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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Asylum (1972)
(2019 Limited Edition)


Starring: Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Robert Powell, Herbert Lom, Barry Morse and Patrick Magee
Distributor: Second Sight Films
RRP: £29.99


Certificate: 15
Release Date: 29 July 2019

Second Sight Films releases the Amicus portmanteau classic from 1972, Asylum, written by Psycho author Robert Bloch – a prolific writer of short stories – and directed by Roy Ward Baker. This Limited Edition Blu-ray release includes a rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Graham Humphreys, a 40-page booklet with new essays by Allan Bryce, Jon Towlson and Kat Ellinger, a reversible sleeve featuring new and old artwork, and a host of disc special features. Doctor Martin (Robert Powell) arrives for a job at an asylum for the incurably insane. He sees Doctor Rutherford and, as a test, is set the task of discovering which inmate used to run the establishment. To do this he is shown systematically into four locked rooms, by Rutherford’s assistant, to hear how each patient came to be there.

In 'Frozen Fear', a man plots to murder his wealthy wife so he can be with his lover. However, she has been learning voodoo practices from a shaman and is wearing a talisman when she is killed, cut into separate pieces and put in a freezer in the cellar. When he checks the freezer later, he is attacked by the limbs which are scattered throughout the cellar and moving towards him. When his lover, Bonnie (Barbara Parkins) – the patient of the asylum – arrives, she herself is attacked by the body pieces and cannot escape the cellar. When an arm grips her from above, she attempts to free herself with an axe, thereby hideously scaring her own face.

This is a standard tale of lust and revenge, but it’s well-told. It is weakened by only one aspect which can hardly fail to reduce you to hysterics. It’s not the fact that the body parts of the wife move by themselves – and a head somehow manages to get from the bottom to the top of the stairs that will make you laugh, it’s the fact that each body part is carefully and meticulously wrapped-up in brown parcel paper and tied with string very attractively. What was he going to do, post them?!

In 'The Weird Tailor', an elderly shop owner cannot afford to pay his rent, so he is delighted when a gentleman (Peter Cushing) arrives with the request for a special suit. It is a strange fabric and there are very specific instructions. When it is finished the tailor delivers it to the man’s house, only to discover the gentleman is himself destitute. The suit is meant for the gentleman’s son who is dead and in a coffin. An extremely rare book has the ritual to bring him back using the suit. The tailor is forced to stop this by killing the gentleman. He returns to the shop with the book and the suit, but his wife puts the suit on a shop mannikin, inadvertently bringing it to life. In the original Robert Bloch short story, more is made of the mannikin that his wife talks to when she is increasingly left alone. This gives added resonance to her displaying the suit on her ‘friend’.

In 'Lucy Comes to Stay', Charlotte Rampling plays Barbara, a periodic asylum patient who is brought back to her brother’s house, along with a new housekeeper who is primarily there to ‘look after’ her. Her mischievous friend Lucy (Britt Ekland) arrives, upsetting Barbara’s mental balance. Barbara is persuaded by Lucy to escape the confines of the house one night, but she soon discovers that Lucy has killed the brother and the housekeeper. The only thing is, no one has heard of or seen Lucy. This one works well as a psychological piece. There were talks about making this the first segment, because there is little horror content and putting it at the start of the film would allow the tension and horror to be progressively racked-up. But it was decided a more visual horror tale should pique the audience attention.

In 'Mannikins of Horror', Herbert Lom plays Dr Byron, a gifted surgeon who constructs a collection of mini-automatons with the likenesses of people who have wronged him in the past. His masterpiece, however, is one with his own features and bodily organs. He uses the power of his mind to transfer his essence into it, with the sole intention of killing Doctor Rutherford and taking his place. You would not expect Herbert Lom to be in a horror film, but it works very well. There is a climatic scene to tie it all together, as the automaton dispatches Rutherford, and the visiting Doctor Martin discovers who used to run the asylum. I won’t give that information away.

This is a veritable who’s who of big names. Aside from the aforementioned Peter Cushing (who brought life to everything he was in – and I don’t just mean Frankenstein!), Charlotte Rampling, Britt Ekland, Herbert Lom, Robert Powell and Barbara Parkins, there is Patrick Magee, Barry Morse, Sylvia Syms, Richard Todd, and the wonderful Geoffrey Bayldon. I should also mention Douglas Gamley, who composed and conducted the suitably dark and atmospheric music.

There is a nice little collection of special features on the disc, including: an Audio Commentary with Roy Ward Baker and camera operator Neil Binney; a 1972 On Set BBC Report with interviews with Producer Milton Subotsky, Roy Ward Baker, Charlotte Rampling, James Villiers, Megs Jenkins, Art Director Tony Curtis and Production Manager Teresa Bolland; Screenwriter David J. Schow on Writer Robert Bloch (this is the most informative extra – it’s only 20 minutes but the sheer amount of interesting data relayed is truly staggering); Inside The Fear Factory is about the Amicus company; Fiona Subotsky Remembers Milton Subotsky, and there is a Theatrical Trailer.


Ty Power

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