Why We Heart: Asylum (1972)

By Andreas Charalambous

The wraparound involving Dr Martin are quite well made. Director Roy Ward Baker is careful to include the disturbing artwork on the walls of the asylum - bizarre portraits and caricatures. These artworks suggest that the building itself is evil, which creates a nice link to the supernatural stories we see. When we transition from wraparound to flashback, the camera focuses on a sketch and then spins about. It's almost as if we are descending into the madness of the drawing, at the same time sending the camera 'off its rocker'. A nice touch, seeing as the audience are taken from their normal world and spiralling into that of madness.


Asylum is a well-made horror anthology (remember, 24 days!) and seems to capture that great era of the horror anthology which is a world away from modern anthologies, so probably won't appeal to younger fans of the genre. The stories are rather short and underdeveloped compared to others of the time, such as Tales From The Crypt, Monsters and Tales From The Darkside. However, there is something about the era in which this film was made, which will always appeal to the older generation. Still, younger audiences have modern anthologies such as Tales from the Hood and Creepshow 3, so... you know.

The premise for this Amicus anthology - directed by Roy Ward Baker - is pretty straightforward. A doctor named Martin (Robert Powell) travels to Dunsmoor Asylum for the incurably insane for a 'job interview'. Depending on whether he gets the job or not, he must visit four patients in order to work out which one is the former head psychologist - the very vacancy he is applying for. There are four stories in this anthology, written by author of Psycho - Robert Bloch. From a personal point of view, I enjoyed the first two stories most, but I implore you to watch the entire film.

 

So, the first story. A chopped-up body attempts to wriggle its way out of a freezer in a basement (as you do!) and as you can appreciate, it is annoying the murderer who put them there in the first place. The strange events begin when the decapitated head appears on the floor  just beyond the basement door. From here, the murderer will soon regret that they chopped the body up into so many pieces, as it exacts its revenge in a way that is funny and scary all at once.

 

The second story is more an acting set-piece, a confrontation between Peter Cushing and Barry Morse (of Space: 1999  fame). This story is more suspenseful and involving for the audience, as it builds their sense of anticipation. A strange man named Mr Smith (Cushing) enters a tailor's shop and asks for a suit to be made

It is worth noting here, that Cushing had completed all of his filming in only two days. Herbert Lom (segment four) shot his part in a quarter of that time, and the entire film was shot in 24 days.

 

Segment three stars Britt Ekland and Charlotte Rampling, in the tale I always thought was probably the weakest of the lot. Clearly influenced by Psycho, it is the story of a schizophrenic murderer. The problem I always found here is that the viewer is way ahead of the script in realising the twist, and couldn't be clearer in seeing it coming.

 

The final story - later remade for Season One of TV anthology Monsters - restores some of what the previous segment lost in the viewer. Surprise and horror are present as a crazy doctor creates a murderous little homunculus. Lom is effective as the psychotic doctor, and though the murderous doll is only a wind-up robot, the horror scenes are strangely effective. It's quite creepy seeing a wind-up toy make its way through an asylum and commit murder.

from a strange reflective material. Not knowing it at the time, the tailor makes a suit that can actually reanimate the dead. In a disagreement over payment, Mr Smith is killed and this segment ends as a possible precursor to another 'horrifying' film - 1987's ahem.. comedy... Mannequin, starring Kim Cattrall.