Madhouse is a very good film with a title that has effectively nothing to do with the plot, but that’s okay. It is – in short – Amicus making a very serious effort to do their take on giallo films, and they do fairly well.
The film stars Vincent Price as actor Paul Toombes, an actor known for his acclaimed series of horror films where he plays the character of “Doctor Death” – with the films being represented by archival footage of some of Prices earlier films he made that were distributed by AIP – some Amicus films, and others with Roger Corman’s Poe films. After his fiancee is murdered following an argument between the two of them, Toombe has a mental breakdown.
Several years later, Toombes is lured out of retirement by his old friend, Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing), to star in a “Doctor Death” series on the BBC. Presumably this exists to distract Mary Whitehouse from Doctor Who. In the course of this, a series of murders happen of various women on the set that match the MOs for various murders in the course of the Doctor Death films, and Toombes has to find out if he is, in fact, the one killing these people, and if not him, then who?
The giallo elements of the plot are pretty up front – a mysterious black-gloved killer murdering various attractive young women in particularly lurid manners, and elements of psychosis or possible psychosis related to the plot. What it doesn’t have is the level of gore that some giallo films have. There are stabbings, yes, but the wounds are relatively minor, and the overall amount of blood is pretty minimal. It’s generally nothing either more risque or violent as Blood and Black Lace.
Additionally, Price and Cushing have some tremendous scenes together, with the two really demonstrating their acting craft very well. At this point the two has become the second (or third, depending on how you count it) generation of the major horror hands, after Legosi and Karloff, and they have the chemistry that I’ve noticed from the major horror actors of that vintage – they wear horror comfortably, and consequently get along very well with their casts, particularly those who have less experience in the horror genre.
In all, if you want a British take on the giallo film, Madhouse is a pretty solid example of that. Madhouse is currently available on streaming from Amazon.com. Buying anything through that link helps to support the site.
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