Feb 6, 2011


So begins my initiation rite into the oeuvre of Amicus Productions, the company that rivals Hammer Film in style but not composition. I had long seen the unforgettable poster art of Asylum and had the picturesque image of a packaged head immersed in my memory banks. Up until today, I had the film trapped in a queue hell of sorts, that seems to shuffle priority often. After viewing a very similar film but a few months ago, Tales that Witness Madness, and being floored by several of the shorts, I decided to apprehend Asylum with the very same unwillingness I had shown its unrelated companion. Upon revelation of the film's basic guideline, I immediately sunk into what felt like a thematic whirlpool towards Švankmajer's excellent sanitarium picture, Lunacy. The construct of the "framing story" is quite simple and meandering to the tales that await our ensemble cast.  The story follows such; a young psychiatrist enters a secluded sanitarium with hopes of a prospering job only to find a sinister game in which begs him to meet & greet four patients and determine which used to be the authoritarian figure before an uprising at the funny farm.

The first short up for trial is Frozen Fear. By proxy, Frozen Fear is the casual "dead lover comes back" tale that you've seen in near every portmanteau film of any age. In this tiny picture, a husky senior prepares to hack his gorgeous free-spirited wife into pieces, only after learning of her boding, yet still innocent, shamanism. After the grisly deed is done, Walter suddenly is attacked by the tidily disposed of heiress while the surviving loony takes the fall after a terrifying instance of animated appendages damages her psyche and ironically, her face as well. After all, Bonnie was the woman Walter was leaving Ruth for, who in actuality, seemed like an oppressive, yet, endearing power-hungry lass who possessed unearthly beauty, as well as vocal cords. I suppose my entrapment within the miserable chafe experienced by most, if not all, anthology films could be summed up to the neatly packaged brown paper parcel figures containing once erotic flesh. The delicate task of wrapping Ruth's pretty little head with butcher knots elevates this eroded piece of introductory horror into an experience invigorating though easily forgettable, especially in comparison with the later tales. But as it stands, I take great pride in the flaccid two-dimensional character Walter as he and I both share a similar taste in women and brandy. 

The second tale finds Peter Cushing in his stoic skeletal prime requesting an unusual suit from an impoverished tailor. Given very specific instructions, Bruno is supplied with effervescent material in which to craft a suit, but only past the stroke of midnight is he to work. The stipulations apply direct stress to Bruno's marriage that is suffering in part to the wife's loneliness. Her needy nature coincides to the fate of one Mr. Bruno and lands him incarcerated within a mental institution for the incurably insane. Our lead character, Dr. Martin, so humbly believes in psychotherapy and rationalization to all events deemed otherworldly by diseased minds. It's his job to filter truth from fiction and fact from fantasy and this is the adhesive coating to all these stories within. After Bruno explains his story to the noticeably bewildered Dr. Martin, Bruno begs the good doctor to find "Otto". One would think that spotting a large mannequin wearing an illuminated suit wouldn't be too difficult a task, not even in part to his peeling facial features. The Weird Tailor is unlike most tales that I've seen in these portmanteau films as it beckons originality. Author Robert Bloch's stories of horror translate well from the realms of reality to ideals slightly more grounded in grim parables of monsters and murder.

Afterwards, our next story is revealed in the shape of a young, nubile Charlotte Rampling plays Barbara, a neurotic heiress who, upon release from an asylum, is imprisoned within her own house by her loving brother and a portly nurse. This leads her to reuniting with a friend named Lucy, who is brought upon by the pills that Barbara consumes hungrily as if they were bits of hard candy. Lucy Comes to Stay is perhaps the worst of the Asylum tales but continues to show effort placing it into the genre of murder mystery. For the sheer femininity of it all, Lucy Comes to Stay is the typical bad-girl RX fantasy you witness in such films as Girl, Interrupted in which pseudo-lesbian relationships clash with the stupidity of it all. The vanity of Barbara's character is revealed after the story is told as she smiles to Lucy in the mirror, the misguided hormones winding into a tornado of self-assessment and utter satiation. The final short film takes place at the current coordinates of Dr. Martin, within his own reality as well, for his unbelieving eyes to witness. Still not quite sure who Dr. Starr is, Martin meets the final patient, Dr. Byron, and his collection of miniature automatons built with supposed organic viscera and the capacity to will ones mind within the tiny bodies.

This is the default "tiny terror" story that winds up in most films of this caliber but you won't find a complaint out of me. These films of sinister puppetry tickle my fancy in ways that undercooked psychopath dramas will never have the pleasure of doing. As several Amicus horror pictures seem to embrace, Asylum is but one of the strange style of "Choose your own adventure" novels that Amicus breeds, according to the synopsis of The Beast Must Die. The tales within Asylum are refreshing and morbid, embracing modern gothic with varying aesthetics. The Weird Tailor being the most accomplished in art direction as the dark cobblestone streets are rivaled by a suit that emits an eerie glow. Asylum is an excellent entry in horror anthology but I feel more partial to Tales that Witness Madness as the framing story was genuinely surprising and ultimately featured more variety of horrific tales. It's a shame that Max Rosenberg, co-president of Amicus Productions, didn't favor film as much as the directors he employed showed. In an interview collected in a featurette called Inside the Fear Factory, Max Rosenberg admits having "no emotional investment in this kind of filmmaking and I did it to make money." Which he did, following the release of Asylum, with Tales from the Crypt.


1 comment:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Barbara Parkins (as she was in 1960 when she was 18, not as she is now obviously) she was so stunningly beautiful back in those days. She was also the only American in this film so by definition she was the only good thing about it. So you had a thing for 1972 but instead of reveiwing Wes Cravens original "Last House On The Left" you opted for this British made rubbish, shame on you.