ASYLUM is the fifth in a series of seven Amicus horror anthologies. If THE MONSTER CLUB is included as part of the series, this would make eight movies. Although, that movie is very different from the others.
I look upon the Amicus anthologies with great memories as I used to love them when I was in my teens. My feelings for them today are just as strong.
ASYLUM may no longer be my favourite of the Amicus horror anthologies. But it is the first one I saw and as such holds a special place in my heart.
There are three identifiable stories in this movie. Although, unlike the other Amicus anthologies, the linking story is much more prominent and as such acts as a fourth.
The movie starts with Robert Powell as a young doctor driving to an Dunsmoor Asylum, an asylum for the incurable insane. The opening credits play over his journey with the famous “A Night on Bald Mountain” used for the score. With a magnificent example of classical music being used to score the movie, I knew it was going to be an enjoyable experience.
When Powell arrives at the asylum, he finds out that the head of the institution, Dr. Starr, has himself now become an inmate. His associate, Dr. Rutherford, sets Powell a test to judge his ability to take the job. The test – meet the inmates and identify which one is Dr. Starr.
Powell then goes up to meet the inmates and is introduced to the orderly, played by Geoffrey Bayldon. I loved Bayldon’s performance here and consider it to be one of the best of his career. At 85 and still going strong, I wish him a happy life in the remainder of his retirement.
Each of the three stories begins with Powell introducing himself to the inmates.
The first story involves Barbara Parkins who has made plans to run off with her lover, played by Richard Todd. Unfortunately, Todd’s wife, played by Sylvia Syms, stands in the way. Todd decides to kill his wife, dismember her body and wrap each part up neatly in brown paper. The body parts are then left in a freezer in the cellar. Unfortunately, Todd’s wife won’t let him leave quite so easily! This story moves along slowly at times but features good performances by the three actors.
The second story involves Barry Morse as a tailor facing eviction from his shop because he can’t afford to pay the rent. A sinister customer, played to perfection by the late great Peter Cushing, asks him to make a suit from unusual material. Cushing tells him that the suit is a gift for his son. But it turns out his son is dead! I will spoil no more but I will state that I really enjoyed this story and fail to understand why it is so heavily bashed by IMDb users. The story is worth seeing just for Cushing’s performance alone. But Barry Morse should be given recognition for giving the performance of his career as the somewhat nervous tailor trying hard to get the suit finished in time.
The third story sees Charlotte Rampling returning home after a stay in a mental hospital. Her brother, played superbly by the great professional, James Villiers, acts caring for his sister but has a sinister side that makes the audience question his loyalties. Anyway, Rampling sees her friend, Lucy, played by Britt Ekland, after taking some pills. Ekland persuades Rampling to run off with her and leave her brother behind. This story takes a series of twists and turns before reaching its disturbing conclusion. Rampling’s performance as a young woman with a seemingly split personality is easily one of the best in the movie.
The remainder of the movie takes place in the asylum and this constitutes the final story. Powell meets a seemingly calm rational doctor, played by the great Herbert Lom, one of my all-time favourite actors. Lom has created a series of mechanical figures, including one of himself. He tries persuading those around him that he can bring the figure to life but everyone thinks he’s crazy. But could he be right? Watch and see.
The linking story works so well due to the superb performance delivered by Robert Powell. His performance as a seemingly confident yet naive young doctor was genuinely believable and he held my attention in every scene he was in.
Patrick Magee should not be forgotten either. His performance as the aging experienced doctor was believable because he was seen to have flaws that remind us all that experience is not something to be relied upon as a sole strength when dealing with tough challenges.
Roy Ward Baker directs the movie and many of his styles are evident here. He makes excellent use of “A Night on Bald Mountain” to score the movie, ensuring it fits with the somewhat Gothic setting. His other choices of music have an orchestral Gothic style that ensure consistency and help build suspense and tension, something particularly evident in the final story. Baker makes excellent use of camera angles to hook the audience with something quirky or sinister, draw them in slowly and then deliver a sudden shock out of nowhere. These styles were also used on many of his other movies but it is here where it works best.
The scripting is carefully put together so the movie distances itself from its four predecessors. The choice of using part of the linking story to act as the final story was a wise decision since it’s actually better than the other three.
Overall, ASYLUM is a must-see for fans of the Amicus anthologies, fans of other Amicus movies or fans of portmanteau horror movies. If my summary provides the movie with enough appeal in your eyes, check it out. You’ll enjoy it!