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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 her 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).

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Tropes used in Madhouse include:

  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • 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.
  • Gardening-Variety Weapon: Elizabeth Peters is stabbed through the throat with a pitchfork.
  • Hand of Death: The murderer is shown as a pair of hands in black leather gloves.
  • 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 attempt to get the part for himself.
  • Man on Fire: When Toombes loses his mind after Julia is murdered, he carries her corpse on to 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.
  • 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.
  • Peekaboo Corpse: Faye is startled and shrieks in horror when she opens Paul's closet and two bodies fall out.
  • 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.
  • 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.


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