Asylum (1972)


Peter Cushing and Herbert Lom appear in a mixed quality Amicus anthology horror, from director Roy Ward Baker. ABUK R2 boxset release

The Film

Dr. Martin arrives at a remote insane asylum intending to meet Dr. Starr for a job interview, but is greeted instead by a Dr. Rutherford who informs him that Dr. Starr has recently gone mad and changed his personality completely. Rutherford sets him a challenge, to listen to the stories of four patients in the asylum and work out which one used to be Dr. Starr. Frozen Fear: the first patient calls herself Bonnie, her lover Walter (Richard Todd) is planning to kill his wife so they can run away together but after chopping her up and putting her in the freezer, he discovers that parts of her are coming back to life to get revenge. In The Weird Taylor, the clothesmaker Bruno receives an odd commission from a mysterious man calling himself Smith (Peter Cushing) to construct a suit of an unusual fabric and only to work at certain hours of the night in accordance with the stars. Lucy Comes to Stay - Barbara has finally been let out of hospital and returns home with her brother, but when her old friend Lucy (Britt Ekland) arrives and tries to help her escape, the problems start again. The final patient is known as Byron (Herbert Lom) and in Mannequins of Horror he shows Dr. Martin the strange robots that he has made. Fed up of the game, Martin goes down to see Dr. Rutherford, but before he can make his guess, he discovers that Byron is more dangerous than they suspected...

By the mid-1970s Hammer Films were in decline, with their gothic horror films now passť, but Amicus were enjoying their most fruitful period, with a string of well received horror films, of which Asylum would be their most profitable. The film follows the usual pattern with a link story and four episodes, although this time the final episode is only very brief and becomes part of the climax to the link story (meaning that the main stories get the longest running times of any of the Amicus anthology features). The stories are from writer Robert Bloch (who also provided the screenplay for the Amicus anthologies The House that Dripped Blood (1970) and Torture Garden (1967)) and parts two and three certainly rank among the better anthology episodes Amicus produced.

The Wierd Taylor is a very original and quite unpredictable storyline with some unexpected twists, while Lucy Comes to Stay is not the most original but will certainly keep the audience guessing and the denouement is very effective. Both episodes are clearly written with the portmanteau format in mind and are well paced. The same cannot be said for the first story which drags on too slowly and despite some effective tension in a couple of scenes is completely ruined by the sight of the moving limbs, which cannot help but look completely daft. The final part is equally ineffective and despite a good idea it is completely undeveloped - it seems to exist only to provide a cameo role for actor Herbert Lom. The link story is one of the better thought out in the Amicus cycle, providing a convincing reason for us to hear the four stories and for their bizarre nature, although the start does drag on a little and the ending is not the best.

Director Roy Ward Baker is often criticised for his workmanlike direction, but he does a very good job here with some interesting and atmospheric camera angles (most notably in The Weird Taylor) and a fantastically bizarre sequence near the opening with some woodcut images of insanity from the 17th Century. The Amicus Hand and the rest of the body appear in the first story, and look as cheesy as ever, sadly Baker (or the producers) didn't follow the old principle of what you can't see being more scary and we get a good long look at these mechanised crawlers, completely destroying any tension that the episode might have held. The most distinctive part of the soundtrack is the bombastic use of Mussorgsky in the opening sequences while Amicus regular Douglas Gamley provides the rest of the score which is effective if unimpressive.

The anthology format is used to its maximum here to give the film two big name stars with a total of only three days filming between them. Peter Cushing was an Amicus regular, appearing in 12 of their 13 horror titles, he gets one of his shorter appearances here and gets little to do except look mysterious, but still puts on a good show. Herbert Lom gets an even shorter role, requiring about 10 lines of dialogue and a few moody shots and doesn't look very excited. Richard Todd (a popular war movie star in the 1950s, best known for his lead role in Dambusters (1955)) appears in the first story, with a fantastic voice, but a rather disinterested attitude. Widely travelled Patrick Magee gets a brief role as Dr. Rutherford while a young Robert Powell makes one of his first film appearances as Dr. Martin. The best performances in the film certainly come from Britt Ekland and Charlotte Rampling in part three, both of whom really help to build the atmosphere and mystery in the story.

Asylum boasts two good stories and two that are distinctly average, along with a good link story. Despite the presence of two big names on the cast, neither gets very much to do, while the production is like the film as a whole - servicable but with nothing to particularly recommend it. One for Amicus fans, but there are better places for newcomers to start.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Peter Cushing - The iconic British horror star who later went on to appear in Star Wars (1977).
Herbert Lom - Prague born actor known for his range of roles from Pink Panther to Mark of the Devil.
Directed by anyone interesting? Roy Ward Baker - the British director best known for the impressive Titanic film A Night to Remember (1958) who also shot several Hammer films, including the well made Quatermass and the Pit (1967).
Any gore or violence ? Nothing vivid.
Any sex or nudity? None.
Is it scary? There are a couple of scenes that might prove a little scary, but not to hardered horror fans.
Who is it for? One for Amicus fans, but not for newcomers.


The DVD
Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print is generally good, some light damage and grain.
Audio English original mono sounds good, plus rather unnecessary 5.1 and DTS remixes.
Subtitles None.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio commentary with director Roy Ward Baker and cameraman Neil Binney, plus Hammer expert Marcus Hearn. Full of interesting stories about making the film.
  • Inside the Fear Factory - a documentary about Amicus including contributions from Max Rosenberg, Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker, illustrated with clips from the films. Interesting although it could have gone on a lot longer. (25 minutes)
  • Photo and stills gallery, manual scrolling, runs to 44 images.
  • Text notes about the film, plus biographies of Baker, Cushing and writer Robert Bloch.
Availability Only available in the Anchor Bay UK Amicus Collection boxset.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Available on DVD from Dark Sky in the US, including the audio commentary, and a slightly cut version of the Fear Factory documentary, running to 19 minutes (missing clips from a couple of films due to rights issues), but with a theatrical trailer not present on this R2 disc.
Cuts? Fully uncut. The print used is English langauge.

Summary

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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 3rd September 2007. Part of Horror September 2
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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