Blu-Ray Review- Madhouse
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Street Date: July 21st 2015
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 89 Minutes
Back in 1974, American International Pictures and Amicus Productions put in one last ditch effort to capitalize on the Gothic Horror genre they had so admirably brought to life on the silver screen with Madhouse starring Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. Though I personally adore the film (as many other Price fans do), Madhouse failed to impress at the box office, and AIP subsequently buried the genre. It’s a shame, because the film itself is utterly delightful for Horror fans. Not only because of the powerful onscreen presence of Lee and Cushing, but with standout sets, makeup, and costume design partnered with a unique macabre story that isn’t afraid to poke a little fun at the horror genre and legendary careers of its stars.
In Madhouse, Vincent Price portrays Horror star Paul Toombes, an actor who is celebrating the release of his fifth film in the “Dr. Death” series at his private mansion. Donning a black cape, black fedora, and skeleton-like makeup, his character has terrified audiences on screen for decades. The release party also serves as an engagement announcement for Toombes, who is happy as can be with his beautiful fiancée Ellen at his side. Soon after the couple’s happy news is announced, a sleazy adult film producer informs Paul that Allen used to be in his films. A distraught and angry Paul disappears at the party, while Ellen is murdered by a shadowy figure that looks very similar to “Dr. Death.” The murder goes unsolved, and a heartbroken Paul’s life and career begin to fall apart.
Fast forward to several years later, and Paul is called to London by his best friend Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing) to star in a brand new television series that will bring his character Dr. Death back to life for Horror fans. Production on the show begins, but the shadowy figure that murdered Ellen years prior is back with a vengeance! One by one, those around Paul soon begin to fall victim to a real-life “Dr. Death.”
Regular readers of the site know of my affection for Mr. Vincent Price, and Madhouse happens to be one of my personal favorites of his. The visual look of Dr. Death himself remains very sinister, and famously made for a legendary cover page for Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. The movie itself is very suspenseful, with fantastic performances from everyone involved, but especially memorable is the chemistry between Price and Cushing. The story keeps the viewer guessing throughout, with a myriad of possibilities regarding the killer’s identity. Madhouse is a delightful little Horror treat; a self-aware gothic production that continues to entertain over forty years later. I’m not sure why audiences didn’t flock to see the film back then, but luckily, Madhouse is still fondly remembered enough to garner a solid Blu-Ray release from Kino Lorber.
Kino Lorber delivers Madhouse onto Blu-Ray with a fine high definition transfer that sports a period authentic color palette, plenty of crisp detail in facial features and clothing, and a generally clean print. There are occasional speckles, light damage, and noise, but those moments are few and far between. Madhouse looks better than it ever has on home video, and I’m very pleased with the results of Kino’s efforts here.
Unfortunately this is the one area of Kino’s Blu-Ray release where fans may be disappointed. There is an audio-sync issue that persists throughout the entirety of the film. Lips move before the dialogue audio kicks in, sometimes after, with only a few select scenes that seem to be correctly synced. Video issues can sometimes be easy to overlook, but unfortunately audio sync problems are so noticeable and distracting that fans may feel a little let down. Kino Lorber is aware of the issue and is currently investigating the error. At the time this review is being written, we’re waiting to hear back regarding the results of their investigation (i.e. possible replacement discs). Besides this issue, the audio itself sounds great, with dialogue front and center and plenty of spooky sound effects and score components sounding pristine in HD.
Kino Lorber has given Madhouse a solid selection of bonus features to accompany this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary – Film Historian David Del Valle discusses the troubled production of the film, Vincent Price’s performance, and some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits that viewers will surely enjoy.
- The Revenge of Dr. Death: Making Madhouse– This nearly 11 minute featurette on the making of the film is short but exceptionally entertaining for fans of the film (and genre)! Beginning with American International Pictures and Amicus’ troubled pre-production process (where the initial adapted screenplay was flat-out refused by Vincent Price) to various participants’ thoughts on the last “hurrah” of the Gothic genre that Hammer Films and AIP helped to create, there is plenty for aficionados to enjoy here.
- Madhouse Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs just under two minutes and is utterly delightful for fans of the film. From the scrolling warning that opens the trailer to the cheesy voice-over, this is fantastic stuff!
- Tales of Terror Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for another recent Kino Lorber release, Tales of Terror, is also quite a bit of fun. The trailer unfolds in typical AIP fashion with some of the standout scenes from the film complete with voiceover narration and exaggerated graphics work.
This Blu-Ray edition from Kino Lorber (Studio Classics line) features the utterly amazing original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover. From Dr. Death’s face paint to the bloody font design and gothic atmosphere, it’s everything a classic Horror fan could ask for. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the Blu-Ray disc which also features the stylish cover design.
Madhouse remains one of my personal favorite Vincent Price films. The chemistry between Price and Cushing is fantastic and the story keeps the viewer guessing throughout; with a myriad of possibilities regarding the killer’s identity. Madhouse is a delightful little Horror treat; a self-aware gothic production that continues to entertain over forty years later. The Blu-Ray edition from Kino Lorber features a fine transfer that remains true to the film source and a nice selection of bonus material. The Revenge of Dr. Death featurette, though short, is fascinating for fans of the film and genre. The one disappointing factor on this edition is the audio sync issue that unfortunately affects most of the film. Kino has promised fans that it’s looking into the issue, so hopefully a replacement program will be made available shortly. I’m not sure why audiences didn’t flock to see the film back in 1974, but luckily, Madhouse is still fondly remembered enough to garner a solid Blu-Ray release and comes highly recommended.
Blu-Ray Review- The Doctor and the Devils
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: November 4th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
“A man of medicine. A pair of murderers. An unholy alliance.”
-Theatrical tagline for The Doctor and the Devils
Based upon the factual murders committed by William Burke and William Hare in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1828, The Doctor and the Devils comes from an original screenplay by Dylan Thomas and is Directed by Hammer alum Freddie Francis. The film stars Timothy Dalton as Dr. Thomas Rock, an Anatomy Professor who has been paying local henchman to dig up the graves of the recently deceased for his fascinating lectures at the academy. Jonathan Pryce and Stephen Rea play Robert Fallon and Timothy Broom, two degenerate crooks who get word of Dr. Rock’s grave-robbing business and are looking to make a profit. When finding the right bodies proves to be more difficult than they imagined, they take to killing unsuspecting young lads in the area (as Dr. Rock pays more for fresh corpses).
Rumors soon begin to spread about Dr. Rock’s supposed late night activities, and his rival, Professor Macklin (Patrick Stewart), sends student “spies” to attend his lectures to gain proof of his access to dead bodies “not from the hangman.” Dr. Rock makes implications to the macabre shenanigans, but lack of clear proof in the matter holds the authorities at bay. As the murders begin to hit too close to home for Dr. Rock and his assistant, and moral tension mounts between Fallon and Broom, these colorful characters’ lives arrive at an inevitable climax that spells certain doom for all.
The Doctor and the Devils has that handsomely produced Gothic feel to it, thanks to Hammer and Amicus alumni Freddie Francis. From the period costume design to the gothic set dressing and talented array of performers giving it their all, the film is exceptionally well executed. Having ignorantly never seen Timothy Dalton outside of the Bond films he made in the late 1980’s, it was a treat to see his genuine commanding presence on display in a period piece. The score by John Morris is worth mentioning as well, with its gothic and mysterious tone that exudes curiosity and stays with you for days. There are also some genuinely disturbing moments in the film, in particular, when Fallon suffocates a young man to death for the first time as he relates how he was asked to put soldiers out of their misery during his time spent as an orderly in the war. Broom pleads with him; “wait Fallon….wait, wait. For God’s sake, wait.” It’s an unnerving scene, expertly acted by both Pryce and Rea. I assure you that you’re in for a fine evening with this one, and this release from Scream Factory makes for a classy addition to their ever-growing line of Horror gems.
Though I’ll admit I became a little worried during the 20th Century Fox logo and opening shot of Dalton walking against the Edinburgh skyline (which has its share of debris), it soon after becomes immediately clear that The Doctor and the Devils looks incredibly good on this High Definition presentation. For some reason I see a lot of 1980’s films that have some scratches and anomalies in the opening credits that soon clear up incredibly well (not sure why that is). But let’s get right to it: The Doctor and the Devils retains the authentic natural film grain of the source material, has incredibly solid black levels, and even exhibits surprisingly good detail in objects, facial features, and costumes. There are a handful of seemingly soft or unfocused shots, no doubt a result of the original negative, but worth pointing out. This is a fine presentation that really exhibits a solid upgrade to High Definition.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono track is solid, regularly balancing dialogue, background effects, and the lovely score from John Morris in fine fashion. There is some power and depth to the audio that is quite surprising at times, and paired with the great video, it makes for a finely presented experience.
Scream Factory has given The Doctor and the Devils some select bonus features for this non-collector’s edition release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary with Steve Haberman– Author Steve Haberman sits down to discuss The Doctor and the Devils in great detail. The commentary is incredibly informative, but comes off a bit too dry and robotic, sounding as if Haberman is reading directly from a script. It lacks the fun, off-the-cuff style of previous commentaries from the Scream line. This is in no way a knock on Haberman, who is clearly an absolute scholar on the film and its history, but it simply comes off a bit dull at times.
- Interviews- This phenomenal three-way interview has Mel Brooks, Jonathan Sanger, and Randy Auerbach discussing The Doctor and the Devils for nearly 16 minutes. There isn’t a moderator but the trio discusses the film in depth. From Dylan Thomas’ wonderful screenplay to various pre-production issues, reminiscing about filming and the acting talent, and even having the “Mel Brooks” name on a genre film other than comedy. This is very entertaining stuff, and I love the fact that Shout! Factory just let the trio carry on their discussion in their way. Brooks in particular is just so entertaining to listen to, especially when he reflects on the differences in filmmaking from then to now: “But during my time making movies, there were friendships. You could actually ask people for a favor.” Bittersweet and fascinating, this featurette is wonderful.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for the film runs just over 1 ½ minutes and though it’s in pretty rough condition, it offers an accurate glimpse at the type of movie that awaits you.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for the film on its cover, looking like a sepia toned sketch from an old book of medicine. The red title font provides a fine contrast to the drawing design, making for simple but effective cover art. On the reverse of the case you’ll find a plot synopsis, a listing of special features, technical specifications, and select production stills from the film. Inside the case is the disc as well as some nice background art featuring a grave-robbing scene from early in the film.
The Doctor and the Devils may just be Scream Factory’s classiest film released in their ever-growing line of Horror delights. Masterfully directed by Hammer alum Freddie Francis and featuring fine performances from everyone involved, this polished cinematic version of the Burke & Hare murders is both clever and unnerving. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features an incredibly solid High Definition presentation, complete with authentic color grading and solid black levels, and the audio is surprisingly well balanced and dynamic. The special features department offers a wonderful conversation with Producer Mel Brooks, Jonathan Sanger, and Randy Auerbach, as well as an informative audio commentary. Though I felt that the included audio commentary was a bit robotic, it’s a small complaint on an otherwise great disc. The Doctor and the Devils remains an entertaining and gorgeously produced Gothic Horror entry that reminds one of Hammer films’ heyday, and this Blu-Ray edition comes highly recommended.