"Asylum" is a movie that has five stories within it. The first story is the over arching narrative of a young psychiatrist, Dr Martin (Robert Powell), who has come to the asylum for a job interview.
He is then informed by a Dr. Rutherford (Patrick Magee) that the doctor who had assigned him the interview, Dr. Starr has gone insane and created a false personality for himself. Martin says that he should easily be able to identify Starr with his condition even though the other inmates are suffering from the same condition. Rutherford then challenges Martin to back up his bravado stating that if he can identify Dr. Starr then he will get the job. Martin accepts and proceeds to interview the inmates and hears their stories as to why they are in the asylum. The stories are 1) A woman whose brother doubts her sanity and she thinks that he is conspiring against her 2) The story of a tailor who is making a very special mystical garment 3) The revenge of a murdered wife on an adulterous husband and his mistress 4) A man who builds small robots with heads that have striking human resemblances, and then tries to pass his consciousness into them using the power of his mind. Will the doctor discover who the actual doctor is? Watch the movie if you want to know.
Stylistically it is quite a funny movie, in its day it may have been using state of the art and innovative techniques, but given that it is thirty-four years old they now seem to be quite clichÃ©. As the movie begins it has some of the most dramatic horror I have heard in recent times. Normally this could be the sign of a quality film, in this case when the pictures on screen are a man in a taxi pulling into the asylum compound and then walking in through the door you can't help but let out a restrained chuckle at the overly dramatic nature of the film. It is sometimes difficult to tell if the film is taking itself overly seriously or making fun of the genre. The camera movement is pretty typical of the genre with nothing standing out. Depending on your tolerance to 'horror' there are very few if any white knuckled, heart pounding moments in the film. Something else to bear in mind is that this isn't a modern slasher horror; it is more of a meandering psychological thriller. The enjoyable thing about it though is that you can spend the movie trying to figure out who the doctor is while listening and watching; time to put that one semester of basic psychology to the test.
This is a fun movie and a good way to pass an hour and a half. Also a good stepping stone to desensitize someone to horror, because it is unlikely they are going to run screaming from the room with hands outstretched above their head flailing wildly. If you want a high tension, high body count or a lot of blood and body parts flying about, this is probably not for you. If you want to kick it retro styles and have a bunch of friends over to see who is better at picking out psychos this little ditty will be the one for you. I guess the best test for a reviewer, given that we have to watch what we get given is; would I watch this movie again of my own free will? The answer is yes, but I would make sure that I had a lot of people over who hadn't seen the movie and didn't know that I had seen it, so that I could seem really awesome when I picked the doctor; cheap yes but your just jealous you didn't think of it first.
Presented in a widescreen ratio of 1.78:1, this anamorphic transfer is a decent effort, B-grade horrors don't generally get good transfers, let alone ones that are mastered from their original 35mm negatives. In this case Dark Sky has given us the pleasure of just that, the resulting image is generally sharp, although there were a few shots here and there that appeared a bit soft and film grain can be seen throughout most of the print. Colors are well balanced although not as bright and vivid as they could have been (even the camera operator comments on that in the commentary track), skin tones are natural and blacks are bold.
A single English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is included, the track is very good considering it's a mono effort and presents the dialogue cleanly and without distortion, music is well represented and blares through the front speaker. Depth is limited but otherwise there isn't much else to complain about, overall it's a very good track that suits the film.
Optional subtitles are included in English.
Dark Sky has included an audio commentary, a featurette, a gallery, some biographies as well as some theatrical trailers and a booklet. Below is a closer look at these supplements.
First up is a feature-length audio commentary by the film's director Roy Ward Baker and camera operator Neil Binney which is moderated by Marcus Hern. Hern moves the track along as he poses questions to both of these participants as they cover various aspects regarding the production such as filming at Shepperton Studios, working with the various cast including the stars that made cameo appearances in the film and also developing the characters. Cameraman Binney talks about creating an atmosphere and mood with the camera and moderator Hern provides further insights regarding the script.
Next is "Inside the Fear Factory" a featurette which runs for 19 minutes 57 seconds, like the commentary this clip can be seen on the UK R2 release, however for this edition this featurette has been edited down a few minutes. It features an interview with co-president of Amicus Max J. Rosenberg as well as a couple of directors that made Amicus films. Rosenberg talks about the formation of Amicus as we go through some of the films they made over the years including "Asylum". The clip looks at how they got into the horror genre, filming in England, breaking away from the traditional premises that horror films have used, financing and other interesting topics regarding their eclectic catalogue of films.
A photo gallery is also included and features 29 images of posters, lobby cards and stills.
The disc also includes a series of cast & crew biographies for:
- Peter Cushing which includes 12 text pages.
- Roy Ward Baker which includes 7 text pages.
- Herbert Lom which includes 9 text pages.
- Britt Ekland which includes 5 text pages.
- Max Rosenbverg and Milton Subotsky which includes 7 text pages.
The film's original theatrical trailer is also included and runs for 1 minute 26 seconds.
Bonus trailers are also included for:
- "And Now The Screaming Starts" which runs for 56 seconds.
- "The Beast Must Die" which runs for 59 seconds.
Rounding out the extras is a 4-panel booklet with liner notes by Christopher Gullo