Before there were slasher films that systematized violence to the point of pure boredom, there were great horror films in the 1970s. Unlike great murder fests of earlier times like House of Wax, these films were quite graphic—not, “cutting off a limb with a chainsaw” graphic, but lots of blood and some pretty cool gore. And this last week, I happened upon one I do not remember seeing. (But I might well have when I was a poorly supervised kid!) The film is, Madhouse. Looking at the poster brings to mind the film Vincent Price made right before it: Theatre of Blood.
When I was younger, I loved the Plaza Theater in Petaluma. All they showed were double features, which changed each night. So one night they might show Yojimbo and Sanjuro. The next: Wizards and American Pop. And then: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Get Crazy. I wish I owned a theater where I could put together cool double features. If I did, I would run Madhouse and Theatre of Blood.
Madhouse would have to be the first film, because it just isn’t as good. Don’t get me wrong: it’s great fun. Vincent Price plays a hugely successful actor known for the character “Dr. Death.” He’s about to be married when his fiance turns up dead. (I won’t ruin it by telling you how.) He goes crazy but then we jump ahead many years when he is trying to restart his career in a British television show. There are more murders. It is all bizarre and wonderful—including a victim’s extremely silly parents who seem only interested in being compensated for their loss and the amazing spider woman. The problem with it, from my perspective is that it is a whodunnit. But the whole way through I was thinking, “It’s can’t be that obvious!” It is.
Theatre of Blood is one of my very favorites. It combines two of my favorite things: Shakespeare and horror. It is a much more straight forward film: Vincent Price is the “bad” guy. He plays a rather overwrought Shakespearean actor driven to kill himself by bad reviews. But somehow he managed to survive. So one by one he kills off his critics using scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. It is absolutely delightful. I often use Theatre of Blood to cheer myself up. And the fact that a large number of critics get their grisly due makes it all a very happy experience.
It turns out that I am not the only person to think that these two delightful revenge films would work as a double feature. MGM Home Entertainment’s Midnite Movies has them available on one DVD: Theater Of Blood/MadHouse. But as usual with these releases, there are no special features. That’s a shame. These aren’t just fun B films; they are the films that brought us to where we are. There would never have been Evil Dead or Dead Snow without them. And are we really to believe that there isn’t some Vincent Price biographer who isn’t itching to watch these films with us?
But if you are not up for buying anything, Madhouse is currently available to stream on Netflix. Currently, Theatre of Blood is not. But it has been in the past. So look out for it. But the best thing is to get all your friends together and make an evening of the two films.
This scene is not from Madhouse, “It’s a madhouse! A madhouse!”
 You are absolutely not allowed to talk about Night of the Living Dead! I’ll just force you back to Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price anyway. But we should just admit that all these are all important films leading us forward.