’ve played Dr Death all along); the film barely makes a desultory effort to make us think Price could be the killer, then makes slightly more effort to mislead us as to the real killer’s identity (in another scene that makes no sense; if the killer wants people to think Price did the killings, why then try to kill him?), and finally blows it with a revelation that’s actually impossible since Cushing actually couldn’t have done one of the murders? It’s obviously nice to see Price and Cushing together, I just wish the film served them better. Jim Clark’s limited directorial career ended with this, since when he’s worked as an editor, and I’m sure it’s the film world’s gain…

Written for the Peter Cushing centennial blogathon at Frankensteinia

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