Monday, 12 December 2011

Review: Asylum

Asylum (1972)\

A young doctor goes an insane asylum for a job interview only to be told that the director of the asylum has gone mad and is now one of the patients in  the violent ward.  He is then informed that if he can interview the ward patients and determine which of the four is the former director, he gets the job.  It seems simple enough, but his efforts quickly unveil stories of supernatural horror that may not be confined to the ward.

Asylum is another in Amicus's popular magazine format of horror stories from the 1960s and 70s, only instead of the framing device being a sinister stranger or a trapped group of bewildered strangers, its about a doctor interviewing insane people as part of a larger story.  It's an effective device and working from a script by Robert Bloch doesn't hurt either.  The individual tales, which include one of a man who dismembers his wife only to discover her bits won't stay put, a penniless tailor commissioned to create a magical suit, a young woman whose homecoming from hospital is marred by the appearance of a sinister friend, and a mad doctor into building homunculae all carry a nice blend of horror and whimsy that director Roy Ward Baker is able to infuse with atmosphere and moments of real creepiness by the simplest of cinematic tricks.

But what puts Asylum over the top is the Amicus talent for persuading top-notch actors to sign on for small roles that involve little more than an afternoons work.  Despite a small budget, Asylum boasts Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Barry Morse, Barbara Parkins, Robert Powell and last, but most emphatically not least, Charlotte Rampling.  Every one of them takes their roles very seriously and there isn't a second's mugging or winking at the camera to be found.   Because of this, they are able to convince the audience that they aren't just watching a string of gory tales, but are glimpsing into a world of utter chaos where reason is banished and madness reigns supreme.

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