Far From The Madhouse Crowd
Homicidal US 1961
Directed by William Castle
Madhouse UK 1974
Directed by Jim Clark
Spoiler Break! This is your one minute spoiler break... if you don’t want to know the terrible secrets lurking in this double review, leave this article and click on one of my other reviews to read... I won’t laugh at you and point my finger at you... honest!
Okay! So once again I had to “wear shoes on a Sunday” to make it out of the house in time for @cyberschizoid and @scaresarah‘s latest London double bill to support their Classic Horror Campaign, launched to persuade the BBC to bring back their classic horror double bills of yesteryear. This month it was a double bill of two movies I’d never seen before... and I have to say, two movies I wouldn’t see again in all honesty. In fact, the reason I am reviewing them both as a double bill this time around is because I was none too taken with either of them (well, it would have been hard to follow last months killer double bill of Black Sunday and Horror Hospital) and don’t think I could find enough of interest to say about either of them separately to fill up a full on entry for each.
That being said, however, one of the best reasons for getting yourself along to these double bills is to soak in the atmosphere of like-minded people watching along with some of their favourite old friends (films can be friends) and often laughing at the twisted but camp thrills as they appear on screen. So, honestly, please don’t let my review of this one put you off getting yourself down to one of these brilliantly organised little events and make sure you sign their petition too!
Homicidal is a William Castle movie (he of the ballyhoo and gimmick publicity stunt) and it’s not a film I knew anything about. I think my only exposure to William Castle in my life has been his movie House On Haunted Hill and John Goodman's character based on him in Joe Dante's Matinee. So I'm perhaps not the best qualified person to comment on all things Castle. However, I did take note that it had been “influenced” by the success of Psycho, though it doesn’t have too much in common with that film from the previous year asides from some “through the windscreen” driving shots with the only other similarity being one of sexual identity.
Now, I might have been roundly surprised by the end of this movie had I not known of the tenuous links to Hitchcock’s movie. Unfortunately, after about 20 minutes into the film where everyone is talking about a character called Warren who has yet to show up in adult form, I suddenly twigged that the leading “homicidal” lady was almost certainly going to come back on the screen at some point as “Warren”. Sure enough, although the transformation is pretty good, the actress was soon back in a dual male/female role which gives you the entire end of the movie once you’ve realised this. If my mind hadn’t been working overtime in the background on this I probably wouldn’t have seen it coming... nor noticed the bad dubbing whenever Warren spoke. As it is, the rest of the movie was spent with me wondering when at least one of the other characters in the movie was going to catch up on this.
The general direction, acting and cinematography on this one was more than competent but nothing special and the score by Hugo Friedhofer is in the full-on romantic mode which he was used to writing and orchestrating for Erich Wolfgang Korngold... not the cooled down atmospheres favoured by Bernard Herrmann.
William Castle’s 60 second “fear break”, where you had 60 seconds to leave the theatre and go to coward’s corner to get a refund before the end sequence, was fun but... well... if you’d already figured out there was a twist coming then it kinda killed it.
So yeah... I didn’t have the best reaction in the world to this one but... it was okay and I’m glad I saw it. Ditto for the second movie which followed the usual intermission and “classic horror quiz with prizes” which is a regular feature of these shows.
Now I really like some of Vincent Price’s horror work from the early sixties to the mid seventies (that’s my favourite period for his work in this manner anyway), especially his famous collaborations with Roger Corman on the Poe movies (as a kid in the seventies I didn’t think much of these but when I finally saw them in my thirties in the proper aspect ratios as opposed to the truncated versions shown on 70s TV, I realised what little masterpieces these particular movies actually are). However, I found myself a little disappointed by Madhouse after a very short time.
For starters... Vincent Price, who plays a Hollywood actor synonymous with his role in a series of horror movies as a character called Dr. Death, is so built up as the fall guy that, when the “real life” Dr. Death murders Price’s wife to be after some heated words between them... it’s so obvious that the killer is not actually Price himself and this kinda put a slight dampner on things again for me because this all happens before the credits roll.
The credits sequence was actually quite well done, however, utilising still photography of Dr. Death and his victims and got a big laugh when Michael Parkinson came up in the cast (yes, he’s playing himself in this) and was impressed by the mention of Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff... although their only actual input in the movie turned out to be old AIP movies used to mimic the films of Dr. Death... such as Twice Told Tales and The Raven.
I was a little more impressed by the movie’s actual cast in that Peter Cushing was sharing screen time with Vincent Price in this movie as is Robert Quarry... and a horror themed party sequence during the film shows Cushing dressed as his regular on-screen nemesis Dracula while Robert Quarry gets to wear the same costume he wore when he was playing Count Yorga, Vampire.
However... while the plot of the film and the throwaway nature of some of the more novelty murders were all quite entertaining, there was nothing to really grab me in this one and when the second murder happens in the movie, some twenty or so minutes in, I pointed to the “real” Dr. Death on screen and whispered to my friend... “Is that Peter Cushing?” Alas, it turns out at the end of the movie that this is, indeed, Peter Cushing framing his friend for a new set of murders... many years after he had done the same with the murder of Vincent Price’s wife as seen in the pre-credits sequence (ushered in with the most ludicrous and highly comical scream you could imagine from Price as he goes to see his loved one and her head falls off).
The score on this one didn’t really do it for me either but I have to say at this point that, although I didnt get a great deal from either film here... at least I’ve been able to see them now without paying out vast sums of money for DVD versions and whether the films are any good or not is really secondary to the real reason for going to these Horror Double Bills which is, as I said before, the wonderful atmosphere created by the audience at the Roxy.