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Review: Asylum

The atmosphere and theatrics of the Amicus presentation make it a more than worthwhile trip down memory lane for die-hard horror buffs.


Inspired by the success of such films as the 1945 classic Dead of Night, Amicus Productions geared up this low-budget horror anthology and delivered a fairly enjoyable offering. It has that peculiar, specifically British mordant taste for the good old-fashioned murder story, with stuffy husbands chopping up their wives in the basement and tidily arranging the pieces in the basement, or the Victorian fascination with lunatics and their mad tales of murderous alter egos, egomaniacal scientists creating voodoo dolls or magical items of clothing that bring the dead back to life. It’s all a bunch of hugger-bugger, but told with the right note of sly, perverse fascination by screenwriter Robert Bloch (who wrote the novel Psycho). The framing story sets the tone appropriately, following an intense young doctor (Robert Powell) applying for a job at a mental institution, and being asked to interview four inmates to deduct who was the former asylum director, now an inmate after a violent nervous breakdown. The casting couldn’t be better: Powell epitomizes bureaucratic arrogance, even as he’s warned that these lunatics are beyond treatment by a fellow doctor played by A Clockwork Orange’s great Patrick Magee, once again wheelchair bound and half-mad. Britt Ekland is a swinging psycho-babe and young Charlotte Rampling is her neurotic friend, practically chewing off her fingers in operatic fearfulness. The anthology stories themselves are admittedly pretty thin, and there’s nothing remotely scary about being chased around a room by slow moving, silly looking mechanical dolls and writhing severed limbs. (You could effortlessly kick them across the room!) When it comes to small monstrosities attacking larger-than-life humans, the high watermark of the genre remains Karen Black battling the African Zuni fetish doll in Trilogy of Terror. Asylum tries telling similar tales (twice) and comes up pathetically short in the scare department, but the atmosphere and theatrics of the Amicus presentation make it a more than worthwhile trip down memory lane for die-hard horror buffs.

Cast: Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Barry Morse, Barbara Parkins, Robert Powell, Charlotte Rampling Director: Roy Ward Baker Screenwriter: Robert Bloch Distributor: Cinerama Running Time: 89 min Rating: PG Year: 1972 Buy: Video

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