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 Vincent Price Collection II
Distributor: Scream Factory
Street Date: October 21st 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color/B&W, Multiple Aspect Ratios, DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Runtime: 588 Minutes
When you think of the Horror greats of the past century, who comes to mind? There have been so many iconic performances from truly talented and memorable ladies and gentleman of the genre over the years, and it’s likely a hard task for any devoted film fan to just pick one. From Lugosi to Chaney, and Karloff to Lee, there are those masters of the stage and screen who simply understood their audience well enough to unleash the thrills in a focused onslaught of perfection. But for my money, there never will be anyone quite like Mr. Vincent Price. He was such a commanding presence on screen, from his tall stature to his iconic mustache, a simple lift of an eyebrow or a tweak in his vocal inflection could bring a smile to his fans all over the world. He was a lover of art, a doting father, and a man that seemed content with his typecasting in the Horror genre, despite being a loveable, kind, and giving soul in real life (a far cry from some of the wicked men he portrayed on screen). He was also multi-talented, able to convey sinister dread in a non-speaking role like Dr. Phibes, saying so much with just his eyes and expression. He could portray damaged and desperate, such as his turn as Robert Morgan in The Last Man on Earth. Even in his later years, a minor role in Edward Scissorhands (as the title character’s genius creator) would leave us smiling and heartbroken at an elderly man’s glee and pride in caring for his unique “child.”
Perusing Scream Factory’s upcoming release for The Vincent Price Collection II brought on two personal revelations: the first being that, without a shadow of a doubt, the distributor’s Vincent Price collections represent the very best in their brilliant catalog of macabre treats. You can simply watch them on any rainy day the entire way through, appreciating the man and his work on so many levels. The selections are diverse, thoroughly engaging, and showcase the artist at his very best. The second revelation would be that there has never been a Horror star quite like Mr. Price. The man knew how to lure the audience into his performance, buy into a film’s concept, and have a frightfully enjoyable time at the movies. He is a legend of the silver screen, and there simply isn’t a better way to enjoy his work than spinning these fine discs from Scream Factory.
This latest Volume II release features seven wonderful horror gems including: The Raven, The Comedy of Terrors, The Tomb of Ligeia, The Last Man on Earth, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, The Return of the Fly, and House on Haunted Hill. Rather than bore you with a lengthy multiple page essay on each film, here are my quick thoughts on each of these titles after revisiting them in High Definition:
- The Raven (1963)- Resembling very little of the Edgar Allen Poe source material, this reworking of The Raven is a delightful horror comedy from the Corman-Poe adaptations, and along with The Comedy of Terrors, stands out as unique among the films presented in Collection II. Having grown a little tired of the formula and wanting to branch out into the unknown, Roger Corman and screenwriter Richard Matheson decided to make this particular Poe adaptation an all-out comedy, and the result truly works. Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff all deliver fine performances here as sorcerers in the 15th century. Price wants nothing more than to have his wife Lenore back, years after she seemingly died. Lorre’s been transformed into a raven by Karloff and comes “tapping” at Price’s window, and the pair soon travels to Karloff’s castle, one to battle with his arch nemesis, and the other to find his wife (who Lorre swears he has seen roaming the castle). Featuring some standout improvised comedy from the trio with oodles of chemistry to delight in, The Raven is just about as good as it gets. This isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, it’s simply “cute” and clever every step of the way.
- The Comedy of Terrors (1963)- Yet another comedic delight from American International Pictures that features Price and Lorre as partners in the undertaking business. When the rent is due and money becomes scarce, the pair decides to start murdering townsfolk in order to bring in some business. Boris Karloff makes an appearance as the hard-of-hearing Mr. Hinchley, and Basil Rathbone is equally as enjoyable as their landlord. The ad-libs and jokes come fast, exhibiting a similar clever charm in the same vein as The Raven.
- The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)- The last of the Corman-Poe adaptations is also one of my personal favorites, featuring Price as the grieving and bitter Verden Fell, who has recently lost his wife Ligeia. When he marries again, the spirit of Ligeia seems to haunt the couples’ mansion, unable and unwilling to let her husband move on with his life. Though Corman apparently felt that Price was too old for the part, I think he’s simply wonderful here, conveying the sorrow and rage of the widowed Fell with great believability. The outdoor scenery, atypical for a Corman production, is gorgeous, and the gothic interiors fit well with the Corman-Poe catalog. It’s not a particularly scary film by any means, but the dedication and care is obvious, making for a respectable final Poe adaptation from American International Pictures.
- The Last Man on Earth (1964)- This is without a doubt the very best screen adaptation of Richard Matheson’s source material, I am Legend. It also might just be my personal favorite Vincent Price film. Mr. Price stars as Dr. Robert Morgan (Neville in the book), the seemingly lone human survivor of a deadly outbreak that decimated the world population, turning those who died from its symptoms into vampires of the night. Three years after the outbreak, Morgan spends his days stocking up on the necessities and hunting down the vampires of his city as they sleep, and in turn, spends his nights defending his boarded-up home from the sinister creatures. Through flashback narrative we’re able to see what Morgan’s life was like before and during the outbreak before he unexpectedly meets a fellow survivor on what appears to be another routine day for him. I won’t spoil too much more of this horror classic, but it’s simply one of the best there is! Price’s narration of his day-to-day routine reel me in every time, and his performance here as a broken man who desperately hangs onto hope is one of his best. To think that Matheson opined that he was miscast in the role is mind boggling. The black and white cinematography is the icing on the cake, as this is impeccably filmed and realized on screen (even with the occasional crew member appearing in the background). I simple love this movie!
- Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)- The master of plagues is at it again, three years following the events of the first film. Dr. Phibes (Price) awakens from a self-induced hibernation with his beloved dead wife, who he soon hopes to awaken with the help of his assistant, Vulnavia (this time around played by Valli Kemp). With his mansion destroyed and the special scrolls he needed for his wife’s resurrection stolen, a new series of inventive deaths are unleashed upon those who get in his way. This time around, the kills fall in line with the Egyptian theme of the story, with sand storms and scorpions, among others, providing for some delectable misdeeds. The sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes retains the dark humor of the first film, and is nearly just as fun, with Price truly hamming it up and enjoying his role once again. Though I prefer the original, this one is certainly a lot of fun, with great performances and consistent entertainment. The finale is especially twisted and brilliant.
- The Return of the Fly (1959)- Released only a year after the original classic, this sequel has Price reprising his role as Francois Delambre, brother to the ill-fated scientist Andre Delambre of the first film. Opening with his sister-in-law’s funeral, Francois tries his best to convince his nephew Philippe to not follow in his father’s footsteps, warning him that continuing his experiments with the teleportation of matter may have dire consequences. Philippe is not easily swayed, taking on a new partner from his Uncle’s company, and diving right back into the teleportation experiments. When Philippe’s new partner double crosses him to turn a profit on the machine, things go awry for Philippe, and a new fly-human hybrid is on the loose! For me, this sequel isn’t quite as engaging as the first film, but still has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment value. The acting is just fine, and though Price’s time on screen is still limited (as it was in the first film), he seems to be having fun returning to his role. The fly-human hybrid effects are just as creepy this time around, and the film moves swiftly and efficiently for the viewer, making for a respectable sequel.
- House on Haunted Hill (1959)- This William Castle classic has Vincent Price portraying Frederick Loren, a mysterious and sadistic millionaire who, along with his equally creepy wife Annabelle, has invited five strangers to their “haunted house party.” Once the clock strikes midnight, the doors will be locked and everyone will be forced to stay in the house until morning, no matter what paranormal happenings occur within. Frederick has provided each of the guests with a loaded gun (complete with a tiny gun coffin), to add a little more danger into the mix. When strange things begin to occur (including one of my all-time favorite jump scares with the old woman in the basement), trust dwindles among the group, and Annabelle tries to warn the guests that Frederick is psychotic, and that the night that lies before them may not be what it seems. I won’t reveal any spoiler plot details, but the twists and turns in this horror classic make for sheer Halloween viewing delight! This is one of Price’s best performances as well, nailing the passive aggressive and sadistic nature of his character. It’s also incredibly well framed and filmed in glorious black and white, making for a wonderful old school horror experience.
Presented in both color and black and white prints, these High Definition transfers all look fairly solid, some even pristine, on the format. The color timing has been properly adjusted when appropriate, and though some titles in the set exhibit some minor print wear and scratches, it’s all part of the fun when it comes to classic Horror! Film grain is always present and authentically produced, and there is some surprising detail in the costume design and facial features across the board. As an admirer of black and white films, I was especially delighted to see the transfers on The Last Man on Earth, Return of the Fly, and House on Haunted Hill handled so well. Contrast is appropriately balanced and detail and grain look beautiful, and the minor scratches and slight imperfections bring the nostalgia back in full force. The color prints on The Raven, The Comedy of Terrors, The Tomb of Ligeia, and Dr. Phibes Rise Again look very solid indeed, with accurately reproduced colors and detail looking nice in the set design and costumes. The color films, particularly The Comedy of Terrors, occasionally suffer from a handful of soft shots (appearing like Vaseline smear), which I’m guessing is likely inherent to the source material. There are no big anomalies or intrusive manipulation here, and the films look better than I’ve ever seen them appear. Fans will be delighted with how good these Horror classics look on the format!
Every film in the set features a DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track, and though they’re not likely to challenge your system with power or dynamics, they feel accurately reproduced and get the job done. Dialogue is always clear and discernable, music sounds balanced and undistorted, and background effects and thrilling high points are well maintained on each disc.
Scream Factory has given Vincent Price fans a fully-loaded set with some great bonus features to peruse on a dark and stormy night! Rather than bore my readers with a listing of each and every bonus feature found on these individual discs, I’ll simply breakdown some of my favorite material from the set as a whole. With multiple great audio commentaries to peruse featuring the likes of Roger Corman, David Del Valle, and Steve Haberman, those of you that wish to know more about the making of the films and Price’s history working on them will not be disappointed. Del Valle in particular is extremely fascinating to listen to. The Raven, The Comedy of Terrors, and The Last Man on Earth all feature the wonderful Richard Matheson: Storyteller segments which feature the screenwriter/author discussing his work on the films. I especially loved hearing Matheson discuss the Horror greats’ (Price, Lorre, Karloff) collaboration on The Comedy of Terrors, admiring their love for the genre and delight at having some campy fun on set. But my very favorite bonus feature additions to this set are once again the Iowa Public Television Gothic Horrors segments where Vincent Price himself offered introductions and farewell bookend videos to various films in his career. I love seeing Price dressed up, fire roaring, in a secluded mansion as he introduces the viewers to each film. Though there isn’t much in the way of newly produced bonus content, the carried over MGM features and IPT Gothic Horrors segments alone are brilliant enough to recommend.
This Blu-Ray edition from Scream Factory features newly-commissioned artwork from fan-favorite artist Joel Robinson on the slip-case, which much like the first collection, reveals the female skeletons in the paintings when you pull out the Blu-Ray case itself. I love Robinson’s vision, and the framed art pieces pay tribute to Vincent’s love for art. On the reverse of the slip-case, you’ll find a listing of special features and technical specifications for all seven films in the set. Inside the slip-case is a beautifully created booklet featuring gorgeous production stills and posters from the various films in the set, as well as a wonderful essay written by David Del Valle. Inside of the Blu-Ray case are the various discs with a classy yet simple design that matches the rest of the set. Fans of Vincent Price and his work couldn’t ask for anything better.
There has never been, and likely will never be again, a Horror star quite like Mr. Vincent Price. This latest collection, as well as the first, represents the very best of what Scream Factory has to offer. For a fan of classic Horror and an admirer of the late, great, Vincent Price, sitting down to enjoy a marathon of his very best films in High Definition is a dream come true. Scream Factory has loaded these discs with some great special features including several audio commentaries, informative featurettes, and my personal favorite; the continuing additions of Iowa Public Television’s Gothic Horrors introduction segments featuring the man himself. Video and audio quality is overall terrific, rounding out this great package. If you’re looking for the perfect Halloween season entertainment, The Vincent Price Collection II receives my highest recommendation.