Director – Roy Ward Baker
Cast – Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Barry Morse, Barbara Parkins, Robert Powell, Charlotte Rampling, Sylvia Syms, Richard Todd, James Villers, Geoffrey Bayldon, Ann Firbank, Megs Jenkins, John Franklyn-Robbins
Release Year – 1972
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Amicus attained fame in the anthology sub-genre by giving us seven well known anthologies centering on the popular EC horror comics, and Asylum is one of the most accomplished. We are provided four tales of terror that provide not only positive horror but engaging storylines that I found interesting and creepy. The stories come written by author of the Psycho novel that inspired Hitchcock’s classic, Robert Bloch, who adapted these stories from his own short stories. As with most enjoyable horror films the direction must match or improve on the film’s story, and thanks to positive execution from director Roy Ward Baker (The Vault of Horror) I was left with an experience that I was very happy to be a part of.
The story takes off quickly and gives us a creative take on our protagonist by having him fulfill an odd request in order to be awarded the position of Head Doctor at a secluded asylum for the “incurably insane”. His task – interview four of the asylum’s inmates and determine which of them is Dr. Starr, the former Head Doctor of the asylum who underwent a complete mental breakdown.
The first segment is “Frozen Fear”, where inmate Bonnie recounts her plot to murder the wealthy wife of her lover, Walter. Their murderous plan goes through as follows and the chop her up into pieces and put her in a deep freezer, but the wife’s fascination with voodoo pays off when she comes back from the dead for revenge. I really enjoyed this segment and found it pretty creepy when the wife resurrected, piece by piece, and began attaining her vengeance while still wrapped in butcher’s paper. The direction is top notch and the creepiness reigns high.
Next up is “The Weird Tailor”. Inmate Bruno recounts how slow business and a landlord demanding rent money forced him to accept the unusual request of the eccentric Mr. Smith (Peter Cushing) to tailor an elaborate suit of clothing from a mysterious yet beautiful piece of fabric. Eventually Bruno learns that this fabric has the ability to bring life to whatever it touches, and Mr. Smith’s plans for it involve a resurrection that Bruno wants no part of. This again was an interesting tale that had me engaged from the get-go. The acting performances are very good and Baker’s direction is dead-on, and the horror that erupts during the final sequence equates to one of the best scenes in the entire film.
The third segment is “Lucy Comes To Stay”. Inmate Barbara tells Dr. Martin that she has been in an asylum before, and after her release she was closely monitored at home by her brother George and a stay-in nurse. Feeling cramped and unable to achieve the freedom she desires, her frustration is alleviated when her mischievous friend Lucy pays her a visit and bodies begin to fall. This was my least favorite story in the film, but that is not to say it lacks its horror. Unlike the other films this one does not rely on the supernatural for scares but instead uses mental delusions, and that is why I did not find it as creepy as the rest. The execution is positive and the storyline works, but in the end this was the weakest entry of the bunch.
Next up is the fourth and final segment, “Mannikins of Horror”. Dr. Martin interviews his final patient, Dr. Byron, who holds a deep contempt for the owner of the institution, Dr. Rutherford. Byron explains that he is working towards soul transference with a small mannequin whose head is a likeness of his own, and plans to “will” his mannequin to life just as God did to Adam when he created Man, and use the mannequin to do his evil bidding against Dr. Rutherford. I really enjoyed this story because I have always found mannequins creepy and these were even creepier because it was not just lifelike, it was ALIVE. This story plays into the prologue which leaves Dr. Martin realizing he made a huge mistake showing up for the employment opportunity when a huge twist is revealed. Some may think I just added a huge spoiler to this review, but the climaxes to these films are so darn predictable you would have predicted it yourself early on.
Overall, Asylum is a fantastic horror anthology that gives us four positive tales with the majority of them being downright creepy. The writing is engaging and makes for stories that keep your attention and Baker’s direction is solid and delivers good scares. You cannot ask for much more as far as an anthology goes, and the Bloch/Baker duo give us an experience I highly suggest you give a watch to.