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STUDIO: Dark Sky Films
RUNNING TIME: 89 Minutes
• Commentary by the director and cameraman
• Retrospective featurette
• Still gallery
• Theatrical trailers
Four startling tales of terror so scary you’ll pee your pants in fright, just as long as you already have a problem with regularly pissing your pants.
Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Barry Morse, Charlotte Rampling and Herbie, the lovable killer robot.
What’s the cheapest and easiest way to make a horror film that caters to the wafer thin attention spans of most audiences? Why, it’s anthology horror of course! In the grand tradition of the awesomely macabre EC comics, horror anthologies became a big moneymaker in the 1970s and no company was better at churning them out than Amicus.
The anchor that holds the various tales together in this collection is the Dunmoor Asylum for the Incurably Insane, which Dr. Martin is trying to get a job at. He expects to meet the asylum’s director, Dr. Starr, but instead is met by Dr. Rutherford who reveals that Dr. Starr has had a nervous breakdown and has become an inmate himself. In order to secure the job, Dr. Martin must listen to the tales of all four inmates and then correctly choose which one of them is Dr. Starr.
Someone please put Charles Band out of his misery already.
If any viewer is under the mistaken impression that they’re watching a deep and psychological horror film, that misconception should be cleared up within five seconds of starting the film as Night on Bald Mountain blares through the speakers. Asylum is all about the easiest, most direct and crowd pleasing thrills and chills. Subtlety has no place in a film like this. It’s all about the murders, the monsters and the macabre.
The first tale involves Bonnie, who is engaged in an affair with a married man. Like the men in most horror tales, this loving husband decides that the best way to get rid of his wife is to chop her into pieces, wrap her in butcher’s paper and then stuff her in a freezer. And they say romance is dead. Unbeknownst to the husband, his wife was apparently half Gumby as she still lives and is now able to move all her severed body parts. Now Bonnie and the cheating husband must fight for their lives against hands and feet that are out for revenge!
The possessed body parts tale is definitely the best suited for kicking off the anthology. It wastes absolutely no time in getting to the bizarre and morbid violence. As lame as the premise sounds, its simplicity gets things running quickly. The effects are admittedly pedestrian and a little silly, as body parts flop around and a severed head roll around the floor, obviously being slowly puppeteered.
The second and third tales don’t fare so well. Both are very slow paced and the payoffs are completely unsatisfying. The second involves a down on his luck tailor who is commissioned to create an otherworldly suit and the third is about a crazy woman accused of murder who insists that she is innocent.
I always knew the $1.99 Tostinos pizzas would kill me, but not like this..
The premises in these two stories are paper thin, but are stretched out like they’re some sort of grand mystery and meant to surprise the audience. At least the first story acknowledged its lazy premise and skipped right to the action. The middle segments simply drag on for far too long and only deliver a few quick kills in the end.
It’s a good thing the last segment is so entertaining in how simply bizarre it is. A disturbed patient is convinced that he can transfer his life force into a tiny robotic action figure he has created. This figure has about four points of articulation and is six inches tall, so why in the world you would want to live forever in such an awful figure is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, the patient does so and the audience is treated to some old school, el-cheapo Puppet Master level hijinx.
Anthology horror films are usually a quick and dirty affair, but both the director and audience know exactly what they’re doing when they involve themselves. No one is expecting truly incredible horror tales, just some gory and clever little horror nuggets. The only rule is to keep the stories coming, because dragging on the bad nuggets can equal death for an anthology horror film (see Creepshow 2). Asylum presents a handful of moderately entertaining horror tales at a brisk pace, making it just one in a long line of inoffensive anthologies that does little to stand out.
When this suit is operational, no one at the book club will dare oppose the Emperor.
As is often the case, the people and the process behind the creation of a quick cash-in film like this ends up being much more interesting than the film itself. The documentary, “Inside the Fear Factory” explores the history of the Amicus production company along with their extensive catalogue of horror films. The documentary features interviews with the principle players at Amicus, some shortly before they passed on. Everyone interviewed is very candid and has no problem revealing all the dirt and problems they had at Amicus, but it’s never in a malicious manner. It’s just old men happily remembering all the hassles and battles they had when they were younger and telling it like it is.
The feature length commentary by director Roy Ward Baker and cameraman Neil Binney is equally as enjoyable on the same level. Asylum isn’t exactly the most thrilling film and certainly not one many people have an intense desire to learn more about, but the jovial tone of the commentary on the disc will be pleasant for the few who listen to it. Other extras include a still gallery, liner notes and theatrical trailers for other similar films.