Asylum [a.k.a., House of Crazies]
by Barry Meyer
From Dark Sky Films.
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When you talk about old school British horror films, most likely the conversation travels towards the legendary Hammer Studios. It’s natural. They were a very showy bunch. But they weren’t the only creeps in town who were churning out genre flicks like a busy witch brewing up spells. Amicus Studio was doing a fine job rivaling the efficient work of the boys at Hammer ’ not that they were bitter rivals at all—and making a pretty good name for themselves amongst horror fans. If Hammer leaned towards the literary monsters and late 18th Century gothic haunts, then Amicus was grounded more in contemporary times, with stories of revenge, adultery and murder—mostly tainted with a poisonous dose of the ol’ supernatural. Most noted was Amicus for their specialty—the anthology, a group of tormented tales stitched together in one movie.
Most of the Amicus anthologies found a group of unfortunate souls brought together in some kind of setting or circumstance where they could not easily escape (like on a moving train or in a sealed crypt), and then has their dark fortunes (or misfortunes) revealed to them by a sinister stranger. In Asylum, Amicus goes about their multi-story telling in a most clever manner.
When Dr. Martin (Robert Powell of The 39 Steps) arrives at the Dunsmoor Asylum for the incurably insane, he expects to be interviewed by asylum director Dr. Starr. Instead he is met by Dr. Rutherford (Patrick Magee, the wheelchair bound crazy in A Clockwork Orange), who explains that Dr. Starr had suffered a mental breakdown and now is one of the patients. He further explains that if Martin can deduce which one is really Dr. Starr, then he will be given the position. Accompianied by the assistant named Bruno (Barry Morse, Space: 1999), Dr, Martin checks in on each patient. His first interview is with a young woman (the adorable Barbara Parkins of The Mephisto Waltz) who claims that the murdered wife of his lover has come back to life after being hacked to pieces. The second patient (Geoffrey Bayldon who played Q in Casino Royale) is a tailor who claims to have sewn together a suit of magical powers for a mysterious client (the great Peter Cushing). The third tale comes from a young Charlotte Rampling (Swimming Pool) who blames her secret friend (sex kitten Britt Ekland) for all of the violence that has been shed around her. Finally, Herbert Lom (The Pink Panther) plays a demented old man who crafts together little robotic men (who bear his own likeness) and asserts that he has the ability to possess them at will.
Managing the director duties is a veteran from Hammer Studios, Roy Ward Baker (The Vampire Lovers), who gives perfect pitch to (Psycho scribe) Robert Bloch’s eerie tales of everyday life gone amok. This is what Amicus does best, showing us just how one simple twist of fate or one little corrupt act can result in an average life being twisted into a wicked and unending pit of despair. And as in all the Amicus flicks the performances are top notch. Amicus founders Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg made it a key element through out there productions that they would cast only the most serious actors, and that their performances would not reflect the genre. They believed that the best horror performances would come not from camp, but with players who would give a more sobering performance. Wouldn’t that be refreshing to see in some of today’s American horror flicks?
Dark Sky Films (part of MPI Video) has put together a great package for their Amicus flicks, including trailers, bios and some terrific cast and crew commentary.
Barry Meyer is a writer living in Jersey under the spell of a very special little girl.
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