Thursday, 12 June 2014

MADNESS AND TEMPTATION: THE AMICUS FILMS OF PETER CUSHING: PART SIX


Cushing would next be lured to Amicus with a role that referred back to his first assignment for the company.  From Beyond the Grave was another anthology film and like Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, it cast Cushing in the linking segment and gave the actor a relatively rare opportunity to don makeup and an accent while playing a real character part.


Cushing is splendid as the sinister proprietor of a shabby antique shop known as Temptations Limited. The gimmick is simple: the various people who come into the shop are morally compromised in one way or another and as they look to get one over on the doddering proprietor, they set themselves up for some just desserts. “The Gate Crasher” stars David Warner as a man who buys a mirror which houses a bloodthirsty spirit; in “An Act of Kindness,” a sad sack executive (Ian Bannen) befriends a peddler (Donald Pleasence) and his creepy daughter (Angela Pleasence) and doesn’t live to regret it.


 “The Elemental” deals with a spirit which attaches itself to a middle aged businessman (Ian Carmichael), thus requiring the intervention of a wacky spiritualist (Margaret Leighton); and Ian Ogilvy regrets purchasing “The Door” when it becomes apparent that the object has the ability to gain access to a mysterious room housing an even more mysterious resident (Jack Watson).


The film benefits from an infusion of fresh material: sooner than fall back on another one of Subotsky’s derivative screenplays or offer up another collection of Robert Bloch-penned slices of irony, this one draws from the stories of R. Chetwyn-Hayes.  The stories offer a nice variety of mood and if the opening and closing segments are a little too similar for comfort, they are still successful in their own aims.  First time director Kevin Connor does a fantastic job with the material, going for shock effects where needed, while also taking the time to build character, notably in the affecting “An Act of Kindness” segment.


The individual segments are all of a high caliber, as are the performances. Cushing is in fine form in the linking segments, while Margaret Leighton comes close to stealing the show as the comically over the top spiritualist in the comic “Elemental” segment.  Ian Bannen and Donald Pleasence give wonderfully subtle performances in “An Act of Kindness,” with the actor’s real-life daughter Angela Pleasence making for a wonderfully baleful and eerie presence.


David Warner, Ian Carmichael and Ian Ogilvy all do excellent work, as well.  The stylish and atmospheric photography by Alan Hume recalls his work on Dr. Terror, while Douglas Gamley’s soundtrack is more subtle and effective than usual.


All things considered, From Beyond the Grave proved to be a fitting farewell for Cushing to the world of Amicus anthologies, but their business relationship was far from finished.  For their next outing, Amicus and Cushing would again be joined by American International Pictures. 


On paper, Madhouse had the makings of a classic.  It united Vincent Price with Peter Cushing and added up-and-coming genre star Robert Quarry to the mix.  Price and Cushing had already co-starred in Scream and Scream Again and Dr. Phibes Rises Again, but this film would finally allow them to share some scenes together.

 

The story, adapted from the novel “Devilday” by Angus Hall, could be seen as a sort of horror version of All About Eve, with some memorably bitchy dialogue that was particularly well suited for Price. And yet, sadly, it all went wrong … quite, quite wrong.


Paul Tombes (Price) is a horror film star who is finally enjoying a happy and stable personal life, thanks to finding true love. However, his fianc√©e is burtally murdered and he suffers a major mental breakdown. Years later, he returns to England to resume his career in genre films, with his old friend Herbert Flay (Cushing) acting as his screenwriter.  Unfortunately, embittered producer Oliver Quayle (Quarry) is none too supportive and regards the “has been” actor with suspicion. Things get worse when a series of strange events, including some killings, threaten to push Paul completely over the edge …



Editor-turned-director Jim Clark makes a botch job of this one.  There’s some indication that the script may have been intended to be done tongue in cheek, but Clark’s uninspired direction only succeeds in making it come off as plodding.  There are too many unlikely plot developments and the final twist is simply too absurd to be taken seriously.  Perhaps in the hands of a witty stylist like Robert Fuest (who directed the Dr. Phibes films so beautifully), the film might have come to life; as it stands, however, this is one of the most disappointing of Price’s many horror films.


Price walks through the film with an air of disinterest, suggesting that he was none too thrilled to be cast in the film to begin with.  The real standout is Quarry, who indulges in a marvelously pointed parody of AIP’s head honcho Samuel Z. Arkoff in his performance as the producer Oliver Quayle. Quarry’s acidic line readings give vent to his frustration over being shoehorned into one bad project after another and his onscreen tension with Price is a direct continuation of their off-screen relationship. Cushing rather disappears into the background in all of this, but he does have a few good moments towards the end of the picture.


Adrienne Corri is also very good as a crazed former starlet who has a thing for spiders, while Hammer horror veteran Linda Hayden (Taste the Blood of Dracula) is appropriately sultry as a femme fatale. In a cheeky bit of advertising, the film gives “special participation” credit to Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, by virtue of some extensive clips of their appearances in AIP’s earlier (and much better) The Raven and Tales of Terror.  Both actors were long dead by the time this film rolled along, but their presence does serve to remind one of the better days of Gothic horror on screen.


 

Pretty much everybody involved in Madhouse knew it was a lox and the general lack of enthusiasm does the film no favors.  It had the potential to sit side by side with Price’s truly brilliant Theatre of Blood, but a daft script and lackluster direction ensures that it’s not even on par with some of the lesser Edgar Allan Poe vehicles that were made after director Roger Corman jumped ship.

Written by Troy Howarth
Images and design: Marcus Brooks


COMING UP NEXT WEEK : THE FINAL PART : BOWING OUT WITH A WOLF
AND A MOLE : THE AMICUS FILMS OF PETER CUSHING BY TROY HOWARTH : PART SEVEN


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