Madhouse (1974)


aka The Revenge of Dr Death

UK. 1974.


Director – Jim Clark, Screenplay – Ken Levison & Greg Morrison, Based on the Novel Devilday by Angus Hall, Producers – Max J. Rosenberg & Milton Subtosky, Photography – Ray Parslow, Music – Douglas Gamley, Special Effects – Kerss and Spencer, Makeup – George Blackler, Art Direction – Tony Curtis. Production Company – Amicus/AIP


Vincent Price (Paul Toombes), Peter Cushing (Herbert Flay), Robert Quarry (Oliver Quayle), Natasha Pyne (Julia Wilson), Adrienne Corri (Faye Carstairs), Linda Hayden (Elizabeth Peters), Ian Thompson (Bradshaw), John Garrie (Inspector Harper), Jenny Lee Wright (Carol Clayton)


Twelve years after distinguished horror actor Paul Toombes retired due to a nervous breakdown, he is persuaded to return to England to reprise his famous role of Dr Death in a tv series. However, as shooting on the series begins, someone dressed as Dr Death starts killing off the cast and crew.

This film seems to have been a conscious attempt to copy the success of Vincent Price’s The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971) and its sequel Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972) and, in particular, Theater of Blood (1973) – all of which centred around Vincent Price playing a flamboyantly eccentric character engaged in a series of tongue-in-cheek killings. The film was a co-production between AIP, a B-movie studio since the 1950s who were home to Roger Corman and behind his Edgar Allan Poe films where Vincent Price came to fame and the Dr Phibes films, and Amicus, a British company that emerged in the 1960s and were most well-known for a series of horror anthologies beginning with Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965).

Madhouse/The Revenge of Dr Death copies the formula of the Dr Phibes films but the tongue appears to have become unglued from cheek, much to the film’s loss, where only becomes apparent its utter routineness. Everything is predictable, particularly the identity of the killer masquerading as Dr Death. The title Madhouse has no particular meaning, unless it refers to Peter Cushing’s country mansion with his mad wife Adrienne Corri in the decaying basement – but this is hardly a major feature of the film and the film does not fall into the Old Dark House genre.

Madhouse/The Revenge of Dr Death‘s greatest distinction is probably its featuring of horror icons Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, both of whom rise to audience expectations, as well as Robert Quarry who was seen as a major new horror icon in the 1970s following the success of Count Yorga, Vampire (1970). The film’s one other distinction is its willingness to use the horror genre recursively – ie it being a horror film set around horror films. There are the odd amusing asides – “if this were a horror film, by now you’d be dead,” Vincent Price comments as starlet Linda Hayden tries to blackmail him. Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone are credited among the opening cast list despite the fact their appearances only come from scenes taken from AIP’s Tales of Terror (1962) and The Raven (1963).

Director Jim Clark is more well known as an editor in the British film industry. His only other films as director was the comedies Every Home Should Have One (1970) and Rentadick (1972).

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