From the twisted mind of the writer of Psycho, Robert Bloch, Asylum is a horror anthology set, as you may have already guessed, in a hospital for the mentally unstable. Opening with the arrival of a new doctor played by Robert Powell, the young physician meets the man in charge Dr Rutherford (Patrick Magee) and is set a very strange challenge to prove his medical mettle.
On the top floor through an electronically sealed steel door are four inmates each armed with a very peculiar tale to tell. Dr Martin is informed that one of these strange patients is in fact the former head of the asylum that recently had a breakdown and attacked the staff. The cocksure upstart must select which patient it is by listening to each surreal story but he soon finds that they are all unexpectedly tinged with sinister supernatural elements.
Made by Amicus and directed by Roy Ward Baker, the macabre movie has a marvellous set up which has the audience instantly engaged and guessing along with Dr Martin as to who is the most recently incarcerated member of the frightening facility.
First up is the section entitled Frozen Fear told by Bonnie (Barbara Parkins) who had planned to eradicate the wife of the man she is having an affair with in a particularly gruesome way. What she and her lover didn’t account for is that their victim had been seeing a voodoo practitioner and when she is despicably dismembered something brings her back to get revenge.
Bruno (Barry Morse) is the next storyteller and his fated fable The Weird Tailor plays out like the The Elves and the Shoemaker meets The Monkey’s Paw. Bankrupt and depressed Bruno is about to be kicked out of his home and shop if he cannot make next month’s rent. Just in the nick of time the mysterious Mr Smith played by the fantastic Peter Cushing arrives and asks him to make a very special suit.
Left with a strange luminescent fabric and strict instructions about when to work Bruno starts the suit however he cuts corners and ignores Mr Smith’s warnings to get the job done quicker. Not only is he shocked when he finds out what the outfit is for but when it is placed on a shop dummy the tailor receives the fright of his life.
The wonderful and talented twosome of Britt Ekland and Charlotte Rampling star in Lucy Comes to Stay, the most psychological of all the shorts, which details a young woman whose family are trying to take care of her after she loses her mind or does she?
Lastly Mannikins of Horror not only wraps up the list of suspects but also ushers in the films finale as the disturbed genius Byron (Herbert Lom) details his experiments with implanting consciousness in some surprisingly creepy tiny tin toys he has crafted.
Wonderfully told and well realised each instalment of Asylum thrills and chills giving the viewer just enough before they get bored. There are some excellent effects for the time especially in Mannikins of Horror and Frozen Fear where things that really shouldn’t move gain a life all of their own.
In fact throughout Asylum the theme of reanimation and life after death infuses each instalment. This primal fear of the uncanny that every human has plays out in a variety of ways and it could be said that each patient has been driven insane by their experience when faced with a dead loved one or inanimate object coming alive, something that surely scares us all.
A great example of why the anthology format works so well in the horror genre Asylum is a slick seventies shocker with an all-star cast and some superb set pieces. Second Sight Films Limited Edition Blu-ray features new artwork by Graham Humphreys, a 40-page booklet with new essays by Allan Bryce, Jon Towlson and Kat Ellinger, as well as a host of special features including director commentaries and featurettes making it all the more desirable.
In many ways you would be crazy not to buy it!