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- Countess Dracula
Distributor: Synapse Films
Street Date: May 6th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, Color, 1.66:1 Aspect Ratio
Runtime: 93 Minutes
In 1971, Hammer Films took a chance on producing Countess Dracula, their fictional take on the very real story of Elizabeth Bathory (Elizabeth Nadasdy in the film), who is often referred to as the most prolific female serial killer in history. Born into a noble Hungarian family, the real Elizabeth was said to use her power and deception to lure innocent villagers into the castle, torture them for days, and eventually kill and dispose of their bodies. Depending on what story you read, the number of Bathory’s victims range anywhere from 30-600 women, as a precise number was never established. What is more than likely the truth of the matter is that the legends of Elizabeth Bathory (such as bathing in her victims blood to stay young) far outweigh the facts. It makes for a fascinating Horror story, a fact that Hammer Films knew well enough to produce Countess Dracula, a different kind of macabre tale for them after many repetitive outings featuring Frankenstein, The Mummy, and the Count himself.
Countess Dracula begins with the funeral of Count Nadasdy, who has left little fortune to his wife Elizabeth (Ingrid Pitt) in his will. She is a crude, hateful old woman, who punishes her handmaidens for the slightest perceived misdeed. The funeral has also brought Lieutenant Imre Toth (Sandor Eles) to the family castle, a young friend of the late Count who Elizabeth is instantly taken with. After discovering the youthful effect that young blood has on her appearance, Elizabeth kills a female servant, bathes in her blood, and becomes youthful and beautiful once more. Conspiring with her faithful steward Dobi (Nigel Green), she hides her newly arrived daughter Llona away, fooling everyone into thinking that she is in fact, her own daughter. Elizabeth’s youthful appearance aids her in seducing Lieutenant Toth, but at a price, as more victims have to be sacrificed for Elizabeth to maintain this façade, and the castle historian begins to suspect something sinister is brewing.
Revisiting Countess Dracula was an absolute treat. Ingrid Pitt is as breathtaking as ever, turning in one of her best performances. The gothic production design, polished cinematography, elegant costumes, and eerie music by Harry Robertson (incorrectly credited in the opening credits as Harry Robinson) just adds to the pleasure. This remains one of my personal favorite stand-alone films in the Hammer catalog.
The Blu-Ray presentation for Countess Dracula is about as impressive as it gets. It’s obvious that a lot of time and care went into making sure this High Definition release would impress Horror fans and Blu-Ray aficionados alike. Colors look accurate, scenery looks crisp and gorgeous, the wonderful costume design shows incredible detail and clarity, and the blood…the blood looks crimson red! The film grain has been kept intact and authentic throughout the restoration process, which is always appreciated! There is some slight damage to the print here and there, but these moments are few and far between, save for the occasional speckles. The lengths that Synapse has gone to in order to preserve this film is commendable, and it looks fantastic in High Definition.
The DTS-HD Mono track provided here is surprisingly powerful: regularly balancing dialogue, background sound effects, and Harry Robertson’s eerie score. It’s a bit jolting at first to hear so much power and balance from two channels. This is another standout area on this release.
Synapse Films has provided Horror fans with plenty of great special features to enjoy on this disc. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary- This commentary features actress Ingrid Pitt, Director Peter Sasdy, Screenwriter Jeremy Paul, and Author Jonathan Sothcott discussing nearly all aspects of production on Countess Dracula. Continuously engaging and fun, this is one of the more enjoyable commentaries I’ve experienced in some time.
- Countess Dracula Still Gallery- Roughly seven minutes of fantastic behind-the-scenes photos and production stills set to the brilliant piano score from the film. There are some really captivating pictures provided here, showcasing the elaborate costume and production design for the film.
- Immortal Countess: The Cinematic Life of Ingrid Pitt– Running nearly eleven minutes, this featurette is extremely well made and showcases the career of the gorgeous and talented Ingrid Pitt. Several film scholars and noteworthy people contribute to telling her life story in brief, from the unimaginable horror she must have experienced spending the first few years of her life in a concentration camp, to her beginning acting career in film. I knew very little about Ingrid going into this, and came out knowing (and wanting to further research) so much more. It’s fascinating that she escaped Berlin by swimming across the river, being pulled out by a United States soldier, whom she would later marry. The featurette further discusses her roles in Where Eagles Dare, The Vampire Lovers, and finally, Countess Dracula. This is absolutely my favorite special feature on the set.
- Archival Audio Interview with Ingrid Pitt- Over eight minutes worth of audio featuring an interview with Ingrid Pitt. The audio is in rough shape, and a little hard to hear at times, but there are some interesting topics discussed including violence in film, her beginnings in Hollywood, and her Horror film roles.
- Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer for Countess Dracula is a lot of fun, with a great rhyming voiceover, gothic Hammer title cards, and like most older trailers, showcases a bit too much of the final film.
Synapse has crafted a beautiful looking release for Countess Dracula with artwork featuring the original theatrical poster for the film, with the “Hammer Horror Collection” banner at the top. The reverse features a plot synopsis for the film, a list of special features, and technical specifications. Inside you will find some beautiful (and naughty) reversible artwork as well as the Blu-Ray and DVD discs for the film.
Revisiting Countess Dracula was an absolute treat. Ingrid Pitt is as breathtaking as ever, turning in one of her best performances. The gothic production design, polished cinematography, elegant costumes, and eerie music by Harry Robertson just adds to the pleasure. Synapse Films has gone to great lengths to provide viewers with a beautiful restored print, surprisingly great sound quality, and a wealth of bonus material. The Immortal Countess featurette is a particular treat, providing viewers with a look at Ingrid Pitt’s beautiful life and legacy. This Blu-Ray release receives my Highest Recommendation.