Sony // 2003 // 85 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 13th, 2004
Everyone pays for their sins.
Who would have thought an infamous insane asylum in the middle of nowhere, shrouded by darkness and run by a bizarre doctor who talks in a creepy voice, wouldn't be all that nice a place?
Director Phil Jones wastes little time getting into the thick of it. The opening scene finds a hapless doctor screaming and wailing and tied to an altar. From the shadows a giant demon with blazing red eyes emerges, shoots out lightning that looks like something I generated on my Commodore 64, and sucks the soul out of the doc.
Time passes, and we meet James Bishop (Matt Stasi), a young psychiatrist joining St. Andrews Asylum for the Criminally Insane to fulfill his residency. Bishop is an idealistic doctor, determined to make a difference in the lives of those with tortured minds. However, Dr. McCort (Bruce Payne), the enigmatic head doctor, holds a more cynical worldview, believing that his patients are thoroughly evil and without merit.
The tension between Bishop and his boss increases when a body turns up with a strange burned imprint in his chest. Bishop tries to pursue the mystery, but Dr. ________ stands as an impediment.
Joined by the crazy janitor and another patient, a giant, blind man (Tony "Tiny" Lister), Bishop slowly -- and I mean slowly -- unravels the secret behind St. Andrews, and the truth behind a demon called The Harvester.
Asylum of the Damned didn't make me hate my life in the 85 minutes I devoted to it. That's a compliment, right? For a low-budget, no-name flick, it delivered a fairly okay story, some fun creature effects, and batch of gleeful over (and under) acting.
The best part of the movie is The Harvester monster. Lamentably, this nifty creature is reduced to more of a cameo, but I applaud the costume effects, and certainly prefer it over some kind of pathetic stab at CGI.
In fact, the grunts and snarls emitted from The Harvester represented the finest acting in the film. Matt Stasi is as wooden as a pressure-treated 2x4. On the flipside, Payne's sinister doctor is overacted like a champ. From the smarmy speeches and the dripping air of superiority, this guy just unloads fully into evil doctor man.
The story itself seems little less than a super-sized Tales from the Crypt episode, complete with a predictable ending and a really no-shock reveal of the villains. Heck, we see the Big Bad in the first five minutes of the movie.
Thankfully, the whole affair is short, but too much exposition shortchanges the climax and leads to an outrageous cop-out ending that makes no sense. It seems like something vomited out of a freshman creative writing class. In the end, Asylum of the Damned, despite its brevity, feels much longer than it actually is.
The movie looks nice in some places and not-so-nice in others. The dark sequences suffer the most, as the picture gets grainy and the colors wash out. But a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is duly appreciated and goes a long way toward lifting the film a few meters out of the Z-movie realm. A surprisingly strong 5.1 Dolby Digital track accompanies and manages to squeeze some atmosphere out of this movie.
Trailers are it for bonuses.
So is this disc worth a spin? You won't be damned if you don't, but you won't be damned if you do either.
The court cannot unequivocally recommend it, but there are worse fates than Asylum of the Damned.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R