Friday, January 6, 2012

Ten Statements About....ASYLUM (1972)

"I want you to make the grandest dress for the ball
ever--I will be a pretty lady, I will!"
"Now I'm not so sure these poor devils up there can't be cured. They can only be confined and kept from being dangerous."
"Is that Dr. Starr's outlook, too?"
"Dr. Starr is upstairs now."
"What, with a patient?"
"Dr. Starr is a patient."

1) This, the final of the three Robert Bloch-penned Amicus anthologies, features what is hands down the best of the company's framing sequences--probably because it's not 'a mysterious tarot card reader/carnival worker/real estate agent tells various souls their doomed future,' and because it seamlessly folds into the final story. This is prime anthology film storytelling.

And if you don't believe me, keep in mind this framing sequence was ripped off whole--with less budget and cinematic style--in World Film Services' lackluster Tales That Witness Madness the following year.

2) I am positive that Amicus always worked on a low budget (and the bulk of said budget was always thrown at the bigger-than-you'd-expect name cast), but it's to the company's credit how they made their lack of budget work for them. Just look at their solution to 'Frozen Terror's' ultimate monstrosity. By wrapping the body parts in butcher paper, the film effectively conceals that these are mainly artificial limbs and manniquin parts...but also drives home how premeditated Richard Todd's Walter's act was, which makes that portion of the story extra creepy.

3) Supposedly, Todd regretted doing this picture, which is a pity, as his understated performance gives the film one of its best shock cuts.

4) Even though it's not so much a story as a kind of loosely connected notions forced into story-like form, I found 'The Weird Tailor' somewhat compelling thanks to the performances of Barry Morse and Peter Cushing. The two of them create a sort of forlorn chemistry, and I almost wish I could watch more of these desperate characters interacting with each other. I think it also helps that the theme of the story has a strange sort of resonance with what was going on in Cushing's life at the time.

5) That being said...nothing says 'Are You Kidding Me?' quite like two elderly men rolling around in a dark, empty room in what I think is supposed to be interpreted as 'fighting.'

Sadly, this does not lead into some 70's actress girl-on-girl
6) Of course, every one of these portmanteau films has to have a turkey--and boy, is 'Lucy Comes To Stay' gobbling away in this film's center. You would think twenty minutes or so of Britt Eklund trying to tempt Charlotte Rampling into badness--both in the prime of their hotness--fun, but the pacing is way off, there are long stretches of talking heads, and the ending is pretty obvious from the moment Eklund's Lucy first appears. It could easily have been cut, or pared down to a more manageable, shorter length.

7) I don't care what you say, there is something so freaky creepy about the little Herbert Lom-headed doll doing the toy-robot shuffle and stabbing Patrick MacGee in the back of the neck with a scalpel...and if that doesn't freak you out, seeing what Lom's Dr. Byron told you was inside that doll spilling out of it will....

8) And you know...give Bloch credit for leading us to assume one conclusion to this framing sequence, only to switch us to another. Granted, it really helps that Geoffrey Blaydon not only is able to keep in character until the big twist is sprung, but also has the single craziest laugh I've ever heard.

"From the toy shop's heart, I stab at thee!"
9) Seeing how clever this production is in utilizing its low-budget special effects (there's really only one absolutely terrible effect, in 'The Weird Tailor') makes me sad that we won't see their likes again. It takes real creativity to utilize colored gels to make a roll of fabric seem strangely alive, or give us these strange ass robots, and their creakiness gives them a solidity and charm an overpolished CGI monster will never have.

10) And perhaps the most puzzling aspect of this film is how Bloch consciously leaves many things unexplained clearly. Why does Dr. Byron have a whole cabinet full of his creepy robots with the heads of his colleagues? Provided the suit Bruno the Tailor made for Mr. Smith worked, how did Mr. Smith intend to make the money he was promising was forthcoming? It's as if Bloch understood that there are some things the audience likes to make up their own mind about--things that they could come up with scarier solutions for--and you know a modern remake would never allow these areas of mystery to be unexplained.'s a real toss-up between this and The House That Dripped Blood as to which one is my all-time favorite of the Amicus portmanteaus. This one may actually have a higher percentage of quality stories (although House doesn't have a story anywhere near as stinky as 'Luck Comes To Stay') and definitely has the best framing sequence. Highly recommended.

And incidentally, if you watch this on the Blue Underground DVD, check out the weird twenty-minutes featurette on the history of Amicus. Max Rosenberg's account of the company's history seems violently opposed to the account presented by Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker, and you have to wonder what really happened.

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