When a movie starts with a cool orange MGB GT, some belting and totally
overblown classical music and a rain-soaked old mansion glimpsed through
the early evening gloom, you know you're in for a treat. And when Robert
Powell steps out of the car in a sharp suit and a pair of wicked sunglasses,
you know things can't possibly go wrong. Of course, this being a British
horror film, the chances are that it'll still be shite. Luckily, Asylum
is definitely not shite, despite its rather tame video rating. It ranks
as one of the best films Amicus ever made, and just gets better with every
viewing. I know, I've just watched it again for the umpteenth time.
Bob's thinking of joining the titular nuthouse as a doctor, but rather
than just checking out his CV and phoning a few of his references, his
prospective boss (Patrick Magee in full-on creep mode) has other things
in mind. After revealing that the place is "an asylum for the incurably
insane", he explains why he's in a wheelchair: "Never turn your
back on a patient," and then reveals that his associate, Dr Starr,
has joined the fruit loops they keep locked up upstairs. He's taken on
a dual personality.
"Working with the mentally disturbed can cause a breakdown,"
ponders Powell, thoughtfully.
Then comes the plot launch: "If you can recognise who is - or was
- Dr Starr, I'll consider you for the position..."
Only consider? Blimey, they don't make it easier to get a job here, do
they? Especially considering the doctors aren't actually expected
to cure any of the patients.
Powell makes his way into the bowels of the house past a series of lithograph
prints depicting old methods of mental healthcare, that get more bizarre
the further he goes. Still, makes a change from floral prints, or anything
that might help to actually improve the patients' lives...
He's greeted by "Max Reynolds" (Geoffrey Bayldon) the orderly,
who shows him to the first of the four patients he must interview, and
the fun begins in earnest...
Bonnie's having an affair with a fat poof with a predeliction for tight
fitting shirts and floral scarves. His wife is "taking voodoo lessons
from a black charlatan" (like the ones you can sign up for at your
local village hall). She's refusing a divorce. He wants her money. "You
are mine," she tells him, "and I'll never let you go".
Luckily, he's got a present for her. It's in the basement, and it's a
chest freezer (no 70s home was complete without one). She's overjoyed
at this, until he belts her one with an axe, chops her up, wraps the bits
in brown paper (why?), puts her in the freezer (why?) and then lobs in
the voodoo bracelet she was carrying (bad move), before uttering the immortal
phrase: "Rest in pieces..."
However, he soon lives to regret that bit of levity, and has to raise
an eyebrow when the head, still wrapped in paper, follows him back upstairs.
When he goes to check the freezer again, he sticks his head right in so
a hand can reach up and grab him...
Soon, Bonnie arrives, and in one of those moments you only get in this
kind of film, goes straight to the basement to look in the freezer. Of
course, her beloved's in there, and it's not long before she's being menaced
by sundry body parts - including a still-breathing head, a waddling torso
and a comedy leg. She attacks them with the axe, but makes the mistake
at having a go at the hand which grabs her face - and misses.
The Weird Tailor
Bruno's an anachronistic tailor who appears to have stepped out of a Dickens
novel (via the Dick Van Dyke school of comedy accents). He's also broke
and needs to pay the rent, otherwise he's out on his arse. Enter Peter
Cushing, who appears to be bacon saving with his request for Bruno to
make an expensive suit for his son out of shiny disco material. However,
there are stipulations - Bruno can only work on the suit after midnight.
"I happen to believe in astrology... there must be no mistake."
Bruno starts to work on the suit, and immediately breaks the rules - but
manages to spike his finger in doing so. The blood seeps onto the material
and disappears. He decides not to make that mistake again.
He finishes the suit and takes it round to Cushing, who turns out to be
quite bonkers. He was rich once, but is now broke, having spent all his
money on a book which details how the suit will bring his very dead son
back to life.
"You can't stop me now... no-one can stop me now!" he screams.
"Give me that suit!" Just like a Saturday afternoon in Burtons.
But Bruno needs the money, and refuses. There's a struggle, and Cushing
gets shot. Back at the shop he explains what has happened to his wife,
and tells her to burn the suit. Instead, she puts it on the dummy in the
shop window. Uh-oh...
Lucy Comes To Stay
Barbara (Charlotte Rampling) is brought home by her slimey brother after
a period in the nuthouse. She's obviously insane, if she thinks she looks
good in a man's suit and a tie (no woman ever has or will). However, it's
not long before her imaginary friend Lucy (a swining Britt Ekland - if
you're going to have a pretend playmate, you might as well make it a good
one) soon puts in an appearance, and stabs both Babs' brother and her
nurse to death. "I say.. this is a lark, isn't it?"
"There, Barbara, now you're free. Free of all of them." Back
at the Asylum, Babs explains that Lucy's there all the time, in the mirror
(as if the entire western world hadn't already guessed). Every anthology
has to have its low point, I suppose.
Mannequins Of Horror
Dr Byron (Herbert Lom) sits in his room making strange little people.
"These are not ordinary figures," he explains. He's not kidding,
"You talk about them as if they're alive," says Robert. "That's
the final step." Herbert replies. He reckons they are perfect replicas
of the human form (providing the human form is silver and square shaped)
and that all he has to do is will them into existence.
Powell makes his excuses and leaves. Whilst he undergoes the formality
of his final interview, upstairs Byron sits and stares at the mannequin
which bears his own face. The mannequin springs (slowly) to life, makes
its way (slowly) downstairs and stabs Magee (slowly) in the back of the
neck with a scalpel. Powell stamps on the mannequin to reveal it's full
of offal. He legs it upstairs only to find that Byron has been crushed
too, and when he runs past Bayldon into the orderlies' office, he finds
Asylum is a fantastic film, only let down by the Lucy segment. As well
as its four little mini stories, it has a great twist ending. And full
marks for the circular narrative, which sees Powell's not-quite-so cool
replacement turning up in a grey Mini, wearing a flasher's mac and child
Director: Roy Ward Baker Writer(s): Robert Bloch
Cast: Peter Cushing - Smith, Britt Ekland - Lucy, Herbert Lom -
Byron, Patrick Magee - Dr. Rutherford, Barry Morse - Bruno, Barbara Parkins
- Bonnie, Robert Powell - Dr. Martin, Charlotte Rampling - Barbara, Sylvia
Syms - Ruth, Richard Todd - Walter, James Villiers - George, Geoffrey
Bayldon - Dr. B. Starr, alias Max Reynolds, Anne Firbank - Anna Megs,
Jenkins - Miss Higgins, John Franklyn-Robbins - Stebbins
Not only does Asylum deserve an extra special amount of pages
devoted to it on the site, but it has its fair share of classic sound
bites too. Listen in wonder to Peter Cushing's powerhouse performance
as Mr Smith, Patrick Magee's dodgy voice as Dr Rutherford, some casual
racism and Geoffrey Bayldon's mad laughter.
Even Britt Eckland's performance as the scissor-wielding Lucy doesn't
sound too bad.
Unfortunately, there aren't any sounds from Mannequins Of Horror,
mainly because no bugger says much in it. Even Herbert Lom.
Martin meets Dr Rutherford: "...never turn your back on a patient..."
explains the plot 107k
voodoo lessons from a black charlatan... 91k
are... mine... and I will never let you go... 49k
in pieces 7k
The Weird Tailor
Cushing's entrance 23k
vant I should make you a suit? 25k
will be difficult to work from such a fabric... 53k
(Listen to the anguish in Cushing's voice when he says "It's for
you see? This is my son... 10k
book told me what to do... 39k
can't stop me now. No-one can stop me now. 15k
Lucy Comes To Stay
say... it is a lark, isn't it? 61k
you're free... free of all of them 12k
afraid your guess was wrong. I am Doctor Starr. 15k