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Film / Madhouse (1974)

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Madhouse is a 1974 British horror film directed by Jim Clark for Amicus Productions in association with American International Pictures. It stars Vincent Price, Natasha Pyne, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, Adrienne Corri and Linda Hayden.

This semi-serious horror film represented the first on-screen pairing of icons Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, who play, respectively, aging former horror star Paul Toombes and actor-turned-writer Herbert Flay, who unite in an effort to revive the popularity of Toombes' screen character "Dr. Death" for a TV series. Having recently recovered from a nervous breakdown caused by the murder of his fiancee, Toombes comes under suspicion when several members of the show's cast and crew are murdered in grisly reenactments of Dr. Death's greatest movie moments (as depicted in numerous colorful clips from some of Price's AIP films for Roger Corman).

Not to be confused with the 2004 film of the same name or the 1981 film There Was a Little Girl, also known as Madhouse.

Tropes used in Madhouse include:

  • Actor Allusion:
    • Paul Toombes could almost be considered an expy for Price himself, though with a much messier personal life. See Stock Footage below for more. Likewise, he and Peter Cushing's characters are supposed to be very old friends and colleagues, which they very much were in real life..
    • At a costume party, Robert Quarry's character is seen dressed as Count Yorga, from the vampire films starring... Robert Quarry. This might also qualify as a Celebrity Paradox.
    • There's also a bit of Reality Subtext at work: the movie was made at a time when AIP was considering ending its involvement with Price, considering him too old to be a big star, and a lot of the higher-ups were banking on Quarry as the exciting new up-and-comer. In the movie, Quarry's studio exec character is trying to force Price's character into retirement and install a new, younger actor as his replacement.
  • Big Bad: Herbert Flay is the killer.
  • Blackmail: Elizabeth Peters' foster parents attempt to blackmail Toombes for 10,000 pounds, claiming to have proof that he seduced and murdered her.
  • Coat, Hat, Mask: The murderer dresses as Dr. Death in a black cloak, hat and white skull mask.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Faye has become a crazy spider lady: dwelling in Herbert's cellar, breeding spiders and shunning all human contact.
  • Curtain Camouflage: The killer lurks behind the curtains in Ellen's bedroom, before lunging out to kill her.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: At the end of the film, Paul is shown using makeup to make himself look like Herbertnote , with the implication that he is going to take over Herbert's life. It's a very good effect for a '70s movie, and there are moments where you're not sure which actor you're looking at.
  • Descending Ceiling: The shackle bed trap. Shackles clamp the victim to the bed, and the weighted canopy drops on top of them, crushing them to death.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Inspector Harper smokes one. He is the only character in the film to smoke a pipe.
  • Faking the Dead: Paul Toombes locks himself on the Dr. Death set, and sets both the set and and himself on fire to convince authorities that he is dead, while he escapes to extract vengeance on the real killer.
  • Freudian Excuse: Flay's motive behind his villain. He had written the title role of Dr. Death for himself, but was passed down in favor of Toombes, so he decided to murder Ellen in the hopes of ruining Toombes' career, but when this didn't work, he decided to give in to the studio's request to bring Toombes back for the Dr. Death TV series, on the contract-written condition that he get the role of Dr. Death in the event something happened to Toombes.
  • Gardening-Variety Weapon: Elizabeth Peters is stabbed through the throat with a pitchfork.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Herbert Flay
  • Hand of Death: The murderer is shown as a pair of hands in black leather gloves.
  • Hate Sink: Elizabeth Peters' foster parents literally only talk about how they lined Elizabeth to be a famous actress and make them rich. When she's murdered they decide to blackmail Paul Toombs, who they think killed her, showing they never cared about her at all.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The first murder takes place on New Year's Eve.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: The killer murders Elizabeth's foster parents by stabbing them with a sword with a single thrust so hard that it impales both of them.
  • It's All About Me: This is Herbert Flay's motive. He wrote the part of Dr. Death for himself but got passed up in favor of Toombes. His murders are in an attempt to get the part for himself.
  • Literal Metaphor: During the climactic battle between Toombes and Flay, Faye rushes in and stabs Flay in the back repeatedly, causing him to fall into her tank of spiders.
  • Not-So-Fake Prop Weapon: The shackle bed trap. The shackles are supposed to be breakaway, and the descending canopy has a cutoff switch, but both of these safety features have been disabled.
  • Off with Her Head!: Paul discovers that Ellen has been decapitated when he shakes her shoulder and her head falls off.
  • One-Word Title: Madhouse.
  • Peekaboo Corpse: Faye is startled and shrieks in horror when she opens Paul's closet and two bodies fall out.
  • Self-Immolation: When Toombes loses his mind after Julia is murdered, he carries her corpse onto the Dr. Death set, and then sets the set on fire, before dousing himself in alcohol and setting himself alight. It is actually part of his plan for Faking the Dead.
  • Shackle Seat Trap: Features a shackle bed trap. When the victim lies upon it, shackles lock around his wrists and hold him in place as he is crushed to death by the descending canopy.
  • Stock Footage: The Dr. Death films the Theme Serial Killer is emulating are represented by clips from earlier films Vincent Price had made for American International Pictures.
  • Sword Cane: When Toombes confronts the real murderer, Herbert Flay, he reveals he is carrying a sword cane and draws the blade and attacks Toombes.
  • Theme Serial Killer: The murderer uses the murders in the Dr. Death films of actor Paul Toombes as the theme for their killings.
  • These Gloves Are Made for Killin': Prior to every murder, a scene of the killer donning black leather gloves is shown.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Paul has the pocket watch his fiancee Ellen gave him on the night she was murdered. It is stolen from him and used in an attempt to blackmail him.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The film studio who passed the role of Dr. Death from Herbert Flay to Paul Toombes.