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 Legend of Hell House
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: August 26th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Runtime: 95 Minutes
“Although the story of this film is fictitious, the events depicted involving psychic phenomena are not only very much within the bounds of possibility, but could well be true.” –Tom Corbett, Clairvoyant and Psychic Consultant to European Royalty (From the opening scroll of The Legend of Hell House)
Based on the book by Richard Matheson (who also wrote the screenplay) and released into theaters in June 1973, The Legend of Hell House stars Clive Revill as Dr. Lionel Barrett, a physicist who is tasked with the challenge of proving the existence of life after death. After some hesitation, he proceeds to venture to the so-called “Mount Everest of haunted houses”: The Belasco House, which is more commonly referred to as “Hell House.”
Accompanying him on this trip into the supernatural is his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), renowned “mental” medium Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), and the sole survivor of the last investigation into Hell Houses’ secrets; “physical” medium Benjamin Franklin Fisher (Roddy McDowall). Upon their arrival, Benjamin explains, rather vaguely, some of the monstrosities that occurred in the house throughout its years under Mr. Belasco’s ownership. A grotesque and evil man, everything from murder to séances, and torture and necrophilia were common place. On their first night in the house, Florence conducts a prayer followed by a psychic channeling of the evil spirits that remain in Hell House, causing physical and vocal phenomena to emanate from her. It’s a truly unsettling scene.
As the spirits of the house continue to terrorize the unwelcome guests, trust begins to dwindle among the group, as Dr. Barrett suspects the hostile force to be a product of Florence’s doing, not Belasco’s son as she insists. Chandeliers crash and poltergeist fingernails terrorize, promiscuous ghosts seduce and black cats attack among other mayhems, as the group morale crumbles and Hell House takes hold of its victims.
I’m not sure I would count The Legend of Hell House among my favorite “haunted house” films. It’s a little stuffy, more than a little slow, and lacking much in the way of genuine scares. That’s not to say it’s an outright disappointment in the slightest. The film is a gorgeously produced modern gothic horror entry, with impeccably framed shots, some fun special effects for the time, and a particularly energetic performance from the always magnificent Roddy McDowall. The music from Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire adds to the creepy atmosphere to boot, sounding like some sort of macabre tribal music. For many Horror fans, this is a welcome addition to the Scream Factory line, and at the end of the day, it’s a genre film you can respect, even with a few bumps along the way.
Scream Factory brings The Legend of Hell House to Blu-Ray with an overall solid transfer. Colors look authentic, bold, and retain the look of the period. Film grain is natural and plentiful as well. There are sporadic artifacts and slight damage to the print in places, ranging from minimal scratches to a few burns, but as I’ve stated many times before, I tend to look at those anomalies as an added “bonus” to films of this genre. It makes for a fun grindhouse-style experience while watching at home. There are some hazy or soft shots, particularly in wide shots, but detail in facial features and clothing looks nice and solid in nearly every close-up.
The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track balances dialogue, the creepy tribal drum score, and background effects quite well. A slight crackling noise accompanies the audio in select scenes (similar to the natural audio static you hear in early sound films), but it seems likely to be inherent to the source. There are moments of surprising power here, especially when Hell House begins to wreak havoc on its victims, making for a fine home audio experience.
Scream Factory has provided fans of The Legend of Hell House with select special features for this Blu-Ray release. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary– This feature-length audio commentary with Actress Pamela Franklin is really laid back, fun, and informative for the viewer. Pamela reminisces about her costars, the sets, the Director, and more. Definitely a fun addition to this fine release.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer runs about 2 ½ minutes and definitely gives the viewer an idea of the bizarre and terrifying experience they’re in for with the film.
- The Story of Hell House: An Interview with Director John Hough- This nearly 30 minute extended interview from Scream Factory and Calum Waddell is a wonderful addition to this Blu-Ray release. Mixing High Definition interview footage with clips from the film, Director John Hough provides some fascinating insight into the making of The Legend of Hell House, from the hauntingly beautiful shooting location to his thoughts on the cast and performances, and much more. Well done!
- Photo Gallery- Nearly 3 minutes worth of production stills and behind-the-scenes photos from The Legend of Hell House, including some really beautiful black and white photos presented in High Definition.
- Radio Spots- Exactly two minutes worth of vintage radio commercials created during the theatrical campaign for The Legend of Hell House. You have to admire the great voice-over work and background effects here, definitely would have made me run to the theater to see it back in 1973.
- Also Available from Scream Factory- Vintage trailers for two other titles in the Scream Factory line including The Vampire Lovers and The Amityville Horror.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features the original theatrical poster design for The Legend of Hell House. It’s a creepy and effective cover, with the one-eyed skull dripping blood over Hell House, being held in the grip of a finely manicured hand. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a plot synopsis, technical specifications, and a list of special features that accompany this Blu-Ray release. On the interior of the case is the Blu-Ray disc as well as some reversible cover art for those that prefer it.
Though I’m not sure I would count The Legend of Hell House among my personal favorite “haunted house” films, it remains a gorgeously produced modern gothic horror entry, with impeccably framed shots, some fun special effects for the time, and a particularly energetic performance from the always magnificent Roddy McDowall. The Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features overall solid picture quality that retains authentic color reproduction and nice fine object detail in close-up shots. The DTS-HD mono track nicely balances dialogue, the creepy score, and background effects as well. The special features are once again the standout aspect on this release, with a great extended interview with the Director of the film, an audio commentary from Pamela Franklin, and select other goodies. For many Horror fans, this is a welcome addition to the Scream Factory line, and at the end of the day, it’s a genre film you can respect, even with a few bumps along the way.