There’s a Doctor in the house…
An idealistic young doctor is offered a job only if he recognises the doctor in this group of mental health inpatients.
Asylum (1972) ORIGINAL TRAILER [HD 1080p], HD RETRO TRAILERS and photographs © Cinerama Releasing Corporation
I have fond memories of these Amicus anthologies of horror tales. These along with those random horror ones usually from the 70s and 80s with random big acting names. Hence my reviews on The Hand (1981) with Michael Caine, Damien: Omen II (1978) – with William Holden and Lee Grant – and The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) with Moore, Roger Moore. I rest my case.
Asylum / House of Crazies (1972), should not be confused with the Horror film of the same name released in 2005. The former film had lots of big names from the 1970s and Peter Cushing and the latter Ian McKellen and lots of explicit scenes of a sexual nature. Do make sure you get it right, particularly if you are watching with a parent (no matter what age you are, believe me). Anyway, back to the post.
The Amicus Anthology films always had a wee back story bringing the characters together, as they recount their tales of horror each with a wee natty twist. A bit like a blogathon really. Well, this blogathon and may the horror begin. Remember to tune in for our blogathon tomorrow.
The Asylum (1972) movie is creepily atmospheric from the start. The story takes place in an isolated Gothic Victorian era mental health hospital. It is isolated in the country and surrounded by fog. The opening music accompanying this a cross between frenzied stringed instruments (reminiscent of that scene in The Witches of Eastwick (1987) where Darryl met Jane) and dramatic music (as in any horror film, ever) add to the ambience.
There are bars at the windows, and locks on the doors of this imposing building. Inside it’s dark and full of shadows. The top floor of the building houses the inpatients with locks on both sides of a barred door (solely controlled by the doctor using a button in his downstairs office) leading to their locked rooms with a service elevator bringing up the inpatients’ food. The inpatients are isolated in their rooms, and alone in their distressing thoughts and beliefs.
Dr Martin (Powell) arrives at the hospital, for an interview. His interview is with Dr Rutherford (Patrick Magee), and not Dr Starr, the Head Doctor of the hospital as he’d been led to believe. Dr Rutherford says he was attacked by Dr Starr a few days previously. Rutherford is now is using a wheelchair as a result of this. He tells how Dr Starr now resides there as an inpatient after a breakdown.
Starr is now more rational but has taken on a new identity and life story. So with Martin is confident that he’ll recognise the doctor from this group of “incurable” inpatients. Rutherford says he may offer him a job there should he succeed in identifying him or her.
As climbing the stairs – cue dramatic spooky music – Martin passes eerie black and white prints, of “asylum” life and treatments over the 19th century. He’s met by the efficient orderly (Geoffrey Bayldon) who allows him in through that barred, locked door…
We first meet Bonnie (Barbara Parkins) – singing to herself, and playing with her hair seemingly a tragic figure. As she gazes through the window, she tells her tale. And like Play School (1964-88) we go through the window and the story begins.
Barbara tells that she had an affair with a married man Walter (Richard Todd). After they arrange to run away together, Walter says he’ll meet her when their plan is completed (immediately the wee hairs on your neck stand up).
His wife, Ruth (Sylvia Syms) – a wealthy heiress – returns home after a voodoo course with an amulet promising her never-ending life, which he scoffs at. He invites her to the basement, to show her a present. It’s a chest freezer (this was a big thing in the 1970s, but still..) and he kills her with a handy axe.
The chilling tale continues as you hear the eerie sound of him chopping her into bits. As we hear this we notice all is being recorded by ye olde tape recorder in the shadows. Then we cut (no pun intended) to a freezer, where we see bits of her corpse wrapped in brown paper and string. Walter then mops the blood away.
The results of this murder are now in obsessively neat (and bloodless) parcels. Their shapes obviously representing body parts. Then he believes he sees that her head has returned to life as a head shaped parcel, rolls into the room….(and there’s more to watch)
This was certainly the more chilling of the stories with the darkness, shadows, and sound effects adding to the horror and suspense. It was great seeing Richard Todd again. Todd is an actor I enjoyed watching in the stylishly 1970s version of the horror Dorian Gray (1970) recently (with Herbert Lom also his co-star here). Todd was fantastic at hamming up those facial expressions of horror and fear.
Syms was fantastically OTT as his possessive wife, whose relief that his relationship with Bonnie was over was too short-lived. And the atmosphere led to a few twists, as Bonnie calls over to meet with him.. and of course, goes to the basement to look for him. As more on her part in the story revealed.
The Weird Tailor
In room no 2 there’s Bruno (Barry Morse), a tailor who we meet sewing a garment only he can see. His story begins after he and his wife are threatened with homelessness by his landlord, for not coming up with the rent.
A strange polite sounding Englishman, Mr Smith (Peter Cushing) asks him to make a suit for his son. He must follow his detailed instructions, only working at specific times after midnight using luminous material. But on delivering the suit.. (and watch to learn more).
Cushing was superfantastic as the mysterious Mr Smith, his passion for his desired suit was almost heartbreaking to watch. As his motives came clear I felt the heartbreak and despair of this man. Bruno also seemed a sad character, played as passionate about his work, and desperate to keep his business and look after this wife. The use of candlelight as we enter Mr Smith’s home as he dropped off the suit, upped the fear factor, and unsettled me reminding me of The Innocents (1961). Again the use of shadows and the darkness were both unnerving and frightening and added to this plot.
Lucy Comes to Stay
We then are introduced to Barbara (Charlotte Rampling), who insists she shouldn’t be in the hospital, thinking Martin is a lawyer. Her story starts as she is being taken home from the hospital by her brother after a previous hospital stay.
He’s concerned immediately as she mentions a friend of hers, Lucy (Britt Ekland). This is as Lucy encourages Barbara to do things she shouldn’t. Lucy visits her, stating she had hidden in the garage and she successfully gets into Barbara’s room unnoticed.
She feels Barbara should not take her medication and knowing things about Barbara. This unsettles Barbara. Lucy encourages Barbara to get away from the overprotectiveness of her brother Charles and the nurse (Megs Jenkins) he’s employed to give her 24 support. But Barbara, despite feeling stifled by her brother, is torn….(and there’s more to watch)
This part of the story started well and appeared promising with all the ingredients of a possibly wrongly diagnosed patient. This is substantiated with Rampling wanting a lawyer as she’s been wrongly admitted. Immediately, I believed her brother Charles and the Nurse were in a plot to get Barbara’s inheritance. However, as Lucy’s role in the story was introduces and developed, led to a completely different and startling revelation.
Mannikins of Horror
Finally, there’s the mysterious Dr, Byron who appears a cold but charming and charismatic man from the start. He has a hatred of Dr Rutherford. Byron has a collection of creepy robot dolls – each resembling an old colleague, – and he hopes to breathe life to them, as God did with him.
This is dismissed as his “Occupational Therapy”. He’s even made one of himself, complete with teeny weeny wee working organs… as you do in Occupational Therapy.
Cue flashes of spooky shots of the doll and petrifying close-ups of Lom’s eyes. We see the wee robot looking like Herbert Lom walking. As it escapes to the service lift and this lift taking it down the stairs. The robot walks undetected in the shadows, as if with a mission from Byron and unnoticed by the orderly. The orderly lets Martin down the stairs to deliver his denouement. There I will leave you to watch the end…
This final tale was the most fun, but with his chilling dolls and disturbingly lucid demeanour, Lom was much more than a chilling character than the others. They seemed more tragic, with sad stories to tell. But I’d love to see a parody of this final segment of this film starring Matt Damon or even Alec Baldwin. With their wee mini-me robot played by their mannikin in Team America: World Police (2004). Now that would be an idea for a great horror reboot, in Mannikins of Hollywood. F*** Yeah…
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 10
Hulk Rating: /10
This film was added to the first The Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon with Barry from Cinematic Catharsis. Other posts with this cast include Dracula A.D. 1972 and Tales from the Crypt with Peter Cushing. Britt Ekland starred in this guest post of The Man with the Golden Gun, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Charlotte Rampling starred in Henry VIII and his Six Wives. Barbara Parkins starred in Hotel. Richard Todd and Herbert Lom starred in Dorian Gray, Murder She Wrote and Thriller. Herbert Lom also stars in The Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Five Daughters Affair S3 Ep28 and 29/ The Karate Killers and The Ladykillers.