Madhouse (1974 film)

Madhouse is a 1974 British horror film directed by Jim Clark for Amicus Productions in association with American International Pictures.[1] It stars Vincent Price, Natasha Pyne, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, Adrienne Corri and Linda Hayden.[2][3][4]

Theatrical release poster
Directed byJim Clark
Produced byMax Rosenberg
Milton Subotsky
Samuel Z. Arkoff
Written byKen Levison
Greg Morrison
Based onDevilday by Angus Hall
StarringVincent Price
Peter Cushing
Robert Quarry
Adrienne Corri
Natasha Pyne
Michael Parkinson
Linda Hayden
Barry Dennen
Music byDouglas Gamley
CinematographyRay Parslow
Edited byClive Smith
Distributed byAmerican International Pictures (US)
Release date
  • 1974 (1974)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited States
United Kingdom


Paul Toombes (Vincent Price) is a successful horror actor whose trademark role was Dr. Death, a skull-faced sadist. During a party in Hollywood showing off his fifth Dr. Death film, he announces his engagement to Ellen Mason (Julie Crosthwait), who gives him an engraved watch as an engagement gift. Later that evening, however, adult film producer Oliver Quayle (Robert Quarry) reveals Ellen had worked for him previously. Distraught at Toombes' angry reaction, Ellen returns to her room, where a masked man in dark garb, similar to Dr. Death's attire, approaches her with a knife. An apologetic Toombes comes in shortly after, only for her severed head to fall from her shoulders. Though he is acquitted of the crime, Toombes' career is destroyed as he spends several years in a mental hospital, where even he is not sure whether he killed Ellen or not.

After his release, Toombes is called to London by his friend, screenwriter Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing), who has partnered with Quayle to produce a Dr. Death television series for the BBC. While on the cruise ship en route to England, Toombes encounters a persistent young actress (Linda Hayden), who steals his watch and follows him through London, and eventually to Flay's house. In the spider-infested basement, Toombes discovers Faye Carstairs (Adrienne Corri), the female lead in one of the Dr. Death movies and now Flay's reluctant wife, driven mad after being disfigured in a car accident. Outside Flay's house, the young actress discovers the masked man walking the grounds; believing it to be Toombes, she approaches him, only to be killed with a pitchfork. When her body is discovered, Scotland Yard suspects Toombes, as the killing resembles a scene from one of his films.

Toombes publicly berates his female co-star on set; she is soon found hanged by her own hair, another scene from a Dr. Death film. Scotland Yard questions him, but finds no conclusive evidence. Toombes is harassed by the parents of the actress, who threaten to deliver the watch to the police unless he pays them a ransom. However, the masked man lures them into the house and impales them both with a broadsword. On the set, the director is crushed by a descending bed canopy in a trap apparently intended for Toombes. Later, Toombes is chased through the BBC studio by the masked man while on his way to an interview. Julia Wilson (Natasha Pyne), Quayle's public relations chief, discovers a contract in Quayle's files, but is killed by the masked man; Toombes discovers her body and suffers a nervous breakdown. Taking Julia's body onto the set, he locks himself inside and sets it ablaze.

Believing Toombes to have died in the fire, Flay signs a contract to take his place as Dr. Death, and watches the reel of film from Toombes' apparent death in his home – only to see Toombes himself, burned but very much alive, walk towards him. When Toombes demands why Flay wishes to destroy him, Flay rages that he had written the Dr. Death role for himself, but was passed over in favour of Toombes; he murdered Ellen to frame Toombes in the hopes of destroying his career, but was still not given the role. He then reveals that the contract that Julia had discovered stipulated that if Toombes died, Flay would take over as Dr. Death. The two struggle into the basement, where Flay is stabbed and killed by Faye and fed to her spiders. Toombes applies makeup to his burn-scarred face, now looking similar to Flay. The two sit down to dinner together.


The title credits mention "special participation" by Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff, who had died in 1967 and 1969, respectively; the film included scenes in which they had appeared with Vincent Price from previous AIP films (Rathbone from Tales of Terror [1962], Karloff from The Raven [1963]). Other AIP films starring Price that had scenes played in the film include The Haunted Palace, The Pit and the Pendulum, Scream and Scream Again, and House of Usher.


The film performed considerably less well at the box office than other horror movies Price had made for AIP and Samuel Z. Arkoff considered it marked the end of the horror cycle.[5]


Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film 3/4 stars, calling it "Good, if somewhat unimaginative".[6] Time Out gave the film a mostly positive review, noting its tenancy to go over-the-top, but commended the film's interweaving of Price's character Toombes with the actor's actual film career, and "reasonably witty in its use of inter-penetrating fantasies born of the Dream Factory".[7] Dennis Schwartz from Ozus' World Movie Reviews awarded the film a grade B-, calling it, "Cheesy but enjoyable".[8] Not all reviews have been positive, TV Guide awarded the film 1/5 stars, writing, "With its behind-the-scenes setting and focus on an aging star whose glory days are behind him, this could have been a wonderful elegy to the twilight of Price's long career. Unfortunately, the script and direction simply aren't up to the task, and the film becomes an inferior spin-off of the Dr. Phibes series. Not even the interaction between Price and Cushing--two very different actors--manages to generate much interest, leaving the clips from Price's Corman-AIP films the best part of the movie."[9]


  1. Ed. Allan Bryce, Amicus: The Studio That Dripped Blood, Stray Cat Publishing, 2000 p 118-125
  2. New York Times
  3. DVD Talk
  4. Cinefantastique
  5. The dime-store way to make movies-and money By Aljean Harmetz. New York Times (1923–Current file) [New York, N.Y] 4 August 1974: 202.
  6. Leonard Maltin (3 September 2013). Leonard Maltin's 2014 Movie Guide. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 873. ISBN 978-1-101-60955-2.
  7. "Madhouse, directed by Jim Clark". Time VG. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  8. Schwartz, Dennis. "madhouse". Dennis Schwartz. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  9. "Madhouse - Movie Reviews and Movie Ratings". TV TV Guide. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
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