This is a bargain bin buy that turned out to be a decent find, It’s not a classic but one that I can probably watch again. It’s an anthology film that owes a debt to films like Asylum from Amicus Productions. It has a cast of experienced actors and they all get a chance to show what they can do in this exploration of madness.
Dr Stenson (Malcolm McDowell) is a psychiatrist in charge of a sanatorium. The linking theme is that he has three patients who have very strange stories which is a very loose way of linking them together. Each linking section has Stenson being contemplative and directly addressing the audience with his thoughts. This often felt a bit cheesy but it is usually short.
The first story Figuratively Speaking stars John Glover as Gustav Spieler, an artist who is barely sane and he has created creepy looking dioramas with articulated figures made of clay and is being lauded as a genius though they looked to me like the sort of highly stylized stop motion figures familiar from East European animation. Gustav is so unworldly that he completely relies on his close friends such as his assistant Mateo (Walter Perez) and his agent Sam (Robert Englund) to keep him alive, fed and medicated. He is apparently such a great success there are calls for him to take his creations to New York. His figures seem to come to life and whisper lies and fears into his ears that drive him to commit awful crimes. It’s a straightforward tale of betrayal and guilt and has a gimmicky little pay-off at the end.
The second story Monsters Are Real is introduced by having a medical student preparing a research paper looking for an interesting case study. Steven (David Mazouz) is normal eight year old boy who has an abusive relationship with his father (Chris Mulkey) who spends his time boozing at a strip club. While sitting in class of the concerned young teacher Ms Lorne (Lacey Chabert) he sees a hooded figure outside the window. He keeps seeing this figure stalking him and it turns out to be some sort of monster but is he real and is he there to hurt him or protect him? This story is fairly short but is definitely the film’s weakest and though there are dark hints at the abuse Steven is suffering it is not given enough time to develop it. The story has the little gimmicky ending again with the medical student and the now adult catatonic Steven.
The last story Up To The Last Man is the strongest and it stars Lou Diamond Phillips as university professor John Silo whose descent into madness is accompanied by a growing obsession with the story of a Mayan prophesy predicting the end of the world on December 21 2012. The story mainly features him alone in shelter that he had built and we see in flashbacks the gradual process of his alienation from the world as his students abandon his class and he loses his job and his family. He hears people pounding on the door of his shelter but he is sure everyone is dead and this is either his madness or the Annunaki, alien beings from the Demon Planet Nibiru predicted in prophesy. It has the most gimmicky ending leaking into the linking narrative but is more effectively worked into the story than in the other two stories.
This film has a modest budget so there is not really too much special effects and the gore is minimal. What is does have is some good actors and interesting writing as well as some wooden or downright hammy acting. This reminded me a lot of TV anthology series like Tales of the Unexpected or Twilight Zone and I would not be shocked to find out it was a pilot for such a series. It isn’t the most original film but it is fairly atmospheric and I liked it.