Asylum

Discussion in 'DVDs' started by rkellner, Oct 17, 2016.

  1. rkellner

    rkellner Active Member

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    [​IMG]


    [​IMG] Reviewer: rkellner
    Review Date: October 16, 2016

    Released by: Dark Sky Films
    Release date: 7/25/2006
    MSRP: $19.98 (Buy now at Amazon and help support the site)
    Region Free
    Progressive Scan
    Codec: MPEG2, 480p
    Widescreen 1.77:1 (16x9)
    1972

    “Never Turn Your Back on a Patient”

    When a movie opens up with Mussorgsky’s no f’n around classic orchestra tune, Night on Bald Mountain, it gets your attention. Now, the question is, does it KEEP your attention? Does the content of what is about to follow across multiple different horror shorts in this early Amicus anthology outing add up that to a sum that is greater than its parts? Well, you should at least put a bit of faith in Amicus, the house of anthology horror films which at this point had released such portmanteau horror films as Dr. Terrors House of Horrors (1965), Torture Garden (1967), and Tales from the Crypt (1972).

    The Story

    inline Image The movie opens with a young psychiatrist, Dr. Martin (Robert Powell also in British genre fare like The Asphyx and Tommy) interviewing at Dunsmoor Asylum for a role as a full time staff member. He soon learns that in this institution, one of the chief psychiatrists, Dr. Starr has just been committed himself or herself after the pressures of the job became too much. If Dr. Martin can identify this person out of a group of crazy mental patients, he will have proven himself capable and can have the job that he is interviewing for. Thus, playing the role of an amateur Sherlock Holmes, the game is afoot.

    [Reviewer’s Note: Much like my review of the Amicus horror anthology Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, summarizing these short tales and giving them context and plot-specific commentary is extremely difficult without talking about spoiler elements. Consider yourselves warned.]

    inline Image The first tale is one of martial tryst. Walter has a problem with his wife. She has decided to make his life hell, and refuses to grant him a divorce. So Walter takes matters into his own hands so to say, and hacks her up to tidy little pieces. However, where the movie goes from there is a fun macabre treat. The crawling body parts in this are a hoot and are effective looking enough to be creepy, but still laugh out loud cheezy at times. I can only assume that Sam Raimi is a fan of this one with its mix of body horror, reanimated limbs, and some comic slapstick. Overall grade: 4 screams out of 5

    inline Image The next tale involves a broke tailor. He is a week away from being evicted when in walks Peter Cushing in all his genre glory, wanting the tailor to create a custom suit of the most fantastic, glowing, iridescent material which for reasons unknown, is to be tailored to be worn by his son whom we don’t get to meet. To make this situation more odd are the highly detailed and unusual instructions that accompany the creation of the garment which read like something out of an old occult instruction manual. Once this jacket is completed, the tailor is left to contemplate what an unusual suit like this may actually be for. It is a bit odd that this follows up the first tale as their supernatural payoffs end up being in the same vein. 4 screams out of 5.

    inline Image The third tale is of an attractive young woman who comes home after some form of mental breakdown. The happiness to be back in her home that she knows is quickly vanquished when her brother introduces her new live in nurse. From the family’s perspective, this will ensure that she can always be supervised and cease to be a danger to herself or others around her; however, the nurse that they appointed is suddenly called away and a vivacious Lucy, played by Britt Ekland (a year before her sultry turn in The Wicker Man) is waiting for her upstairs. While having Britt as your personal nurse likely ranked high at the time on many men’s (and presumably women’s) wish lists, it turns out that Lucy is there to convince her to escape the house with a diabolical plan that she has devised. The final twist of this is pretty easy to see and should come as no surprise to those seasoned in the genre, but it is a fun path to take nonetheless. 3 screams out of 5.

    inline Image The wrap around plot conclusion is tied in very nicely with the last tale which involves a patient that believes he can imbue some cheap looking Puppet Master-esque dolls with a human soul…and then control them with his mind. The “Sherlock Holmes” (or in this case, more aptly Dr. Watson) hook of this entire wrap around is really creative and well thought out as the tales don’t just flow one to the other randomly with an easy device of something like someone playing a new VHS tape or turning a page or turning over a new card. This of course stands as a huge contrast to the vast majority horror movie anthology tales, both vintage and modern, that are bookended by the weakest and loosest of story telling threads linking the beginning and ending story. We won’t name titles here, but they know who they are… There are some connecting threads among all the stories here, and the viewer who has watched a couple anthology horror movies before will find it quite refreshing that the last tale plays concurrently with the wrap around story. I am actually struggling to think of a time when another anthology did something like that save for the granddaddy horror anthology, Dead of Night. It is an interesting use of the anthology/short story literary device and I find it interesting that even at this early point, Amicus was content with playing with the conventions and rules of anthology story telling which they themselves helped to pioneer, or at the very least, resurrect. Final Story/Wraparound score: 3.5 screams out of 5.

    inline Image The tales in this story were written by Robert Bloch which I must confess is not an individual that I knew anything about, despite having trivia on hundreds of people involved in horror cinema tucked somewhere deep in the recesses of my brain. Well, it turns out that I need to create a new wrinkle for Robert since he is a really interesting individual (thank you Wikipedia!) As a teenager in the 30’s he was a huge fan of pulpy science fiction and horror literature, and not only began a correspondence with H.P. Lovecraft, but started to publish his own short stories in publications of the time like Marvel Tales and Weird Tales. Many of these tales were in fact extensions of the Cthulhu mythos developed by H.P. Lovecraft himself. Lovecraft would then reciprocate and make Bloch a main character of some of his stories such as The Haunter of the Dark (1936) which involves the fate of a man named Robert Blake. In fact, the two authors would both write stories where authors inspired by one another are killed off in grizzly fashions (how cool is that?). After Lovecraft’s death in 1937, Bloch would focus on further horror genre tales, but started moving to other media such as radio in the 40’s where he wrote dozens of short tales that were produced for a horror radio show called Stay Tuned for Horror. He then moved into writing novels in the 1950’s and some more short stories. However, this hit a zenith with the publication of his novel Psycho (yes, THAT Psycho) in 1959. In the 1960’s he started writing for TV horror anthologies such as Thriller and Alfred Hitchcock Presents writing close to a dozen episodes for each. He then graduated to movie scripts such as William Castle directed films Strait-Jacket (1964) and Night Walker (1964) as well as the Amicus produced horror film The Skull (1965) which starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. He would go onto become Amicus’s go-to anthology writer with films like Torture Garden, The House that Dripped Blood, and Asylum to his credit. See, you learn something new every day!

    inline Image The film was directed by Roy Ward Baker, a prolific British director of film with such genre credits to his name as A Night to Remember, Five Million Years to Earth, The Vampire Lovers, Scars of Dracula, The Vault of Horror, Legend of 7 Golden Vampires, The Monster Club, as well as TV episodes of cult classics like The Saint and The Avengers. Here, we find Roy in his horror cycle sandwiched between his work for Hammer Horror and Amicus horror anthologies. All the direction here is strong and done by someone who has an eye for tension, interesting angles and emotive lighting.

    All together this is an extremely worthy entry into the horror anthology cycle and easily ranks in the upper echelon of the Amicus anthology films.

    Image Quality

    inline Image Dark Sky Films put out this DVD edition back in 2006 which they claim is transferred in HD from original 35mm materials. The results are pleasing, but a decade after the fact, it begs for a blu ray follow up. The print here is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen print. It looks quite nice with good colors, black levels, accurate skin tones, and a bit of film grain. Granted, with my large set up and becoming accustomed to 1080p blu ray presentations, it is hard to judge the merits of a strong DVD anymore, but it still looks extremely nice in motion, at least until the inevitable blu ray comes out.

    Sound

    The Dolby Digital mono mix on here gets the job done, but shows some flaws along the way. While most of the dialog is strong, there are sections where there is some distortion in the track.

    Supplemental Material

    Being a special edition, one would hope there were some good value adds to the set, and this is no exception. The disk kicks off with a Blue Underground created feature ported over from an older Region 2 release entitled “Inside the Fear Factory”. This is a 20 minute long featurette covering lots of great aspects of the two pillars of British Horror in the late 60’s and early 70’s, Hammer and Amicus. This extra contains conversations with two of their best directors, Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker as well as the co-founder of Amicus, Max Rosenberg as they discuss the genesis of some classic horror films, getting the production company off the ground, and some details on their films.

    There is also a good commentary on here which is moderated and features Roy Baker and camera operator Neil Binney that is ported over form an old Anchor Bay PAL release. They cover technical aspects of the film and occasionally go down the rabbit hole of anecdotes about those involved in the film.

    This DVD also contains the British trailer for this film, as well as TV trailers for And Now the Screaming Starts and The Beast Within as well as a photo gallery and text bios of some of the main people involved in making the film.

    Final Thoughts

    This movie is very intriguing in the context of horror movie anthologies. Up until this point there was the amazing Dead of Night (1945), some great early works by Mario Bava (Black Sabbath, 1963) and Roger Corman (Tales of Terror, 1962) as well as the award winning Japanese entry Kwaidan, 1964. By this point Amicus was a couple anthologies deep into the game and coming out with one about every year to build their brand of horror. However, what makes this stand out and remain a fan favorite of the micro-genre is the structure of the narrative and how it segues from tale to tale, as well as how it all wraps up. This is indicative of a company that is TRYING to break the anthology mold and liven things up, and in that regard they largely succeed.

    Rating

    [​IMG] Movie B

    Image Quality - B+

    Sound - B-

    Supplements - B+


    Technical Info.
    • Color
    • 1 Disc
    • Dolby Digital Mono
    Supplements
    • Inside The Fear Factory featurette
    • Commentary
    • Trailers
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 17, 2016
  2. maybrick

    maybrick Well-Known Member

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    What a bizarre coincidence. I just barely finished rewatching this movie 45 minutes ago. :)

    Despite needing a blu ray upgrade, Dark Sky's DVD is light years beyond the older Image release.
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2016
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  3. Harry Warden

    Harry Warden Well-Known Member

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    I also understand that the Image release was edited in some way. When I was looking for Asylum, a friend of mine who orders films for the store in Pittsburgh that I shop at told me to avoid the Image release. He new Dark Sky would be releasing the unedited film. Glad I waited.
     
  4. maybrick

    maybrick Well-Known Member

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    The Image DVD was from a video source with the original title screen replaced, presumably to remove the copyright info for "public domain" release.
     
  5. Erick H.

    Erick H. Well-Known Member

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    ASYLUM is one of my favorite Amicus anthologies and features my favorite of their wraparound segments. Great cast !
     

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