Monday, April 15, 2013

Madhouse (1974)

Built around a premise that’s too gimmicky to take seriously, Madhouse marked the end of Vincent Price’s run as a leading star of horror movies—after this picture, he mostly drifted into cameos and voice performances that winked at his glory (gory?) days. Considering how many fine shockers Price made, it’s a shame he didn’t bid adieu to the genre with a better movie, although one can imagine that Madhouse might have worked had a wittier director been in charge. Price plays Paul Toombes, a faded movie star known for playing big-screen killer Dr. Death. Following a tragedy, Toombes gets tossed into a mental hospital, thus marking him among potential employers damaged goods. Later, bereft of better options, Toombes accepts a humiliating offer to reprise his Dr. Death character for a tacky TV show. Once the show debuts, someone dressed as Dr. Death starts killing people related to the program. Is Toombes the killer? Or must Toombes unmask a murderer who’s trying to frame him? If you watch Madhouse, you’ll be amazed how little you care about the answers to these questions. Director Jim Clark, a top-notch film editor who briefly left the cutting room to helm a string of undistinguished projects, relies on such obnoxious tropes as fisheye lenses and in-your-face camera moves. Seeing as how the story is innately florid, juicing the action with adrenalized camerawork was not the wisest move, because Madhouse starts to feel grating and loud very early in its running time. It doesn’t help that Price looks bored, or that the actor had just made a very similar film, Theatre of Blood (1973), which was superior in both conception and execution. It’s a measure of Madhouse’s mediocrity, in fact, that even supporting players Peter Cushing and Robert Quarry—both of whom were as prone to onscreen flamboyance as Price—fail to make memorable impressions. Madhouse gets the job done, more or less, by providing bloody kills and perfunctory thrills. Plus, of course, Price is a unique presence even in the worst circumstances. But Madhouse is plagued by a been-there/done-that malaise from start to finish. No wonder Clark gave up on directing and returned to editing—a wise move, seeing as how, a decade later, he won an Oscar a for cutting The Killing Fields (1985).

Madhouse: FUNKY

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