Watching “Madhouse” Starring Vincent Price and Peter Cushing

Like so many others, this review first appeared on my Letterboxd account.

Sometimes I share expanded thoughts here, since it’s easier to write it out here than there. My expanded thoughts at this point have more to do with what movies like this showed as the need for that horror renaissance brought on by films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween.

Madhouse is a clear example of how stale the horror template had become by the 1970s. Aging stars locked into films their legacies were built upon, like the rock’n’roll bands that are on tour in their seventies. We’re all trying to keep a moment alive that should fade, possibly, into fond memory.

The great thing is that I see this older tradition of horror coming back to life with Jordan Peele’s efforts in Get Out and Us. It’s a return to horror films driven by atmosphere as opposed to body count. This is a welcome return to form, but I’m sure we’ll hit the same sort of excesses we always do.

Ah well. Whatever else you think, at least you didn’t see Madhouse. Or if you did, please leave a comment and let me know if you think I’m way off base here.

Vincent Price Peter Cushing Robert Quarry Madhouse
The cover image for the movie. The woman on the cover isn’t in the movie, I don’t think.

My Review of Madhouse Starring Vincent Price and Peter Cushing

I so very, very wanted to like this movie. Vincent Price! Peter Cushing! Old 1970s mood horror, constructed to possibly leave you guessing who the real killer is until the final moment! Incongruous nonsense ending that plays like a kid making up for not explaining everything earlier!

It works overtime to try to convey suspense and intrigue. Instead it constructs an historical film curio, where you recall that the 1970s film renaissance wasn’t some aberration that occurred from nowhere. The storytelling – especially in horror – had become so stale as to be incapable of escaping its old formulae.

“Madhouse” goes wrong in many of the same ways that “Dracula” with Jack Palance goes wrong. In trying to substitute style for substance, what’s created is a telelvision mediocrity projected large for aging stars. There’s real magic when Cushing and Price interact; the rest is era drudgery masquerading as suspense. The only room to enjoy this, now, is to mock it.

They should have just titled it “S***house” and been more truthful in their advertising.

True Horror.