Amicus made a variety of quintessentially British, high concept anthology Horror films that stood apart from the more famous Gothic competitor Hammer Horror films due to the contemporary settings, even though they shared a very similar visual style and regularly featured Hammer regulars Sir Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Inspired by the success of such films as the 1945 classic Dead of Night and The House That Dripped Blood from 1971 - also released on Blu-ray by Second Sight Films on July 29th - Amicus Films produced this low-budget horror anthology with the significant screenwriting talent of Robert Bloch (author of the novel Psycho).
Asylum is often considered one of the best of these anthologies with a significant cult following and a stellar cast consisting of Robert Powell, Patrick Magee, Britt Eckland, Charlotte Rampling and the aforementioned Peter Cushing on top form.
The framing story that links each of the individual tales together, sets the tone perfectly as we are introduced to an intense and arrogant young Dr. Martin (Robert Powell) applying for a supervisory post at a Victorian Mental Asylum. Intriguingly and perhaps more bizarrely he is asked by Director Assistant, Dr. Rutherford (Patrick Magee) to interview four of the “criminally insane patients” to deduce which one is the former Asylum Director, who became an inmate after a violent nervous breakdown. These interviews form the body (or corpse) of the film as Dr. Martin investigates and interrogates the patients without any clues or guidance from his cryptic and secretive hospital chaperone, Max (Geoffrey Bayldon).
The first dark vignette, Frozen Fear, features Bonnie (Barbara Parkins) as the conniving mistress of soused married man, Walter (Richard Todd) as they conspire and enact the murder of his shrewd wife, Ruth (Sylvia Syms). The violence is most definitely on the schlocky, cheesy side and the acting unapologetically hammy, but this in no way detracts from the fun to be had. The bloodless murder and dismemberment of a key figure and ultimate comeuppance of the murderer(s) is gleefully entertaining, if perhaps not gloriously gory as most horror hounds would expect.
The Weird Tailor is the second twisted tale and centres around Bruno (Barry Morse), a Tailor deeply in debt who is offered a surprising and generous opportunity by Smith (Peter Cushing) to work on a outfit that would solve a significant part of his dues and rent. Bruno blindly accepts the lucrative offer regardless of numerous strange and seemingly sinister stipulations made by Smith. The resolution treads very familiar territory, but the final shot is astounding.
In Lucy Comes To Stay Barbara (Charlotte Rampling) returns home from a short stay at a Mental Hospital thanks to a controlling and co-dependent friendship with Lucy (Britt Eckland). Lucy also returns to the dismay and distress of Barbara's brother, George (James Villiers) who pays the price for his obvious obstruction to the unhealthy relationship. This segment lacks the vaudevillian schmaltz and macabre menace of the previous yarns and takes itself far too seriously to be much fun.
Dr Martin's overarching storyline concludes during the final instalment, Mannikins of Horror, as he meets the last of the four patients, Byron (Herbert Lom), who constructs ghoulish mechanical-humanoid golems which he aims to imbue with his life essence to aide his escape. This creepy final act is the perfect, yet surreal, way to conclude the anthology of films as we also discover the true identity of the former Asylum Director. While the revelation may be predictable to some, the journey is an entertaining ride that deserves a second go.
Extras are plentiful too; informative and well worth a watch. They include:
Audio Commentary with Director Roy Ward Baker and Camera Operator Neil Binney. 'Two’s a Company' - an incredible 1972 on-set BBC report featuring interviews with Producer Milton Subotsky, Director Roy Ward Baker, Actors Charlotte Rampling, James Villiers, Megs Jenkins, Art Director Tony Curtis and Production Manager Teresa Bolland. Screenwriter David J. Schow interview on Writer Robert Bloch, Fiona Subotsky Remembers Milton Subotsky. 'Inside The Fear Factory' Featurette with Directors Roy Ward Baker, Freddie Francis and Producer Max J. Rosenberg. A Theatrical Trailer and reversible sleeve subtitles for the hearing impaired boost the set further.
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS: Slipcase Featuring New Artwork by Graham Humphreys, a wonderful 40-page booklet with new essays by Allan Bryce, Jon Towlson and Kat Ellinger, Reversible poster featuring new and original artwork including new artwork by Graham Humphreys.