Review: Asylum

23 Nov

This is another one of Amicus Productions‘ portmanteau films featuring a blend of stories written by Robert Bloch. It has a brilliant cast which is very typical of Amicus Productions films. The music in this film is particularly striking with a great deal of the highly energetic music of Mussorgsky featuring throughout the film.

The film opens with the highly familiar Night on Bald Mountain as a car drives up to the Dunsmoor Asylum. This heralds the arrival of Dr Martin (Robert Powell), a young psychiatrist who is applying for a position at the asylum. He hoping to be interviewed by Dr B. Starr who runs the asylum but is instead introduced to his assistant Dr Rutherford (Patrick Magee). Dr Rutherford is confined to a wheelchair after being injured by one of the patients at the hospital. Specifically he was injured by Dr Starr who has gone mad and is now a patient at his own hospital. Rutherford tells Martin that Starr has a new personality and offers the young doctor a challenge to identify which of the patients was formerly Dr Starr and if Martin is right he has the job. Martin is sent up on his own, since Rutherford can’t go upstairs, where the orderly Reynolds (Geoffrey Bayldon) will show him each of the patients.

The first patient is a woman called Bonnie (Barbara Parkins). Martin had made a sexist assumption that Dr Starr was a man but Rutherford points out that he never said if Dr Starr was a man or woman. Bonnie does not face Martin as she tells her story called Frozen Fear. Bonnie is the lover of Walter (Richard Todd), a weak man trapped in a loveless marriage by archaic divorce laws. His wife Ruth (Sylvia Syms) won’t divorce him, seemingly out of spite so Walter and Bonnie have come up with a plan. Walter tricks Ruth into coming down to the basement to show her a new freezer he’s just bought. Then he kills her with an axe and chops her body up. He wraps the bits up in brown paper and stores them in the new freezer. He also tosses in a protective talisman she had received from her guru.

Later Walter sees the head rolling around on its own in the kitchen and tosses his brandy bottle at it but it’s gone just as suddenly. He goes down to the basement and sees the freezer lid open. When he goes to check on it the arms seize him by the throat and choke him. Bonnie arrives at the house later and can’t see any sign of Walter. She eventually tries the basement which is empty. Bonnie looks in the freezer and finds Walter lying dead. She also finds herself surrounded by animated body parts. Bonnie finds the axe and tries to use it to attack the hand that grabs at her face from above. Back at asylum she turns and shows her face to Martin with the scars where she hit herself with the axe. Martin gives her mental state a name and then he is satisfied to banish tale to realm of delusion. He tries to get information from Reynolds but he’s been instructed to tell him nothing until he decides who Dr Starr is.

The next patient is Bruno (Barry Morse) who sits obsessively miming the motions of stitching clothes This segment is called The Weird Tailor which is more like a working title than something you’d call a short story. He is tailor and he no longer gets enough business to pay his rent. His landlord gives him five more days to find money to pay his rent or he’ll have to leave. Just then he gets a customer, a strange old man called Mr Smith (Peter Cushing) who wants a special suit made for his son from a fantastic cloth he supplies. This cloth glows and shimmers in shifting colours. The instructions for the suit are as much about astrological timings as about the design of the suit. Bruno promises to have it ready in four days.

Four days later Bruno delivers the suit to Mr Smith. He asks for the money but Smith confesses he is broke  having spent all his money on a rare book of magic spells. Bruno discovers Smith’s son is dead and the suit is part of spell to bring him back to life. Bruno refuses to hand over the suit and Smith pulls a gun on him but Bruno attacks him and in the struggle Smith is shot dead. Bruno flees back to his shop with book and the suit

Bruno tells his wife Anna to destroy the suit but finds that instead she has dressed the shop dummy in the suit. Bruno insist that they have to destroy the book and the suit. His dummy then comes to life and attacks him and  the story ends. Once more Reynolds refuse to give any more information.

The third room is another female patient called Barbara (Charlotte Rampling) who insists she shouldn’t be there. She tells her story in segment called Lucy Comes to Stay. Barbara is being taken home by her brother George (James Villiers) after a period of time staying in a psychiatric hospital. Barbara asks about her friend Lucy but George doesn’t want to talk about her. When they get home Lucy is introduced to Nurse Higgins who has been hired by George to take care of Barbara. The nurse puts her to bed with sedative but Barbara is tired of being treated like a patient. She finds some pills that she had hidden away and takes one. It is then that Lucy (Britt Ekland) appears, concerned that George has practically imprisoned Barbara. She has sent the nurse on a wild goose chase to London with fake call about her mother. Lucy promises to return that night and help her to escape.

When Lucy returns she drugs George with some sedative intended for Barbara and tells Barbara to get ready to leave. She goes downstairs with large pair of scissors to cut the phone line while Barbara gets dressed. Meanwhile Nurse Higgins returns to house and she finds George lying dead in his chair, a pair of scissors stuck in his chest. She goes up to check on Barbara and Lucy stabs her with knife. Back at the asylum Barbara is finishing her story and explaining that it was Lucy not her that killed them. Martin asks if he can talk talk to Lucy and and Barbara points at Lucy in the mirror, or where she sees Lucy but Martin only sees Barbara.

The last room is a patient called Byron (Herbert Lom) who is a doctor. This segment is called Mannikins of Horror and takes place in the hospital in the present. Byron is a doctor before he was admitted to the hospital. He has created strange dolls made up of simple toy robot bodies with carved heads of real people. He has also created one of himself and his obsessed withe idea that by concentration he can transfer his consciousness into the doll.

Martin returns to Rutherford expressing his dismay that the patients have simply been labelled incurable and locked away without treatment. Rutherford think that the best treatment is lobotomy which really shocks Martin. Neither of men notice the doll with Byron’s head come up behind Rutherford, pick up a scalpel and plunge it into the back of Rutherford’s head. Rutherford falls down dead and Martin sees the doll. He throws it on the floor and crushes it with his foot. The broken doll oozes blood and organs like it was alive and there is a scream from upstairs. Martin rushes up and Reynolds tells him that Byron is dead, his body crushed.

You may notice I have not revealed who Dr Starr was but why spoil it? It is an interesting mix of stories since although some can dismissed as delusion that is not the case with Byron’s story since it takes place in front of the highly sceptical Dr Martin. Amicus films often have a story that is a bit more comedic than the others but that really doesn’t happen in this film and there’s certainly no story with a happy ending. It is not a favourite of mine but it is still a fun watch if you like British 70s horror films.

Rating 7/10

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Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Film


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