December 31, 2013
Bryan Ortiz, Kerry Valderrama, Scott Marcano, Evan Boston, James Hartz, Crystal Bratton
Bryan Ortiz, Bryan Ramierz and Kerry Valderrama
Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Stenson
Lou Diamond Phillips as James Silo
John Glover as Gustav
Robert Englund as Sam
David Mazouz as Steven
Lacey Chabert as Ms. Lorne
Chris Mulkey as Father
Mayra Leal as Isabelle
Sanitarium is either based on a comic, as in the Ravencroft Sanitarium for the criminally insane, that shows up in about 30 comics from ‘Spiderman’ to ‘Daredevil’, or it is the BASIS for a comic as evidenced by the first issue of the “Sanitarium” series purporting to be based on this anthology starring Malcolm McDowell.
Anthologies are a mixed blessing – they can either be a nice way to see horror vignettes that keep the interest level high, but on the downside they can offer too little detail or story development to allow for a complete emersion in the horror action. At their worst, they represent lazy filmmakers who didn’t want to go to the trouble of making sure that their story could hold interest for the entire feature length. In the case of Sanitarium, the purpose of the anthology is clear – residents of the nut house have stories that brought them to their straight-jacket laden domicile, and each of the vignettes tells the story of one of them.
Sanitarium is either based on a comic, as in the Ravencroft Sanitarium for the criminally insane, that shows up in about 30 comics from ‘Spiderman’ to ‘Daredevil’, or it is the BASIS for a comic as evidenced by the first issue of the “Sanitarium” series purporting to be based on this anthology starring Malcolm McDowell. Whatever the case, this installment includes stories about an artist who talks to his doll creations, a little boy with an abusive father who has an “imaginary” friend, and a college professor obsessed with the Mayan end of the world.
Not to be confused with “The Artist formerly known as Prince” who changed his name into an unpronounceable symbol (and then changed it back I think), this artist is a senior citizen with dreadlocks who creates creepy little dolls reminiscent of the characters in The Nightmare Before Christmas. These dolls have become very popular and catapult the artist to fame and fortune, but unfortunately they also talk to the artist and tell him to kill people who they say threaten to separate them. This segment features a cameo appearance by Robert Englund, who I imagine commands quite a fee for such appearances.
The interesting thing about this particular segment is that, being first, it wasn’t entirely clear thatSanitarium was supposed to be an anthology, so seemed to move along rather quickly and provide little more than surface character development. Once one gets in the swing of what’s happening, though, everything pretty much makes sense, but this first segment remains the weakest of the bunch due to a feeling we’re watching an episode of “Friday the 13th, the Series”, sans Robey with the huge red hair. The characters are weak, and the “grand reveal” is weak as well. It doesn’t really make sense that the one who ends up being in the sanitarium is the one behind it all. Anticlimatic.
The second vignette in the series is:
Much of the set-up of this segment is much like the tragic stories we’ve all heard of before: Shy child has an abusive father and lost his mother, but has a young and caring teacher trying to look after him. We do get a bit of preamble to this one via the wrap-around starring headliner Malcolm McDowell as Dr, Stenson, as his voice assures us that this case is one of the more troubling he’s come across. The nightmare of this child is the appearance of a foul-toothed being who threatens him randomly, but when that foe becomes a friend to assist in exacting revenge on those who’ve wronged him, all bets are off.
This segment is snappy, with enough tidbits of character development to give as much background as is possible in what amounts to a horror short. The performances of the father, son and teacher are all credible, and it is easy to feel sympathy for all involved as this one comes to it’s tragic end.
Third on the list is the Lou Diamond Phillips vignette:
A college professor teaching a class on the Mayan calendar and predictions becomes obsessed with the end of the world coming in 2012.
The first notable of this segment is the performance by Lou Diamond Phillips, previously known for his role in La Bamba years ago. Phillips is absolutely tremendous, playing the part of a man with a growing obsession that drives him insane to a tee. Based on Phillips performance alone, this is the stand-out of the series, hands down. The concept is good as well, with the dip to insanity playing those cards of doubt, leaving the audience to wonder what’s real and what is a conjuring of this man’s imagination. This is an excellent segment with, again, a tragic end.
The wrap around is relatively weak, with McDowell playing the lead doctor of this sanitarium and serving as our guide through the backgrounds of the in habitants.
It appears that the intent of Sanitarium is to spawn a comic series that will get more and more gruesome, thereby inspiring a sequel and perhaps a franchise. If that is to happen, they’re going to have to do a lot better on future releases than the freshman effort. This is a marginally entertaining film that doesn’t make much of a stand, and isn’t particularly memorable. It seems the thinking is that with headliners like Malcolm McDowell and Robert Englund, it’s not quite so necessary to make it amazing. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if this little foray into horror doesn’t mark the beginning of a comeback for Phillips – he definitely went the extra mile.