Roy Ward Baker
Peter Cushing as Mr. Smith
Britt Ekland as Lucy
Robert Powell as Dr. Martin
A psychiatrist, Dr. Martin, interviews for an opening at a hospital for the incurably insane, but unfortunately the head of the institution has recently gone insane himself. To test Martin’s psychiatric mettle the interim head, Dr. Rutherford, has Martin interview four patients. If he can determine which one is the former head of psychiatry he earns a job offer. Three disturbing tales from the mouths of the insane follow.
Asylum is one of the Amicus horror anthologies. Like their other collections, this film features popular actors (at the time) and creepy, though not altogether scary, plotlines. Gore lovers will be disappointed and some of the scares are a little cheesy. At one point, severed limbs are moving on their own cognizance in a rather comical manner. Yet, the tales are ghastly and bizarre. The conclusion is surprising and utterly twisted, as one would expect to find in… an asylum.
Each tale has a somewhat surprising outcome and contemporary horror has yet to produce a suitable comparison. Since the narrator is suspect in each one the viewer is uncertain where reality ends and the fantastic begins. In the first, a married man kills his wife and attempts to abscond with his young lover, but the corpse poses some unexpected challenges. In the second, horror mainstay, Peter Cushing, makes an appearance at the local tailor shop with a request for a rather unusual suit. In the third, a young woman is released from a drug rehabilitation clinic into the custody of her husband and a full time nurse before she is paid a visit from a mischievous friend.
This is one of those films that slowly catches the viewer. Its flavor may be acquired, especially if you don’t usually venture too far from contemporary horror. At points you may ask yourself, “Why am I wasting my time with this?” before something twisted and unexpected increases your curiosity. Horror Freaks will not find themselves scared, but intrigued and weirded out at times byAsylum, and the mood is deranged despite the overly dramatic musical theme.
Unfortunately, this is not a movie you can just sit back and be happily entertained by without a little appreciation for what it did for the genre. Although I would not call this film a classic, it is one of those building block films that helped bring together many of the essential elements of horror. Light on gore, but heavy on story, Asylum belongs in the same category as many Hammer Horror films, as its experimental approach helped fine tune and expand the formula for a decent horror flick.
A note on Amicus Studios for those of you unfamiliar with their run of horror hits: Amicus was the primary competitor of the Hammer Horror. Although they released some single plotline films the studio found a niche in horror anthologies. Hammer’s winning formula was vivid gore and sexuality. Amicus films specialized more in the strange, disturbing and unpredictable storylines.