Asylum (1972) – movie review
Written by Robert Bloch and directed by Roy Ward Baker. Stars, Robert Powell, Patrick Magee, Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Herbert Lom, Charlotte Rampling and Barbara Parkins. A Doctor Martin shows up at an Asylum for a job interview as head doctor. A wheelchair bound Dr. Rutherford (Magee), the Asylum’s administrator, explains that the previous head doctor had suffered a mental breakdown and is now one of the patients at the institute. He then gives Dr. Martin a test to see if he is worthy of the job. If he can interview the patients on the second floor and discover which patient is his predecessor, he would basically have the job. An orderly, Max, escorts him from room to room, to meet each patient. Thusly, each interview takes the viewer into a different story.
While House that Dripped Blood used a minimalist style musical score, Asylum uses bold musical pieces by Modest Mussorgsky. The intro credits are accompanied by the powerful ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ as Dr. Martin drives up to the ominous asylum building. My favorite piece plays as Dr. Martin ascends the asylum stairs while observing disturbing paintings upon the walls showing harsh treatment of mental patients through history. The piece ‘Gnomus’ from Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures of an Exhibition’ accompanies the scene and is quite foreboding and sinister with its dissonant harmonies and broad brass blasts.
Frozen Fear – in the first room we are introduced to a woman named Bonnie. She recounts the tale of how she plotted with her married lover to kill his wife. The husband, Walter, chops his wife to bits and wraps the pieces in brown butcher paper, placing the pieces neatly in a basement freezer. However, the wife having studied voodoo can not die and the separate pieces crawl out of the freezer looking for revenge.
The Weird Tailor – tells a story of how a suspicious Mr. Smith (Peter Cushing) came into the Tailor’s shop with a unique fabric and pattern asking him to make this suit for him. When the tailor finishes, days later, he delivers the suit to Smith. He then learns of the suits magic powers of resurrection and Smith’s intentions for the suit. Trying to stop him he accidentally kills Smith and returns to his shop with the magic suit. However, when he awakens, he discovers his wife has put the suit on a mannequin and the mindless humanoid knows only to kill. This is my favorite segment of the film.
In Lucy Comes To Stay a young lady, Barbara (Charlotte Rampling) relays the story of how she had been watched closely because of a prior mental breakdown. She felt like a prisoner in her own home due to the watchful eyes of her brother George and her nurse. It wasn’t until her good friend Lucy (Britt Ekland) came for a visit that she saw her only chance at freedom.
Mannikins of Horror – In this segment, a Dr. Byron (Herbert Lom) is a scientist that is working on transferring his soul into a small toy robot by filling its insides with his own biological makings. He can telepathically control the small version of himself through meditation. However, the small toy is an evil incarnation of Dr. Byron that breaks contact with his master and does his own bidding. This segment is unintentionally humorous because watching the miniature toy with Herbert Loms head walking around can only be regarded as comical.
The film wraps up with a reveal to Dr. Martin, a couple of murders and a ‘patients running the asylum’ ending. Aside from The Weird Tailor segment, this is probably my least favorite of the Amicus anthologies. However, I think the wrap-around story is probably one of the most interesting and developed of all the Amicus anthologies. There are some bright spots in the film and it’s definitely worth a watch for completists and those who like movies from this era.
Amicus Films overview