Dark Sky Films // 1972 // 89 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // July 3rd, 2006
"Working with the mentally disturbed can cause a breakdown." -- Dr. Martin
Asylum is an entertaining horror anthology from the vaults of Amicus Productions, who notably produced "B" gothic thrillers with "A" actors during the '60s and '70s. Think of them as a multiple story counterpart to Hammer Horror with an all-star cast, and you're headed in the right direction. The company was founded by two men in 1954: Max J. Rosenberg provided funding while Milton Subotsky came up with many of the ideas. Asylum is structured much in the same way as the company's other anthology classics such as Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror. It has an ingenious framing device which anchors four mini-movies where the bizarre and horrifying unfold at a fast and furious pace. The cast is remarkable, even if the production seems slightly cheap and rushed. There is a lot to love here, and DarkSky films has provided a robust DVD to support the film.
Dr. Martin (Robert Powell, Tommy) is a young psychiatrist who has come to Dunsmoor Asylum for the Incurably Insane to apply for a position as the senior houseman. He expects to be interviewed by the asylum's director Dr. Starr, but is instead greeted by Dr. Rutherford (Patrick Magee, A Clockwork Orange) who informs him the doctor has suffered a breakdown and is now one of the inmates in the bowels of the asylum. He tells Martin he can have the position if he can interview four patients, and deduce who Dr. Starr is. Thus we have the setup for four tales of the macabre, and a central mystery to up the tension as each story unfolds.
The real fun of this feature is the amount of cinematic legends that pop up to play in the Asylum. Robert Bloch (author of Psycho) helped adapt the script from several of his short stories. There are appearances by horror legend Peter Cushing (The Satanic Rites of Dracula), Britt Ekland (The Wicker Man), Barbara Parkins (Valley of the Dolls), Hebert Lom (Chief Inspector Dreyfus from The Pink Panther series), and Charlotte Rampling (The Night Porter). these master thespians hack each other to bits, run screaming in to the night, go completely insane, and control psychotic dolls makes the proceedings so damn fun.
Dark Sky Films is a new "horror" label for MPI, and they produce a stunning, well-thought-out DVD package. I'll admit the scratchy, grainy print has seen better days, and the sound isn't going to melt anyone's speakers with it's monaural mix, but the extras are worth dying for. First up is the insightful and chatty commentary with director Roy Ward Baker (a Hammer Horror legend in his own right), cameraman Neil Binney (no stranger to the Hammer studio himself), and a moderator to keep things moving. Also included is a Blue Underground-produced featurette about Amicus productions featuring its two feuding founders. They speak to the history of the film company with only passing mentions of Asylum, but it is a priceless slice of history given by two men who couldn't disagree more about how things transpired. The only disappointment about the featurette is that it's an abbreviated version of the one seen on an Region Two Anchor Bay Amicus set. It skips any mention of two titles that are not part of "The Amicus Collection" in Region One. Beyond these meaty features are still galleries, cast biographies, theatrical trailers, and a nice set of liner notes in the inside booklet. All in all this is a magical package for fans of the film and eccentric horror buffs.
Asylum is plain and simple frightening fun in the same vein as late night anthology shows, comics of the Warren or EC variety, or HBO series like Tales From the Crypt or The Hitchhiker. This approach has been around since the invention of entertainment, but it works every single time. If you love Trilogy of Terror, Asylum should be your next visit on DVD. It features a great cast, amusingly inventive stories, and a great wrap around plot to hang everything on.
Review content copyright © 2006 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Commentary by Director Roy Ward Baker and Cameraman Neil Binney
* Featurette Inside the Fear Factory
* Cast and Crew Biographies
* Theatrical Trailers
* Still Gallery