Certain films I watched as a kid really etched themselves onto my brain. Asylum is one of those.
Known as House of Crazies in the US, this wonderfully claustrophobic British horror is the best of a series of portmanteau (anthology) films Amicus productions made in the 1960s and 70s.
It’s up there with the best Hammer Horror films for me and really reminds me of those Pan Horror short story books I used to love.
Warning, there are probably some little spoilers in this review, but come on, it is from 1972.
Here’s a breakdown of the stories…
Asylum (the main plot)
Dr Martin turns up to a creepy old asylum for the incurable insane looking for a job. On arrival, wheelchair-bound Dr Rutherford tells him this is no ordinary interview. Forget the resume, Dr Martin has to talk to four inmates to figure out which one is Dr B Star, the former head of the hospital who has recently gone completely cuckoo.
Best Bits: The brilliant etchings on the staircase depicting images of medieval madhouses and the brilliantly manic hospital attendant Max Reynolds. The music from the opening titles is wonderfully creepy too, it’s called Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky.
The best story of the lot. Bonnie is a pretty young girl who is inexplicably having an affair with wrinkly old Walter. There’s one problem,
Walter’s wife Ruth won’t divorce him, so the
unlikely pair hatch a plan to cut Ruth into pieces and wrap the bits into neat body-shaped brown paper packages. The only trouble is, the body parts won’t stop wriggling around, causing all sorts of
Best Bits: All those packages, particularly the waddling torso with it’s boom-boom soundtrack and the breathing head.
The Weird Tailor
Peter Cushing’s in this one so it’s automatically brilliant. Cushing plays Mr Smith who turns up at The Weird Tailor’s
house and asks him to make a suit for his son
out of some weird shiny material. What Mr Smith doesn’t say is the material has magical
properties that brings the wearer to life, oh no!
Best Bits: The mannequin that looks
like a bloke from a 70s porno
with duct tape stuck all over his face.
Lucy Comes To Stay
Definitely the weakest of the short stories. Basically, nutty Barbara’s just out of the madhouse. As soon as she’s back home her even madder mate Britt Ekland turns up to cause all sorts of chaos.
Best Bits: Britt Ekland being all
weird and some good gory stabbing
Mannikins of Horror
There’s no flashback story here, this is where the ‘meeting the inmates’ narrative comes back into play. The last inmate is Dr Byron who shows Dr Martin the dolls he’s been making and tells of his plans to transfer his consciousness into one of the creepy little figures. But of course that’s impossible… or is it… or is it…. OR IS IT!
Best Bits: Any scene with the main doll in is great, especially the when the little devil somehow manages to climb up a wall and into the dumb waiter.