Film Review: Madhouse (1974)

Release Date: May 22nd, 1974 (San Francisco)
Directed by: Jim Clark
Written by: Ken Levinson, Greg Morrison
Based on: Devilday by Angus Hall
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, Adrienne Corri, Natasha Pyne, Michael Parkinson, Linda Hayden, Barry Dennen

Amicus Productions, American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Miss Peters, as they say in horror movies, you will come to a bad end.” – Paul Toombes

American International Pictures and Amicus Productions, two great B-movie horror studios of their day, teamed up to bring us Madhouse. It also teams up two of their biggest horror stars, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. It doesn’t end there though, as the film features Count Yorga himself, Robert Quarry, and Hammer Horror ladies Adrienne Corri and Linda Hayden.

Coming out a year after the Vincent Price starring Theater of Blood, this film shares a lot of similarities with it. Both movies deal with an actor that is tied to the murders of several people around him. In Theater of Blood Price played a stage actor. In this, he is a horror movie icon most known as a character called Dr. Death. The people who die in this film are killed by someone dressed as Dr. Death. Is it Price committing the crimes or is it someone else trying to drive him mad?

While this isn’t the best work Price or Cushing did in their long careers, it is still a fun and entertaining ride for ninety minutes. Plus, seeing Price and Cushing share the screen is never a bad thing.

I really like the character of Dr. Death and it would have been cool seeing this spinoff into some Dr. Death movies but they never really thought like that back in the 1970s. The filmmakers created a character that could have been a cool brand, all to himself. Plus, at this point, Price didn’t have a permanent vehicle like he did in the 1960s with those Edgar Allan Poe pictures he cranked out annually with Roger Corman.

This is a violent whodunit mystery and it very much plays like an Italian giallo picture but without the vivid colorful flourishes. Still, it feels giallo in spirit, as it is a good prototype for the slasher formula and features a cool mysterious killer with an even cooler outfit. And like a giallo, it has hints of noir in its story, although it is lacking the noir visual style. Had this film been a bit more stylish, it could have actually been something exceptional.

Madhouse is still pretty good and I like it a bit more than the more popular Theater of Blood. But really, the two films are just good companion pieces to one another and also play well as a double feature.

Film Review: The Beast Must Die (1974)

Also known as: Black Werewolf (US video title)
Release Date: April 22nd, 1974 (UK)
Directed by: Paul Annett
Written by: Michael Winder
Based on: a short story by James Blish
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Calvin Lockhart, Peter Cushing, Michael Gambon, Marlene Clark, Charles Grey, Ciaran Madden, Tom Chadbon, Anton Diffring

Amicus Productions, British Lion Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“One of our guests is a werewolf, I know it.” – Tom Newcliffe

While Amicus was never the great British horror studio that Hammer was, it often times utilized Hammer’s top stars and the company did a fine job of filling in the void that started to appear as Hammer cooled down in the 1970s.

Like many Amicus horror pictures, this one features Hammer legend Peter Cushing. He plays his typical role of scientist or doctor or just general boffin type who could be evil or could be the hero. The thing with this film, is it is a whodunit mystery in the same vein as The Orient Express or Clue. However, the killer here is a werewolf.

A group of people, all suspects, are gathered at the house of an eccentric big game hunter played by Calvin Lockhart. The suspects are an interesting cast of characters that features Michael Gambon, Anton Iffring, Charles Grey, Marlene Clark and a couple others. As can be expected, as the film roles on, people get picked off by the wolf.

The Beast Must Die is pretty standard fare for Amicus. I like the premise more than a typical Amicus film but the execution isn’t spectacular. It’s good enough to enjoy on a rainy afternoon but even with an extra twist at the end, the movie is pretty predictable and doesn’t offer up anything too interesting.

It isn’t well shot and it is poorly lit but the acting is better than decent for this kind of picture. However, the music is distracting and overbearing. It is a jazzy almost funk score that was the trend in early to mid-70s British horror, which probably started with Dracula 1972 A.D. It tries to make the film come off as modern and hip but now, over 40 years later, it really dates the movie and does more harm than good. It doesn’t fit the tone or the visual style of the picture either.

The Beast Must Die is good enough to watch if you are into Amicus’ work. It’s not exceptional, it’s not horrible but it does have Peter Cushing, a werewolf and Calvin Lockhart is really entertaining as the rich hunter.

Film Review: At Earth’s Core (1976)

Release Date: July 1976 (US)
Directed by: Kevin Connor
Written by: Milton Subotsky
Based on: At Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Music by: Mike Vickers
Cast: Doug McClure, Peter Cushing, Caroline Munro

Amicus Productions, American International Pictures, British Lion Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

Being that I have now watched At Earth’s Core means that I have now gotten through the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is kind of friggin’ depressing.

Truthfully, I had already seen this, as it is an Amicus film with Peter Cushing in it. It also has Caroline Munro, a huge childhood crush of mine, who always turned my heart into putty I would have freely given her to play with. I still would. I am weak in the presence of Ms. Munro even though she’s only been on my television set. Also, I’m calling her “Ms.” to ignore whether or not she ever married.

Anyway, Caroline Munro perv rant out of the way, on to the movie itself.

The film actually isn’t too bad. Considering that it is an Amicus production and that it has a tiny budget, I can live with the results.

It stars Doug McClure, who starred in Amicus’ other Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation The Land That Time Forgot. He’s a hammy and bulky “save the babe” sort of guy. The babe being Ms. Munro.

It also stars Peter Cushing, one of my all-time favorite actors. However, in this, he is really bizarre and overly goofy. His voice is weird and quite annoying and his mannerisms are like that of a regal British gentlemen drinking too many pints of ale and being dared by his mates to walk around like that asshole Jerry Lewis. I pretty much hate Cushing in this movie and I hate saying I hate Cushing in anything. I mean, it’s Peter F’n Cushing!

The film is colorful, I like the cinematography even if it feels really dated for 1976. The colors and sets look like something out of a 60s Roger Corman sci-fi picture. I love the colors, actually but the film feels like it has less production value than its predecessor The Land That Time Forgot, which predates this by two years.

Additionally, the effects, in general, are also a step down. While the creatures and monsters are cooler concepts than the standard dinosaurs in The Land That Time Forgot, their rubber suits and overall construction just look really shoddy.

Don’t even get me started on the atrocious ape men.

Despite its faults, At Earth’s Core is still a fun picture to check out if you love the classic Burroughs and Jules Verne adventure films from the 1950s through 1970s.

Film Review: The Land That Time Forgot (1974)

Release Date: November 29th, 1974 (UK)
Directed by: Kevin Connor
Written by: Michael Moorcock, James Cawthorn
Based on: The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Doug McClure, John McEnery, Susan Penhaligon, Keith Barron

Amicus Productions, American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

The Land That Time Forgot is a better film than what is typically featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 but it was nice seeing it pop up in the new revival season. Also, it is made by Amicus and compared to the quality of most of their pictures, this is like a big budget epic for them. I’m not knocking Amicus but they were sort of a poor man’s Hammer Studios in the UK and typically made small gothic horror pictures.

This film features rubber dinosaurs, cavemen and a submarine. Those three things are an interesting enough mix. Unfortunately, the film spends more time on the submarine than the island it seems. Being that Amicus is not a big studio, they needed to distract from the island wildlife for budgetary reasons but there were probably better ways to do this.

The creatures aren’t horrible but they also aren’t great. What you have here is a typical rubber suit monster movie. It isn’t as cool and creative as a Toho kaiju flick but it is still well executed for what Amicus had to work with. The dinosaur battles were fairly decent despite the film’s limitations, technically and financially. The pterodactyls probably could have been a bit more convincing though.

The cast is pretty decent and the characters are an interesting mix. You have the military men from a German submarine, a few people from a ship that they sank and a caveman sidekick. Ultimately, the group has to work together, as they try to traverse and survive the dangerous island.

The Land That Time Forgot is not the best of the classic literary sci-fi adventure pictures that were big from the 1950s through 1970s but it is a really good effort from a studio that didn’t have Disney money. It is a good and fun film with a lot of flaws but it doesn’t get dull and it keeps your attention throughout. It is also a quicker paced film compared to others in its genre.

Film Review: Asylum (1972)

Release Date: November 17th, 1972
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Robert Bloch
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Robert Powell, Herbert Lom, Barry Morse, Patrick Magee, Charlotte Rampling

Amicus Productions, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 88 Minutes

asylum_1972Review:

Amicus was kind of like the lesser known little brother to England’s Hammer Studios, who were the masters of 50s, 60s and 70s gothic horror. In their heyday, they made some horror anthology pictures. I have always been a bigger fan of full length horror pictures with one cohesive story but I like seeing some of the lighter ideas explored in anthology films. Sometimes an idea is good but it doesn’t need 90 minutes.

What drew me to Asylum initially was the fact that it “stars” one of my favorites, Peter Cushing. I put that in parentheses because he is barely in the film. That was pretty common in anthology pictures, however. He wasn’t even the main character of his story though, so it is somewhat disappointing.

The film also features Patrick Magee, who I have loved as an actor due to how great he was in A Clockwork Orange and also for his roles in Barry LyndonThe Masque of the Red Death and Dementia 13.

One story in the anthology features the always beautiful and alluring Britt Ekland and the greatly talented Charlotte Rampling, who is very young in this.

Some of the stories here are fairly creepy but overall, the film isn’t very good. It is a bit slow in some sequences and I found certain points to be boring, actually. The first story, which features crawling disembodied limbs, is the highlight of the film. Everything else goes downhill from there. The Ekland and Rampling story is interesting enough to hold your attention but it isn’t anything entirely new. The final twist ending also isn’t that fantastic, as it has been done a million times over. Granted, it may have felt fresh and unique in 1972.

Asylum is a good enough film to kill some time on a rainy day but it isn’t a classic, by any means. It fits well in the Amicus catalog but they did produce much better films.