MAD HOUSE (1974) and HOUSE OF 1,000 DOLLS (1967). A PAIR OF VINCENT PRICE HORROR FILMS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘MADHOUSE’ is a marvellous Vincent Price vehicle that has his distinctive stamp all over it. HOUSE OF 1,000 DOLLS, on the other hand, is a rather boring, baffling film in which men dressed in black chase each other around Tangiers in the dark, and it rather looks to me like the film-makers decided they needed a big star name to sell the movie and poor old Vincent Price drew the short straw, lol. Then they stuck him in a few scenes and Bob’s your uncle, they had themselves a party. But let’s start with MADHOUSE, an infinitely more pleasing affair.
In this AMICUS/AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES collaboration, Vincent Price plays an ageing American movie star called Paul Toombes, who is best known for making the hugely popular DR. DEATH films. Now, in the twilight of his career, he’s making a major comeback. He’s going to star with an attractive young actress in a television series which will be reviving the character of Dr. Death, for which he’ll travel to England and leave his old life behind.
His old life is more complicated than most people’s, and includes a murdered young porn star wife whom some folk still think Paul killed, even though he was acquitted of the crime. Certainly, bigshot TV producer Oliver Quayle, played by Robert COUNT YORGA Quarry, is one of these suspicious folks but, as he’s going to be producing the new DR. DEATH series, he’s willing to put his prejudices aside for the sake of the big fat juicy pay-off which Paul Toombes’s name in the credits will bring.
Paul can’t stand the oily, smarmy, sneaky Quayle, so it’s a good thing that his very dear old friend, the actor-screenwriter Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing), will be working with them both to provide a bit of balance. Herbert wrote the scripts for the original DR. DEATH movies and Paul is thrilled to be invited to stay with Herbert in his lovely secluded English mansion while filming of the series takes place.
Once filming starts, however, a series of gruesome murders immediately starts up also, as various people are fatally attacked by someone dressed in the Dr. Death garb, complete with rather freaky skull mask and black swirling cape, the works.
Paul Toombes starts to doubt his own sanity. After all, he experienced a period of similar confusion and mental derangement after the brutal decapitation of his gorgeous porn star missus twenty years ago, the murder he was accused of committing. He spent years in a mental hospital after that murder. Could it be that he’s off his rocker again and running around the place murdering people whilst dressed as his alter ego, Dr. Death?
There are just so many highlights in this one; the appearance of the stunning blonde actress for Hammer and other studios, Linda Hayden, as a pushy, wanna-be actress who thinks Paul Toombes can advance her career; a fancy dress party for the cast and crew of the Dr. Death TV series at which the suavely handsome Robert Quarry comes dressed as Christopher Lee’s Dracula; and the inclusion of several of Vincent Price’s actual old movies, all purporting to be old DR. DEATH films.
We see TALES OF TERROR, the Basil Rathbone vignette in which good old Sherlock Holmes himself tries to hypnotise a man (who else but Vincent Price?) at the exact point of death, in order to control the man for his own nefarious ends. The wiz-off between Price and an ageing Boris Karloff in THE RAVEN also features, as does the Edgar Allan Poe-H.P. Lovecraft mash-up, THE HAUNTED PALACE, and a visual but unmistakable reference to HOUSE OF WAX, possibly Price’s best ever and most famous horror film. THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER and SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN are in there too.
This film is great fun, and it looks like Vincent Price is enjoying himself. (Unlike in HOUSE OF 1,000 DOLLS, in which he kind of looks like he’s wondering, what the hell am I doing here…?) He plays the dual roles of Paul Toombes and Dr. Death in a theatrical and dramatic fashion, with all the panache, flair and style he’s capable of. Let’s just hope he’s not allergic to spiders, however, or to dark secrets that conceal themselves in the basements of elegant country houses…
HOUSE OF 1,000 DOLLS isn’t a very good film, despite the cool name. There are far from 1,000 dolls in the House of 1,000 Dolls, for a kick-off. There are only about twelve dolls at the very most, and they’re not even dolls at all, they’re all prostitutes, lol. That’s right, folks, the House of 1,000 Dolls is nothing more than a brothel with a lovely name.
You can pay to have sex with the dolls, which is all right ’cause they’re not bad-looking at all, but you can’t take a fancy to one and bring her home with you. You can’t bring one home with you even if she’s your legal wife and the ‘syndicate’ has kidnapped her for the purposes of sex trafficking. That’s when they try to hold onto her the most. If you’re the grieving husband, well, you might as well just feck off home for all you’ll be able to do about it. They’ll follow you most of your way home and then kill you in a junkyard, though. ‘S true, I swear it.
It’s a rather dull life, being a ‘doll’ from the House of 1,000 Dolls. You can change your sexy lingerie, change your hair, go for your 11am whipping (oh yes, there’s whipping, but no nudity, sadly!) and, erm, that’s about it. The poor ‘dolls.’ No wonder they’re always sitting around hoping to be rescued by their men-folk and organising unsuccessful protests against their incarceration. Being a ‘doll’ isn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds.
Vincent Price feels somewhat tacked on here, as I said earlier, as a suave, tuxedo-clad magician known as ‘Manderville.’ Manderville, together with his glamorous partner-in-crime, Rebecca (Tippi Hedren to the life in that severe blonde hairstyle, just look at her!), is responsible for hypnotising the beautiful young girls who are then abducted and conveyed to the- you guessed it- the House of 1,000 Dolls to be giving a sound training in the art of prostitution. Well, a trade is always a handy thing to have, Mother. I suppose it might as well be in blowjobs and anal beads as owt else, now all ‘t’ mills have gone for a burton.
Vincent Price really gives it his all, as I suspect he does in all of his films, but it’s a very small role compared to some of his others and not as meaty. It doesn’t even feel like it’s his film, if you know what I mean. It’s like a bad foreign film in which he happens to have a part. (It’s an AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES film, as it happens, released initially in Spain under a Spanish title. There’s some pretty bad dubbing in evidence, I’m afraid, and some dialogue goes for a burton too, lol.)
There’s a policeman running around trying to find out who killed this guy called Fernando, whose girlfriend Diana was kidnapped by the girlfriend-stealing, white slavery syndicate, and a doctor called Steven Armstrong who does virtually no doctoring at all, but he does manage to lose his beautiful and ridiculously dim missus to the good folks behind the House of 1,000 Dolls.
Well, that’s how fast they work, you see, these people. While you’re still standing outside the shop checking your flamin’ Lotto numbers and licking your Cornetto out through the hole at the bottom of the wrapper, they’ve nicked your girlfriend right out of your car and whisked her away to the House of 1,000 Dolls for a long apprenticeship in the oldest trade in ‘t’ world. Should you bother to go after her? Dunno, really. I guess it depends on how much you’re enjoying that Cornetto…!
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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