Vincent Price is my favorite actor, and, until recently, Jim Clark's "Madhouse" was one of the very few Horror films with the Horror icon that I had yet to see. Since I knew that Price was playing a Horror actor, who returns to his role after years of mental problems, I was expecting a film very similar to Price's two most famous 70s films, "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" (1971) and "Theater of Blood" (1973). However, "Madhouse" turned out not to be a blatant copy after all. While it never reaches the greatness of the two previously mentioned films, "Madhouse", which also features Price's fellow Horror deity Peter Cushing (another favorite actor of mine) is a very likable mixture of Horror, Mystery, Parody and Black Comedy and a great homage to Price's earlier career.
Price plays Horror actor Paul Toombes, who is most famous for playing the role of a villain named "Dr. Death". When his fiancée gets killed, Toombes falls in a state of shock and becomes insane. After treatment and several years without appearing in public, Toombes is invited by a sleazy producer (Robert Quarry) to reprise his role. He therefore comes to England where he is welcomed by his friend, fellow actor, and "Dr. Death" screenwriter Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing). However, soon after Toombes' appearance, a bizarre murder is committed, then followed by another, and corpses begin to pile up. Has Toombes gone mad and brought Dr. Death into real life? Or is there someone else behind the gruesome acts? "Madhouse" is, primarily, worth watching for its great cast. No Horror lover can allow himself or herself to miss a film starring Vincent Price AND Peter Cushing, and though this one is quite far from being among either man's best films, it is obvious that the two Horror deities had great fun making this film. One of my main complaints about "Madhouse" is that Cushing should have had more screen time. The rest of the cast is also very good, Robert Quarry ("Dr. Phibes Rises Again") fits very well in his role of the sleazy producer. The female cast includes Adrienne Corri (who is probably best known as the rape victim in Kubrick's "Clockwork Orange", and who had previously been in "Vampire Circus" of 1972, which is my choice for the greatest Hammer film) as well as the beautiful young Linda Hayden ("Taste The Blood of Dracula").
As mentioned above, the film is a nice homage to Price's earlier career, and features parts of Roger Corman's Poe films, which mark the highlights of Price's impressive career. This film being co-produced by AIP, which produced the Poe films, allowed the film to include actual sequences from these films (the other production company involved were the British Anthology Horror specialists from Amicus). Some of the films featured in this one are "House of Usher" (1960), "Pit and the Pendulum" (1961), "The Haunted Palace" (1963), "Tales of Terror" (1962) and "The Raven" (1963). The sequences that are shown are all supposed to be scenes from the fictional 'Dr. Death' series. "Tales of Terror" and "The Raven" gave the producers the opportunity to credit Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, even though they are only seen in archive footage. The film has a nice, morbid sense of humor that often resembles that of "Theater of Blood" and "Dr. Phibes". There is some light and amusing gore, and the killings are wonderfully macabre.
"Madhouse" isn't nearly the same quality as "Theater of Blood" or "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" and yet it is another delightfully macabre 70s Horror Comedy starring the most magnificently sinister actor who ever enriched the world of Horror. Vincent Price, we worship thee!