A young psychiatrist interviews four inmates in a mental asylum to satisfy a requirement for employment. He hears stories about 1) the revenge of a murdered wife, 2) a tailor who makes a suit with some highly unusual qualities, 3) a woman who questions her sanity when it appears that her brother is conspiring against her, and 4) a man who builds tiny toy robots with lifelike human heads
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
Roy Ward Baker directs this horror anthology from the pen of macabre master Robert Bloch. Dr. Martin (Robert Powell) is a psychiatrist who wishes to work at an asylum for the incurably insane. In order to gain employment he is set a task by the house chieftain Dr. Rutherford (Patrick Magee) whereby he must discover the identity of a former doctor-turned-patient. Dr. Martin speaks to four different patients in an attempt to discover who used to be the psychiatrist and each patient relates to him their own particular terrifying story.
Robert Bloch, the man responsible for writing the novel of one of horror’s greatest movies, ‘Psycho’ (1960), writes for us four intriguing and pleasurable short horror pieces bound together wonderfully in the confines of an asylum. The film (produced by Amicus studios and now available in the UK in a wonderful box set) has a distinct feeling of a Hammer Horror production to it. The emphasis is on the story and artistic merit rather than cheap shocks and Roy Ward Baker does an excellent job throughout the production of building tension so that each shock has a desirable effect on the viewer. Each segment benefits from a marvellous cast which features the undeniable talents of the legendary Peter Cushing in ‘The Weird Taylor’ and the beautiful Britt Ekland in ‘Lucy Comes to Stay’. Britt Ekland would go on to co-star as the seductive landlord’s daughter Willow in the classic British horror ‘The Wicker Man’ just one year later.
The various segments themselves vary in quality, although not too dramatically. The opening segment, ‘Frozen Fear’ is a deliciously campy story about a man whose murdered wife seeks revenge on him and his lover. This particular segment may be a little too silly for some horror fans but it works as a perfect mood setter for the rest of the movie. The directorial style is what makes this segment worth watching. There are some wonderfully flowing shots which seek to give the short segment a distinctly unsettling edge despite the short falls of the script and story. A wonderful performance from Barbara Parkins of ‘Valley of the Dolls’ (1967) fame in the role of Bonnie caps the segment exquisitely and the climatic scene back in the asylum following the story give the segment an overall horrific nature.
This segment is followed by ‘The Weird Taylor’ which stars Peter Cushing as a devastated father who turns to the occult to resurrect his deceased son. He enlists the help of Bruno (Barry Morse), a taylor desperately in need of money, to make for him a suit to specific instructions. This segment is possibly the weakest of the four yet remains enthralling as the viewer cannot help but wonder just where this particular story is headed. Once again Roy Ward Baker’s direction during this segment is powerful as he creates a dark and despairing atmosphere despite the limitations of time and the story. Cushing’s performance is certainly memorable as is Barry Morse’s. The climax of the story is well portrayed but is unfortunately harmed by an air of unnecessary camp. Still, ‘The Weird Taylor’ is entertaining nonetheless but may be off-putting due to its overly slow nature.
Up next is ‘Lucy Comes to Stay’ which tells the story of a young girl (Charlotte Rampling as Barbara) who apparently has been recently released from a mental institution for her schizophrenia. She is still haunted by her imaginary friend Lucy (Britt Ekland) who soon makes an appearance and convinces her to leave the safety of her brother’s house. Murder and mayhem follow and the despairing Barbara reaches breaking point pretty quickly. This particular segment works more on the basis of the storyline rather than direction as there is little in the way of atmospheric build-up. Britt’s on-screen presence is commanding and powerful and her portrayal of a horror villain is so good that one wishes this segment had been made into an entire feature length movie as opposed to the short segment that it is. The shock scenes are blended into the story seamlessly with a superb accompanying soundtrack. This is my favourite of all the segments.
The film finally finishes with ‘Manikins of Horror’ where a former doctor believes that he can make and control little dolls. This segment takes place wholly back in the asylum and unlike the previous three stories there are no flashbacks to past events. This segment is possibly the most original of the stories and could even be possible influence for ‘Child’s Play’ (1988). Unfortunately, the story falls short as it becomes hard for one to suspend their disbelief yet the segment works as an excellent precursor to the genuinely surprising and shocking ending. Undeniably camp yet strangely intriguing this is a fitting ending to a generally entertaining horror film. For those who like horror anthologies and Hammer-style productions, one cannot go too far wrong with this entertaining British horror film. The film fails to maintain quality from start to finish but does not fail to entertain, surprise or shock. To sum up - an entertaining piece of horror anthology fare with some excellent direction, beautifully atmospheric scenarios and accompanying music and a strong cast who all give credible performances.
4 short story adaptations of Robert Bloch stories. I will look at them in order they appear...
"Frozen Fear": short story of a man who attempts to cut himself off from a loveless marriage in order to take up with his mistress by a rather inventive means of murder only some things don't seem to want to stay dead. Short, but effective and creepy with a terrific ending even if we are required to suspend disbelief quite a bit in a few scenes.
"The Weird Tailor": a tailor desperate for money agrees to, at the request of an unusual elderly customer (played by Peter Cushing), to make a special suit out of a very strange type of fabric. Only when he delivers it, he discovers the elderly customer actually has no money to pay and even more shocking is the true purpose of this bizarre suit. This is the best of these tales. However, to be honest, I much prefer the adaptation from the "Thriller" series.
"Lucy Comes To Stay": a tale of psychosis as Lucy (Charlotte Rampling) returns home from the mental hospital, presumed cured, only it seems the naughty girlfriend who landed Lucy in trouble to begin has started to visit her in secret as well. Actually this is not at all bad, it just runs a little too long for my liking. Still there's some quality about Charlotte Rampling I find irresistible.
"Mannikens of Horror": the framing story for the others in the series as a new doctor visits a mental hospital and discovers that the Doctor who called him there is now a patient in the ward. He's told he can have the job if he can identify which patient upstairs is that Doctor. Finally he comes to believe the individual is a strange fellow who makes small lifelike figures, into which he plans to place his conscience and use as his means of escape. A number of startling twists here, fine stars like Patrick Magee and Herbert Lom, make this both entirely unpredictable and honestly quite good.
Another in the line of 70's hammer horror, Asylum is yet again a gloriously camp and cliched horror flick complete with manic characters, incredibly OTT acting, mansion/haunted castle type locations, and of course, fog.
Asylum follows a young new qualified psychiatrist called Dr Martin, dryly played by a very young Robert Powell. He's applying for a job at an asylum and the interview is a far more bizarre one than any applicant for a new position would be used to.
He is greeted by Dr Rutherford, who appears to be the chairman figurehead of the asylum, who will interview him to establish his suitability.
However, it turns out there is a twist here, because in order to get the new job, Dr Martin is told he must successfully identify who is Dr Starr, the head of the institution. Simple you might think. Unfortunately Dr Starr is now a patient after attacking Rutherford and paralysing him from the waist down. Martin will be given a tour of 'upstairs' by Reynolds, the asylum orderly, and be taken round each case in order to see if he can identify which one really is Starr.
This leads to compendium style stories as we look back into the past of each patient - which one of these stories is actually true?
It must be said the whole cast appear to be having a whole heck of a lot of fun, and star turns from the likes of Patrick Magee, Peter Cushing, Brit Ekland and Charlotte Rampling ensure there's a quality behind the lunacies.
Daft in places? Of course! Archaic? Without a doubt! Fantastic fun and satisfying? Indeed!