From June 1-3, 2018, Vincent Price Legacy UK and Silver Screen Suppers are taking part in a fantastic blogathon celebrating all things Amicus and Hammer, hosted by Cinematic Carthasis and Realweegiemidget Reviews, and we’ve picked Scream and Scream Again and Madhouse as our two choices to blog about. Jenny at Silver Screen Suppers is serving up some dishlishly ghoulish fare featuring recipes from Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, while I have written up a Guide to both these films… Here’s everything you need to know about Madhouse… and when you are finished, find out what dish Jenny has paired with the movie HERE…
If Stark Terror Were Ecstasy… living here would be sheer bliss!
When his starlet wife is murdered on their wedding day, American horror star Paul Toombes (Vincent Price) has a breakdown and is institutionalised. A decade later, he returns to the spotlight when his Doctor Death character is resurrected for a British TV series, written by his long-time friend Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing) and produced by his old rival Oliver Quayle (Robert Quarry). But a series of new murders tests his sanity once again…
Lights! Camera! Murder!
1974’s Madhouse was a watershed moment in the history of British horror. It marked the end of the classic horror cycle, before The Exorcist and Texas Chain Saw Massacre ushered in a new visceral style, and it was a swansong of sorts for Price who hung up his horror crown after 14 years with AIP (his contract wasn’t renewed) to embark on a new life in the US (with his third wife Coral Browne), and set his sights on a return to the stage (with Charley’s Aunt and Diversions & Delights).
The Los Angeles Times felt that ‘with more care and effort, Madhouse could have been another Targets, the Peter Bogdanovich film that excellent use of the byplay of Boris Karloff the man and his screen image’, while the ‘Hollywood Reporter described it as ‘a totally predictable, but superbly entertaining horror film’.
Madhouse isn’t a bad film, but it could have done with a decent script, one that could play on Price’s horror persona in the same way that Theatre of Blood did to perfection. The death scenes may lack the inventiveness of Dr Phibes and Theatre of Blood, but they are well staged, and Price is whole lot of fun – as are all his co-stars. Missed opportunity or just misunderstood? That’s up to you to decide, but here’s everything you need to know about the horror mishap…
The film was loosely based on the 1969 novel, Devilday
Angus Hall’s 1969 paperback novel was a sordid tale of black magic in which a regional UK TV reporter Barry Lambert is tasked with being the new personal assistant of US horror actor Paul Toombs (famous for appearing as Dr Dis in a series of films and a TV show), who maybe connected to a sensational brutal murder. A reprint (under the title Madhouse and with a picture of Price on the cover) appeared in July 1974 to tie-in with the film’s release (which was delayed until November). Only the character name (bizarrely changed from Toombs in the novel to Toombes in the film’s credits) and his horror star status were retained in the screenplay. Hall (b. 1932) also wrote the novelisation for Hammer’s Scars of Dracula (1970), and edited many books of true crime, the supernatural and strange cults. He died in 2009.
It was originally called The Revenge of Dr Death
American International Pictures (AIP) had bought the rights to the novel 1970, with Phibes’ director Robert Fuest in line to direct. But nothing came of it. Then, in 1973, while looking for another vehicle for Price, AIP secured a co-production deal with Amicus’ (whom they had worked with on Scream and Scream Again) to film it as The Revenge of Dr Death (a working title that ended up being used for its release in Australia). The film’s title was changed to Madhouse during post production to avoid confusion with Dr Death – Seeker of Souls, which came out the same time. A press screening in LA drew such a negative response, the film’s planned summer release in the UK was pushed back to November where it appeared above Terence Young’s The Amazons.
It could have been Vincent Price’s Sunset Boulevard. But it wasn’t.
Madhouse isn’t a bad film, but it could have done with a decent script, one that could have played on Price’s horror persona in the same way that Theatre of Blood did to perfection. The original screenplay, by publicist Greg Morrison, was so bad that Price pressured the producers to bring in Ken Levinson (the brother in law of his British agent) to do the rewrites, while Robert Quarry rewrote much of his and Price’s dialogue. It is not known who was responsible for Price’s lengthy monologue about the history of Dr Death, but one hopes it was Price himself as its quite memorable.
It was directed by a future Academy Award winner
Jim Clark (b, 1931) is regarded as one of the best editors in the business. He began his career as an editor, working on high profile titles like The Innocents in 1961. Madhouse was his third feature, following Marty Feldman’s Every Home Should Have One (1970) and comedy spoof Rentadick (1972). It was also to be his last, mostly due to having such a bad time on the production with the poor script and constant meddling by Amicus producer Milton Subotsky whose tactless edit he described as ‘pure butchery.’ Moving back into editing, Clark ended up receiving an Oscar and a Bafta for The Killing Fields, and another Bafta for The Mission, and had a 16-year collaboration with Midnight Cowboy’s John Schlesinger. He published an autobiography Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editing in 2011 and died, aged 84, in 2016.
A real TV studio was used for the filming
While most of the interiors were shot at Twickenham Studios (beginning May 1973); the TV studio where Toombes begins work on the Doctor Death series was actually the London Weekend Television Studios (today’s ITV). Other locations used included Royal Victoria Dock, the Wey Navigation Canal in Weybridge, Millbank Tower (serving as Quayle’s offices) and an Esso Motor Hotel.
Herbert Flay’s house which the real-life Pyrford Place in Surrey
Situated in Warren Lane, West Byfleet, it was a 15th century residence given by Elizabeth I to the Lord High Admiral, the Earl of Lincoln, and where John Donne wrote many of his poems. At the time of filming, Lady Sinclair, widow of one-time Aviation Minister Sir Archibald Sinclair, owned it. Click on the above film click for an interview with Price and Cushing on location, as director Clark prepares a sequence at the manor house.
The role of a popular horror star wasn’t too difficult for Price.
With his character signing autographs, appearing on a young Michael Parkinson’s TV chat show, and reminiscing with Cushing about the good old days, the role of a popular horror star wasn’t much of a stretch for Price – in fact, it mirrored it. Interestingly, Theatre of Blood premiered in London on 24 May 1973 just as Madhouse started shooting in the capital, and Price was capitalising on his own horror screen persona in the BBC radio show The Price of Fear, which featured Price’s Madhouse co-stars Peter Cushing (in The Man Who Hated Scenes) and Adrienne Corri (in Guy Fawkes Night).
It was the first time Price and Cushing appeared in equal roles
Having appeared in Scream and Scream Again and Dr Phibes Rises Again but not having any scenes together, Cushing finally got the chance to team up with Price properly. They are so good its mores the pity that they hadn’t done it sooner – like with The Abominable Dr Phibes. Cushing was first choice for the Dr Vesalius role that went to Joseph Cotton, but had declined the role to spend time with his ailing wife, Helen. The next time Cushing and Price would appear together on screen would be in 1982’s House of the Long Shadows. They also reunited in 1977 for the one-off BBC radio drama, Aliens of the Mind.
According to Price, Cushing was real action man
‘Peter was a very wiry little fellow, but he was one of the strongest men I ever knew in my life. I had to do several fights scenes with him in the film. My god! He can throw you. He doesn’t fake it at all. He was very realistic and a very seriously minded actor, but he was also a very gentle, sweet man and I am very, very fond of him’.
Even Vincent thought the film was preposterous
Both Cushing and Price were experts in making the unbelievable believable, especially when it came to some of the dire projects they accepted. But even Vincent had to put his foot down over Madhouse. ‘I think horror stories end up more successful if they’re done the Corman way. By which I mean to say, letting the audience in on the secret that the actor is enjoying it. Sometimes, however, a scene is so totally preposterous it is almost impossible to do. In the film, dear Peter had to fall into a tank of spiders. It is very difficult to fall into a tank of spiders and be Brando’.
Vincent’s horror co-stars Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone get a special participation credit
Even though Rathbone and Karloff died in 1967 and 1969, respectively, they appear in clips from Tales of Terror and The Raven, which are screened during a Halloween party sequence, alongside ones from The Haunted Palace and Masque of the Red Death. However, the dialogue was changed to make them appear from the Dr Death films. Cushing’s Flay also has a private screening of Pit and the Pendulum. Corman’s favourite stock footage of a burning barn also features.
Robert Quarry’s Count Yorga makes an appearance
During the costume party, Robert Quarry wears his costume from Count Yorga, Vampire, while Peter Cushing dresses as Dracula as an in-joke to him playing Van Helsing in the Hammer classics.
Vincent sings the theme song
The former Yale Glee Club member gets to show off his rich baritone voice singing over the end credits (just as he had done in Dr Phibes Rises Again singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow). The song, When Day Is Done, was adapted in 1926 by George Gard ‘Buddy’ DeSylva (1895-1950), who founded Capitol Records and was a film producer for Fox and Paramount in the 1940s. It was based on the German 1925 song Madonna du bist schöner als der Sonnenschein. Everyone, from Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Perry Como to Bobby Darrin and Jimmy Durante has released versions of this nostalgic track.
Listen to it here…
The music is by Amicus favourite Douglas Gamley
The Australian-born composer (1924-1998) is best known for adapting Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain for the Amicus horror anthology, Asylum (1972). His association with Amicus began with 1960’s City of the Dead and ended with 1980’s The Monster Club. Gamley also worked with the Monty Python team on 1971’s And Now for Something Completely Different, created a load of stock music for Doctor Who, and was Oscar-nominated for his adaptation of Lerner and Loewe’s score for The Little Prince (1974) – alongside Paul Williams for Phantom of the Paradise. They lost to Nelson Riddle’s The Great Gatsby. A huge opera buff, Gamley also created many vocal arrangements for Joan Sutherland, Kiri Te Kanawa and Luciano Pavarotti. He died in 5 February 1998.
Vincent Price was a real trouper
At the end of the 13-week shoot (15 April-8 July 1973), Price gave the entire film crew a pound each to bet on the races at Ascot, while the technical staff also got gifts of wine and liquor.