SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!
Dr Martin arrives at a secluded asylum for an interview for a job. Once he arrives Dr Rutherford has a unique method of determining whether he is suitable for the job. The previous occupant of the now vacant job position was Dr Starr who has recently become one of the patients. So Dr Martin must listen to four patient's stories and determine which one is Dr Starr, if he is correct he will get the job.
Asylum is a 1972 portmanteau Amicus production. It stars Peter Cushing, Britt Eckland and Herbert Lom. It was directed by Roy Ward Baker.
Right away the first person that graces our screens is ROBERT POWELL! Obviously this is before he became the messiah and then downgraded to the dim witted Detective Briggs.
At various points there is a noticeable use of music that is reminiscent of Hammer's music especially that of what was used in Dracula (1958). Very loud and powerful, bounding music that uneases the viewer. It's used rather effectively as Dr Martin mooches about the asylum looking at eerie drawings on the walls.
The first story is about a man and his lover who plan to kill his wife who studies voodoo, after killing her the the wife and the voodoo have a few tricks up their sleeves.
After hacking her to pieces with an axe and packing her into a freezer he says “Rest in pieces.” HO-HO-HO BU-DUM-TSH.
When all seems well (except the fact he has the hacked up body of his wife in his freezer) he hears a noise then turns to find her head rolling, of it's own accord, towards him. So what does he do? He throws his bottle of whisky at it. Then next thing, the head is gone. So he investigates further. He wonders down into the cellar where the freezer is only to find the freezer door wide open. Now he knows he closed that door and he's just seen the head moving, so logic would tell you to get out of there. If the head is moving then surely other parts could be too. But no he sticks his head in the freezer and gets himself strangled by one of her hands.
What started out as rather surreal and eerie becomes ridiculously funny once the lover turns up and finds her lover's corpse in the freezer. As after that every body part starts to wriggle it's way towards her; legs, arms, the head, even the torso! The torso which has no limbs to move it somehow glides across the floor towards her. It all ends with a hand grabbing at her face and her trying to get it off by hitting it with an axe. Then we return to the asylum where we see that she has scars on her face from the axe.
The second story is about the owner of a tailor shop in desperate need of customers to pay off his bills. Just as luck would have it Mr Smith turns up wanting a suit made for his son from an odd material, which he states must be made precisely to his instructions, which includes only making it between midnight and 6am each day. After making the suit, the tailor discovers that the man's son is dead and that the suit is some form of black magic to resurrect him. After telling him he has no money yet to pay him the tailor refuses to give him the suit, resulting in a brawl with a gun ending with Mr Smith getting shot. The tailor flees the scene and returns to his shop where he tells his wife of what happened and tells her to burn the suit. But instead she places it on the shop mannequin which brings the mannequin to life with the life force of Mr Smith's dead son. Then after the story the tailor proclaims to Dr Martin that the mannequin is still out there killing people.
I have found that Peter Cushing always has this way of playing these small but very poignant roles. As such this is no exception. Playing the grieving father of a dead son who has sold everything he owns in order to buy a book of black magic which details how to produce the suit that will bring his son back to life. He's brilliant, you watch him and you believe his sorrow, you actually feel sorry for him. He may well be meddling with nature but in that moment when he explains everything you want the tailor to just give him the suit.
The third story is about Barbara who is returning home from a period of time in an asylum. She's being looked after by her brother and her nurse. Then after taking some medication, Lucy appears who proceeds to “free her” and in order to do this she kills Barbara's brother and her nurse. Then we return to the Asylum where she proclaims to Dr Martin that it was Lucy who did it. And says she's here in the room with them, pointing at the mirror.
Possibly the best imaginary friend ever (except Drop Dead Fred of course) BRITT ECKLAND!
The whole Lucy being an imaginary friend and being a manifestation of Barbara's personality was clever but still very obvious. I pegged from the start as soon as she took the medication and Lucy appeared. Unless of course the writer was trying to be clever and bluff us only to surprise us with the fact that the bluff was in fact a double bluff all along. Even with the obviousness of the shock ending to that story what is creepy is the shot when Barbara points at the mirror and there we see Lucy as her reflection looking back at her laughing.
The final story is about Dr Byron who has been constructing miniature figures of himself which he believes he can transfer his life force into and control. Without listening to his full story Dr Martin leaves to see Dr Rutherford and tells him how this asylum is a disgrace as the patients aren't even being helped they're just being locked away and left in their own worlds. All the while Dr Byron is transferring his life force into a miniature figure which he makes go downstairs and stab Dr Rutherford in the back of the head. Dr Martin horrified that Dr Byron was telling the truth stamps on the miniature figure revealing that inside it isn't all nuts and bolts but instead blood and guts. Dr Martin then dashes upstairs to Dr Byron's room only to find he too has been crushed. After this he wonders into another room and discovers a dead body here he discovers the true secret of the asylum and his predecessor.
There are a collection of comically silly moments (the little mini tin versions of Dr Byron being able to kill Dr Rutherford even with the immensely slow speed in which it was moving towards him. The torso gliding across the floor towards her husband's lover.) but they're not bad, they're just funny and then we get the brilliant ending which shouldn't be spoilt, you have to see it. It was great, it completely surprised me. The ending itself made me like the film even more than I already did up to that point. With it's running theme of bringing life to inanimate objects; the mini tin men, the shop dummy, hell even the chopped up dead body, Asylum scares, amuses and haunts. One of the most haunting moments for me was the hysterical laugh at the end that sounded like a cross between a laugh and a baby's cry, it was eerie enough when I heard it in the trailer but when you see it in context it's horrifying. Another aspect I really liked about Asylum is that, aside from the last story, you don't actually know which stories, if any, are true or if they are simply the ramblings of the mentally insane. The decision is completely at the viewer's discretion.