Reviewed by Uncle Creepy
Starring Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, and Barry Morse
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Distributed by Dark Sky Films
The Seventies marked a glorious time for horror and without question stands as my absolute favorite decade in the long existence of our beloved genre. It was one hell of a ten years from top to bottom. The main studios were actually putting good films in theatres like The Omen, Jaws, and of course The Exorcist. Even smaller companies were pumping out incredible fare like George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead and John Carpenter's Halloween. Honestly, can you think of a better time to be a horror fan? One such smaller company also delivering the goodies was a little British fright machine named Amicus. Their films are just as classic to fans as any of the above, and the good folks at Dark Sky Films are releasing new editions of these flicks that horror enthusiasts have been -- ahem -- dying for!
Asylum, for better or for worse, is an interesting little anthology. For those of you with short attention spans, this type of film is your quick ticket to a good time. The beauty of anthologies is the even if a particular story sucks, it will be over soon. Ya can't ask for more than that, can you? Who am I kidding? Of course we can. We're rabid fans that are never satisfied.
Anyway, let's start off with the main ingredient in any cinematic cluster of carnage: the wrap-around story. Try to follow along if you can. Things get kind of confusing. Dr. Martin needs a job. So what's a down on his luck fellow to do? Seek one out of course. His search leads him to an insane asylum where he is to discuss employment opportunities with the head honcho there, Dr. Starr. Upon his arrival he is not greeted by Starr, but by the acting big man on campus, Dr. Rutherford. Rutherford informs Martin that Starr has gone nuts and has been admitted to the asylum as a patient. Unimpressed by the young doctor, Rutherford assigns Martin his first challenge. If he can interview four inmates without being told their true identities and pinpoint which is actually Starr, he gets the gig. Just writing that gave me a bit of a headache, but nonetheless, there's your set-up.
The first patient Martin meets has a sordid tale of love and lust gone awry. Apparently a husband decided that the best way to get rid of his wife was to hack her to pieces, wrap her in butcher's paper, and stick her in the newly installed freezer. While a bit on the goofy side, this yarn kicks things off in a hurry and is a fun ride from beginning to end. Unfortunately, the next two chronicles of the crazed do not fare as well.
Next up we have the sad account of a down on his luck tailor that's inches away from having his business shut down by an angry landlord due to lack of rent payment. Just as our defeated protagonist is about to call it quits, his life takes an unexpected turn as a mysterious man promises him riches if the tailor makes him a very specific suit. After being given more rules than Billy was in Gremlins concerning how the outfit was to be crafted, the tailor busts his ass to make sure everything is followed to the letter. Of course you realize that in the end things don't go smoothly and some spooky shit happens.
Some have called this entry Asylum's best, but I was just bored to tears by it. Don't get me wrong; it was filmed nicely and had some pretty thick atmosphere, but in the end it seemed more like a misfire than a direct hit.
Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, the next account reared its head. Usually about now I'd be letting you in on key plot elements. Let's put it this way: If the previous storyline could be described as wafer thin, this one is like tracing paper. It's your standard mini-saga of schizophrenia that will have you eyeballing that fast forward button on your remote.
Thankfully, the wrap-around brings things back to a suitable level of horror goodness as the legendary Herbert Lom takes center stage along with some killer dolls in tow. A truly spooky, yet campy prelude to Asylum's twist ending. Good stuff.
Each of these entries was based upon four short stories written by Robert Bloch. For you trivia hounds, the stories are as follows: Frozen Fear, The Weird Tailor, Lucy Comes to Stay and Mannikins of Horror; and before you call me an idiot, no, I did not misspell mannequins. Having Bloch adapt these stories for the screen himself truly adds a bit of shine to this mostly dull blade, but hey, like I said earlier, the good thing about sucky short stories is that they're over quickly. If this film were only an hour long, it'd be great!
While the feature itself is on the lackluster side, the extras do their part to get a fan's blood pumping. The commentary with director Roy Ward Baker and cameraman Neil Binney is as good and entertaining as they come and serves to make even the dullest parts of Asylum a bit more on the entertaining side. Along with that, we get the standard trailer and still gallery, but the rock star on this disc is no doubt the documentary, Inside the Fear Factory. Here we get a surprising look into the history of Amicus. Surprising how, you ask? The interviews included here with some of the then principles of the company are as off-the-cuff and candid as humanly possible. The rise and fall of the studio is discussed in no-holds-barred detail, and to be honest, I was left wanting more. Hopefully one day a feature-length look at Amicus will come along. There's certainly a wealth of material to be hashed and rehashed, and should that day come to pass, this viewer will be glued to the tube. Even as is, this is a great inclusion.
Whether or not Asylum can be considered a true classic is debatable. While the film's vintage certainly affords it that label, the content comes up short. Regardless of age, a mediocre movie is still a mediocre movie. Personally, I'd buy this DVD just for the featurette. That may sound crazy, but the name of the film is Asylum, is it not? How fitting!
Inside the Fear Factory featurette
Cast and crew bios
3 out of 5