Asylum (1972 United Kingdom)

barbara-parkinsIts definitely worth checking yourself in here. On a foggy English day a young psychiatrist Dr. Martin (Robert Powell) arrives at the local mental institution, which resembles a Gothic castle. Martin expects to get a job after receiving a proposition from the head doctor, B. Starr. Unfortunately, the creepy wheelchair bound current headcase in charge, Dr Rutherford, tells him that Starr has gone insane and is now one of the patients. And that the only way to get the job is to identify the Doctor. Any we think employers give us too many hurdles to jump over at interviews these days! And what was the salary package on offer?

I’m a sucker for an anthology film. More horror for less. Particularly if its 4 stories written by Robert Bloch. First up is Frozen Fear: Growing tired of his wife’s control freak nature, her husband decides to kill her. He then stores her body in the freezer downstairs for safekeeping so that his affair with his mistress can continue. Despite agreeing to run off together, something in the basement keeps stirring and making him feel uneasy while he’s waiting. This is one of the more obvious tales here, and the atmosphere drenched up is quite nerve-wrecking. The sequences in the basement are some of the most ingenious and creepy moments ever. It’s also got a great ending that plays nicely. While it tends to move along slowly, waiting for the inevitable, when it does occur there is plenty for the viewer to enjoy.

image5Story number 2 is “The Weird Tailor” which is actually inaccurate, as it’s Bruno’s customer, the mysterious Mr. Smith (Peter Cushing) who is the weird one. Bruno (Barry Morse) is a stereotypical Yiddish garment maker, full of self-pitying gestures and a wife going out of her mind with worry. They desperately need a paying customer. The rent is due. Enter Mr Smith, with promises of settling his account on completion of the order. But Bruno will find out that there are worse things to experience than losing one’s place of business. The job of manufacturing a suit from the strange material provided by Smith has macabre consequences. Very poor special effects let down the ham-fisted climax to this story.

Next we move on to Lucy Comes To Stay. Because this one heavily involves mental illness, it blurs the lines between reality and psychosis in a nasty, dreamlike way. Charlotte Rampling returns home after a time out in a mental hospital. Her brother, played superbly by that great professional, James Villiers, acts in a caring way for his sister. But he also has a sinister side that makes the audience question his loyalties. Anyway, Rampling sees her friend, Lucy, played by Britt Ekland, after taking some pills. Ekland persuades Rampling to run off with her and leave her brother (and the pills) behind. This story takes a series of twists and turns before reaching its disturbing conclusion. Perhaps it fools the viewer too much though.

The remainder of the film takes place in the asylum and this constitutes the final story. Powell meets a seemingly calm rational doctor, played by the great Herbert Lom. Lom has created a series of mechanical figures, including one of himself. He tries persuading those around him that he can bring the figure to life but everyone thinks he’s crazy. But could he be right? Watch and see. The linking story works so well due to the superb performance delivered by Robert Powell. His portrayal of the confident yet naive young doctor was genuinely believable and he held my attention in every scene he was in. By the end we have to guess the true identity of one of the characters we have met during the course of the film. This one is not too difficult perhaps, but the sudden burst of violence that it produces (not to mention an ironic conclusion) gives the whole movie an unsettling power that is hard to shake off.

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  1. Excellent review of what I consider an iconic anthology horror film! It’s thoroughly enjoyable and had an ingenious premise. I agree with you that it is a most unsettling watch indeed. 😈

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much…though one thing I forgot to mention was the chilling music. πŸ™‚


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