Asylum


1h 28m 1972

Brief Synopsis

A young psychiatrist interviews four inmates in a mental asylum to satisfy a requirement for employment. He hears stories about 1) the revenge of a murdered wife, 2) a tailor who makes a suit with some highly unusual qualities, 3) a woman who questions her sanity when it appears that her brother is conspiring against her, and 4) a man who builds tiny toy robots with lifelike human heads.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
1972

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1, 1.85 : 1

Synopsis

A young psychiatrist interviews four inmates in a mental asylum to satisfy a requirement for employment. He hears stories about 1) the revenge of a murdered wife, 2) a tailor who makes a suit with some highly unusual qualities, 3) a woman who questions her sanity when it appears that her brother is conspiring against her, and 4) a man who builds tiny toy robots with lifelike human heads.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
1972

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1, 1.85 : 1

Articles

Asylum - ASYLUM - 1972 Amicus Horror Film From the Pen of Robert (Psycho) Bloch on DVD


Young psychiatrist Dr. Martin (Robert Powell) drives to Dunsmoor Asylum, expecting to be interviewed by Dr. Starr for a staff position. Instead, he is greeted by Dr. Rutherford (Patrick Magee), who informs him that Dr. Starr has gone insane. An entirely new personality has taken over, and Starr is now confined as a patient in his own Asylum. In spite of disagreeing with the younger man's methods, Rutherford agrees to hire Martin if he can pass an unusual test: he must interview four of the Asylum's most extreme cases and determine which one of them was once Dr. Starr.

Thus opens Asylum (1972), one of the best of several anthology horror films from Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg's Amicus Productions. Inspired by the classic portmanteau chiller Dead of Night (1945), Subotsky had scripted the multi-story Dr. Terror's House of Horrors in 1965, and its success led to several follow-ups utilizing the format: Torture Garden (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1970) and Tales from the Crypt (1972). Like Torture Garden and The House That Dripped Blood, Asylum was scripted by legendary horror author Robert Bloch (Psycho), adapting four of his short stories. Directed by Hammer veteran Roy Ward Baker, the film isn't very frightening, but it's an agreeable confection with some memorable moments and good performances by several genre favorites. The film has been recently re-released on DVD in a new special edition by Dark Sky Films.

The wraparound story of Martin visiting the Asylum and having to identify Dr. Starr is probably the best framing device in any of the Amicus anthologies. In most, a few random characters gather in some odd locale and relate their stories, or have their fates revealed to them. Here, there is at least a logical reason for all the characters to be in the same place, and setting up the mystery of Dr. Starr creates another level to the narrative. The audience is likely to expect that the resolution will have some sort of twist, so we pay attention, looking for possible clues not to who might be Dr. Starr, but how the filmmakers will try to trick us. Both Powell and Magee give solid performances as the idealistic youth and the jaded older doctor, respectively, and the dramatic tension between the two of them helps to engage viewer interest from the start.

In "Frozen Fear," the first of the four stories, orderly Max (Geoffrey Bayldon) introduces Dr. Martin to a patient named Bonnie (Barbara Parkins). (Dr. Martin has not been told if Dr. Starr is a man or a woman.) Bonnie tells how she and her married lover, Walter (Richard Todd), conspired to rid themselves of Walter's wife Ruth (Sylvia Syms). Walter purchases a large freezer, and one night when Ruth returns from a class in which she is studying voodoo, he kills her. He neatly carves up her body, wraps the parts in butcher paper and stores them in the freezer. Spotting Ruth's voodoo charm on the floor, he tosses that in the freezer as well. Shortly thereafter, as he waits for Bonnie to join him, Walter is startled by the sound of the freezer lid opening, and the rustling of paper...

"Frozen Fear" is a lurid little tale, reminiscent of the E.C. Comics yarns Amicus had adapted in Tales from the Crypt. The concept of dismembered limbs returning to life to exact revenge is wonderfully creepy, and the segment is probably the film's most memorable. Unfortunately, it doesn't fulfill its potential due to Roy Ward Baker's lackluster direction. Baker simply doesn't seem comfortable with the grisly material, and he fails to generate very much suspense. The climactic confrontation between Bonnie and the body parts is overlit and dully photographed, and once we see the limbs clearly they lose their eeriness and just look like props manipulated by strings or small motors. The segment offers an excellent opportunity for using sound effects-particularly the paper rustling produced by the still-wrapped limbs-but this element is sadly underexploited. Richard Todd, Barbara Parkins and Sylvia Syms are all adequate, but don't get enough screen time to develop their characters.

In the next segment, "The Weird Tailor," Dr. Martin meets Bruno (Barry Morse), a poor, aging tailor who once ran his own shop with his wife Anna (Anne Firbank). One day a mysterious man named Smith (Peter Cushing) enters Bruno's shop and offers him a generous amount to make a special suit for his son. He gives Bruno strange, glowing fabric, a pattern and strict instructions about how and when the suit is to be made. A few days later when Bruno goes to deliver the suit, he is shocked to discover that Smith is penniless, and that the suit is intended for an unholy, occult purpose...

Robert Bloch had previously adapted "The Weird Tailor" for the anthology series Thriller in 1961. That version, starring Henry Jones as the tailor and George Macready as Smith, was more faithful to the original story, depicting the tailor as cruel and his wife as a lonely woman who spends her days chatting with the store mannequin. Bloch was reportedly upset when Milton Subotsky rewrote his script, turning Bruno into a meek victim instead of a petty tyrant who gets his just desserts. In spite of Bloch's objections, Asylum's version of the tale is generally effective, and overall it's a more satisfying segment than "Frozen Fear." Roy Ward Baker seems more at home with the character-driven dark fantasy of this story than the Grand Guignol shudders of the first. The pacing is better and his direction is more assured and imaginative. For example, during Bruno's final confrontation with Smith, Baker employs canted angles and extremely dim lighting to enhance the mood. Special effects in the segment are modest but effective, such as Smith's magical fabric, which glows and changes colors (highly reflective front projection material was used).

For horror fans, the highlight of the segment is Peter Cushing's performance as Smith. When he first appears in Bruno's shop, Smith's words and actions are controlled, measured and precise. Later, when Bruno delivers the suit, we learn this has all been an act. Smith is a broken man who has lost everything. His son is dead, and he has sold his belongings in desperate pursuit of the occult knowledge needed to bring him back to life. Whereas many actors would be tempted to milk the scene for sentimentality, Cushing underplays it, revealing only a few cracks in Smith's façade and thus emphasizing his sad, lonely struggle to hold himself together. (At the time of filming the actor was still grieving the death of his beloved wife Helen, which adds an extra degree of poignancy to his performance.) Cushing's co-star, Barry Morse, is fine, although at times his performance teeters on the brink of ethnic stereotype.

All anthology films seem doomed to have one segment that is a dud-remember the "Golfing Story" in Dead of Night?- and for Asylum it is the third tale, "Lucy Comes to Stay." In it, Barbara (Charlotte Rampling), a recovering drug addict, moves in with her overprotective brother George (James Villiers). Feeling stifled by the strict rules set down by George and a live-in nurse, Miss Higgins (Megs Jenkins), Barbara finds a hidden stash of pills and resumes her habit. She is visited by her old friend Lucy (Britt Ekland), who encourages her to rebel and resorts to drastic methods to make sure that George and Miss Higgins do not interfere...

There's very little of interest in "Lucy Comes to Stay." The pacing is lethargic and the twist ending isn't much of a surprise. Charlotte Rampling's Barbara comes across as confused, immature and passive; much of the time she looks like she is in a dazed stupor. It's impossible to work up any sympathy for her. Britt Ekland is more animated as Lucy, but the role is so sketchily defined that it helps tip the viewer off to the twist. Baker gives the segment one decent shock, but even that feels like a lift from a more famous Robert Bloch adaptation.

In the final story, "Mannikins of Horror," Dr. Martin is introduced to Dr. Byron (Herbert Lom), who spends his time crafting dolls with the faces of people he knows, including himself. He claims that the dolls have detailed and accurate internal organs, and believes that he can transfer his will into the doll with his likeness. After the interview, Martin rejoins Dr. Rutherford, believing that he has deduced the identity of Dr. Starr. As the two men argue about the best way to treat the Asylum's patients, neither notices the small figure approaching Dr. Rutherford from behind . . .

From a structural standpoint, "Mannikins of Horror" dovetails neatly into the finale of wraparound story that opened the film. This works far better than the end of most Amicus anthologies, which usually just slap on a quick ironic tag scene after the last segment. From a special effects standpoint the segment is crude, with Byron's dolls represented by store-bought wind-up toys with new heads attached. This approach works surprisingly well, turning a commonplace and mundane toy into something creepy and malevolent. Lom is quite good in his brief turn as Byron (his scenes were filmed in a single day), although his performance may at times remind viewers of his comically insane Chief Inspector Dreyfus from the Pink Panther films-one half expects to see a doll of Inspector Clouseau among Byron's homunculi!

Although Asylum is decidedly a mixed bag as a film, Dark Sky's DVD is an attractive package for classic horror fans, and a distinct improvement over previous U.S. video releases. The film is presented in its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio for the first time, and the original title card has been restored. (Previous releases, probably sourced from reissue material with the title House of Crazies, used a video-generated title card over a freeze frame.) The 16 x 9 enhanced image is crisp, and the early 1970's Eastmancolor is well-rendered. The sound is fine, particularly Douglas Gamley's score, which includes liberal excerpts of Mussorgsky.

An interesting commentary track by Roy Ward Baker, cameraman Neil Binney and moderator Marcus Hearn focuses chiefly on the technical aspects of the film. A featurette titled "Inside the Fear Factory" uses video interviews with Baker, Freddie Francis and Amicus co-founder Max Rosenberg to give an overview of the company's history. Other extras include trailers for Asylum, And Now the Screaming Starts and The Beast Must Die; a still gallery; and biographies for Cushing, Lom, Ekland, Baker and the team of Subotsky and Rosenberg.

For more information about Asylum, visit Dark Sky Films. To order Asylum, go to TCM Shopping.

by Gary Teetzel
Asylum - Asylum - 1972 Amicus Horror Film From The Pen Of Robert (Psycho) Bloch On Dvd

Asylum - ASYLUM - 1972 Amicus Horror Film From the Pen of Robert (Psycho) Bloch on DVD

Young psychiatrist Dr. Martin (Robert Powell) drives to Dunsmoor Asylum, expecting to be interviewed by Dr. Starr for a staff position. Instead, he is greeted by Dr. Rutherford (Patrick Magee), who informs him that Dr. Starr has gone insane. An entirely new personality has taken over, and Starr is now confined as a patient in his own Asylum. In spite of disagreeing with the younger man's methods, Rutherford agrees to hire Martin if he can pass an unusual test: he must interview four of the Asylum's most extreme cases and determine which one of them was once Dr. Starr. Thus opens Asylum (1972), one of the best of several anthology horror films from Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg's Amicus Productions. Inspired by the classic portmanteau chiller Dead of Night (1945), Subotsky had scripted the multi-story Dr. Terror's House of Horrors in 1965, and its success led to several follow-ups utilizing the format: Torture Garden (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1970) and Tales from the Crypt (1972). Like Torture Garden and The House That Dripped Blood, Asylum was scripted by legendary horror author Robert Bloch (Psycho), adapting four of his short stories. Directed by Hammer veteran Roy Ward Baker, the film isn't very frightening, but it's an agreeable confection with some memorable moments and good performances by several genre favorites. The film has been recently re-released on DVD in a new special edition by Dark Sky Films. The wraparound story of Martin visiting the Asylum and having to identify Dr. Starr is probably the best framing device in any of the Amicus anthologies. In most, a few random characters gather in some odd locale and relate their stories, or have their fates revealed to them. Here, there is at least a logical reason for all the characters to be in the same place, and setting up the mystery of Dr. Starr creates another level to the narrative. The audience is likely to expect that the resolution will have some sort of twist, so we pay attention, looking for possible clues not to who might be Dr. Starr, but how the filmmakers will try to trick us. Both Powell and Magee give solid performances as the idealistic youth and the jaded older doctor, respectively, and the dramatic tension between the two of them helps to engage viewer interest from the start. In "Frozen Fear," the first of the four stories, orderly Max (Geoffrey Bayldon) introduces Dr. Martin to a patient named Bonnie (Barbara Parkins). (Dr. Martin has not been told if Dr. Starr is a man or a woman.) Bonnie tells how she and her married lover, Walter (Richard Todd), conspired to rid themselves of Walter's wife Ruth (Sylvia Syms). Walter purchases a large freezer, and one night when Ruth returns from a class in which she is studying voodoo, he kills her. He neatly carves up her body, wraps the parts in butcher paper and stores them in the freezer. Spotting Ruth's voodoo charm on the floor, he tosses that in the freezer as well. Shortly thereafter, as he waits for Bonnie to join him, Walter is startled by the sound of the freezer lid opening, and the rustling of paper... "Frozen Fear" is a lurid little tale, reminiscent of the E.C. Comics yarns Amicus had adapted in Tales from the Crypt. The concept of dismembered limbs returning to life to exact revenge is wonderfully creepy, and the segment is probably the film's most memorable. Unfortunately, it doesn't fulfill its potential due to Roy Ward Baker's lackluster direction. Baker simply doesn't seem comfortable with the grisly material, and he fails to generate very much suspense. The climactic confrontation between Bonnie and the body parts is overlit and dully photographed, and once we see the limbs clearly they lose their eeriness and just look like props manipulated by strings or small motors. The segment offers an excellent opportunity for using sound effects-particularly the paper rustling produced by the still-wrapped limbs-but this element is sadly underexploited. Richard Todd, Barbara Parkins and Sylvia Syms are all adequate, but don't get enough screen time to develop their characters. In the next segment, "The Weird Tailor," Dr. Martin meets Bruno (Barry Morse), a poor, aging tailor who once ran his own shop with his wife Anna (Anne Firbank). One day a mysterious man named Smith (Peter Cushing) enters Bruno's shop and offers him a generous amount to make a special suit for his son. He gives Bruno strange, glowing fabric, a pattern and strict instructions about how and when the suit is to be made. A few days later when Bruno goes to deliver the suit, he is shocked to discover that Smith is penniless, and that the suit is intended for an unholy, occult purpose... Robert Bloch had previously adapted "The Weird Tailor" for the anthology series Thriller in 1961. That version, starring Henry Jones as the tailor and George Macready as Smith, was more faithful to the original story, depicting the tailor as cruel and his wife as a lonely woman who spends her days chatting with the store mannequin. Bloch was reportedly upset when Milton Subotsky rewrote his script, turning Bruno into a meek victim instead of a petty tyrant who gets his just desserts. In spite of Bloch's objections, Asylum's version of the tale is generally effective, and overall it's a more satisfying segment than "Frozen Fear." Roy Ward Baker seems more at home with the character-driven dark fantasy of this story than the Grand Guignol shudders of the first. The pacing is better and his direction is more assured and imaginative. For example, during Bruno's final confrontation with Smith, Baker employs canted angles and extremely dim lighting to enhance the mood. Special effects in the segment are modest but effective, such as Smith's magical fabric, which glows and changes colors (highly reflective front projection material was used). For horror fans, the highlight of the segment is Peter Cushing's performance as Smith. When he first appears in Bruno's shop, Smith's words and actions are controlled, measured and precise. Later, when Bruno delivers the suit, we learn this has all been an act. Smith is a broken man who has lost everything. His son is dead, and he has sold his belongings in desperate pursuit of the occult knowledge needed to bring him back to life. Whereas many actors would be tempted to milk the scene for sentimentality, Cushing underplays it, revealing only a few cracks in Smith's façade and thus emphasizing his sad, lonely struggle to hold himself together. (At the time of filming the actor was still grieving the death of his beloved wife Helen, which adds an extra degree of poignancy to his performance.) Cushing's co-star, Barry Morse, is fine, although at times his performance teeters on the brink of ethnic stereotype. All anthology films seem doomed to have one segment that is a dud-remember the "Golfing Story" in Dead of Night?- and for Asylum it is the third tale, "Lucy Comes to Stay." In it, Barbara (Charlotte Rampling), a recovering drug addict, moves in with her overprotective brother George (James Villiers). Feeling stifled by the strict rules set down by George and a live-in nurse, Miss Higgins (Megs Jenkins), Barbara finds a hidden stash of pills and resumes her habit. She is visited by her old friend Lucy (Britt Ekland), who encourages her to rebel and resorts to drastic methods to make sure that George and Miss Higgins do not interfere... There's very little of interest in "Lucy Comes to Stay." The pacing is lethargic and the twist ending isn't much of a surprise. Charlotte Rampling's Barbara comes across as confused, immature and passive; much of the time she looks like she is in a dazed stupor. It's impossible to work up any sympathy for her. Britt Ekland is more animated as Lucy, but the role is so sketchily defined that it helps tip the viewer off to the twist. Baker gives the segment one decent shock, but even that feels like a lift from a more famous Robert Bloch adaptation. In the final story, "Mannikins of Horror," Dr. Martin is introduced to Dr. Byron (Herbert Lom), who spends his time crafting dolls with the faces of people he knows, including himself. He claims that the dolls have detailed and accurate internal organs, and believes that he can transfer his will into the doll with his likeness. After the interview, Martin rejoins Dr. Rutherford, believing that he has deduced the identity of Dr. Starr. As the two men argue about the best way to treat the Asylum's patients, neither notices the small figure approaching Dr. Rutherford from behind . . . From a structural standpoint, "Mannikins of Horror" dovetails neatly into the finale of wraparound story that opened the film. This works far better than the end of most Amicus anthologies, which usually just slap on a quick ironic tag scene after the last segment. From a special effects standpoint the segment is crude, with Byron's dolls represented by store-bought wind-up toys with new heads attached. This approach works surprisingly well, turning a commonplace and mundane toy into something creepy and malevolent. Lom is quite good in his brief turn as Byron (his scenes were filmed in a single day), although his performance may at times remind viewers of his comically insane Chief Inspector Dreyfus from the Pink Panther films-one half expects to see a doll of Inspector Clouseau among Byron's homunculi! Although Asylum is decidedly a mixed bag as a film, Dark Sky's DVD is an attractive package for classic horror fans, and a distinct improvement over previous U.S. video releases. The film is presented in its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio for the first time, and the original title card has been restored. (Previous releases, probably sourced from reissue material with the title House of Crazies, used a video-generated title card over a freeze frame.) The 16 x 9 enhanced image is crisp, and the early 1970's Eastmancolor is well-rendered. The sound is fine, particularly Douglas Gamley's score, which includes liberal excerpts of Mussorgsky. An interesting commentary track by Roy Ward Baker, cameraman Neil Binney and moderator Marcus Hearn focuses chiefly on the technical aspects of the film. A featurette titled "Inside the Fear Factory" uses video interviews with Baker, Freddie Francis and Amicus co-founder Max Rosenberg to give an overview of the company's history. Other extras include trailers for Asylum, And Now the Screaming Starts and The Beast Must Die; a still gallery; and biographies for Cushing, Lom, Ekland, Baker and the team of Subotsky and Rosenberg. For more information about Asylum, visit Dark Sky Films. To order Asylum, go to TCM Shopping. by Gary Teetzel

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Released in United States 1972

Released in United States 1972