“Rest in Pieces” – Rediscovering ‘Asylum’ (UK 1972 – 88 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - April 23, 2015
“Rest in Pieces” – Rediscovering ‘Asylum’ (UK 1972 – 88 mins)

A very entertaining chiller, the excellent horror anthology ‘Asylum’ makes for perfect late-night viewing. With a terrific atmosphere and splendidly acted by a well-known cast, it briskly and seamlessly moves from one chilling tale to the next, before we witness one final (and surprising) twist.

To test the mettle of new arrival Dr. Martin (Robert Powell) at Dunsmoor mental asylum, the young medic is set the challenge of determining which patient is the psychiatrist Dr. Starr, who has recently become a patient himself after attacking a fellow doctor. As Dr. Martin interviews four inmates, we flash back to witness the chilling events which led each of them to this asylum for the incurably insane, before the answer is finally revealed.

The early Seventies brought a host of horror anthologies from the famed Amicus studio, often employing a wrath of talented actors, some of whom thought they were clearly slumming it (including Richard Todd who hated his involvement in this one). While I think ‘Tales from the Crypt’ (’72) had the best single segment in their entire cannon (Peter Cushing’s poignant turn as widower Arthur Grimsdyke), ‘Asylum’ remains my favourite overall. I never really enjoyed ‘From Beyond the Grave’ as much as the others, as I only really liked the tale which involved Donald Pleasence’s blind street seller getting involved with a shady Ian Bannen. Although I must admit that I did love Peter Cushing’s antique shop owner in that one.

My personal favourite segments in ‘Asylum’ are the first two. In ‘Frozen Fear’ we have the attacking body parts of his butchered wife (Sylvia Syms) enacting their own revenge on Richard Todd’s no-good husband. The second tale; ‘The Weird Tailor’, has a wonderful turn by Barry Morse as a penniless tailor unwittingly unleashing a curse after making a bespoke suit for a mourning Peter Cushing. The third segment ‘Lucy Comes to Stay’ is less interesting, and had Charlotte Rampling’s schizophrenic ex-patient communicating with a fictional friend (Britt Ekland), with tragic consequences. The final segment ‘Mannikins of Horror’ neatly wraps up the story, as Dr. Byron (Herbert Lom) builds mechanical dolls of his fellow doctors, including a homicidal one of himself. The final twist ends the movie satisfyingly as Dr. Martin fails to guess which inmate is Dr. Starr, to his eternal regret. At the very end we see a new hopeful candidate turn up at Dunsmoor, which we now know will start the whole brutal cycle once again.

I must admit, when I first saw the movie I didn’t guess who the mysterious Dr. Starr would turn out to be, as now it seems rather obvious. The tiny robot mannequins with the lifelike heads were very well done, as were the attacking body parts in the basement sequence in ‘Frozen Fear’.

‘Asylum’ was helped by the direction of the great Roy Ward Baker, who had made the superb Titanic drama ‘A Night to Remember’ (’58) and ‘Vampire Lovers’ (’70).The imposing asylum exteriors in rural Berkshire were an ideal setting, and the cold corridors and stairways laced with large lurid paintings, made for a perfect interior. Rounding out the superb cast here was the beautiful Barbara Parkin’s as Richard Todd’s mistress, Patrick Magee as staff member Dr. Rutherford, and the great Geoffrey Bayldon as an orderly. Famed ‘Psycho’ novelist Robert Bloch expertly adapted a bunch of his short stories for the movie, as he had done earlier for 1971’s entertaining ‘The House that Dripped Blood’.

‘Asylum’ remains a film that I can happily re-watch, and it’s no surprise that it has become a cult favourite for many genre fans. If you’ve never seen this early Seventies gem, then you really should settle in one stormy night and give a watch. After all, as the movie’s tagline warns us: “You Have Nothing to Lose But Your Mind”

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