CLASSIC REEL : 'Asylum'
Cast: Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Patrick Magee, Robert Powell, Barry Morse and Hebert Lom
Year of Release: 1972
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Plot: A psychiatrist's application as Chief Doctor at a mental institution lies with the success of his interview with four patients, who each has a strange tale to tell.
This British horror film (the British are SO GOOD when it comes to horror, believe me!), has TCM's Star of The Month, Peter Cushing, known for his roles in several horror films and playing the Commander of the Death Star, Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars. Among the cast was past Bond Girl, Britt Ekland and Robert Powell, before his memorable portrayal of Jesus Christ in Jesus of Nazareth. Halloween's already knocking, so if you wish to draw up a list of scary movies before the actual night, put this one on it.
We immediately meet Dr Martin (Powell) as he arrives at the secluded asylum for the 'incurably insane' (charming) and is received by the cold and enigmatic Dr Rutherford (Magee), who explained the reason for him being in a wheelchair was due to an injury by the former head of the asylum, Dr B Starr- who is now a patient after a mental breakdown. However, Martin is surprised by Rutherford's directive- rather than interviewing him to deem him suitable for his pending post as Chief Doctor, he- Martin- must interview the patients and determine which one of them is Dr Starr.
Visibly annoyed and reluctant, Martin meets with the orderly Max (George Bayldon) who takes him to the patients in question, one by one:
-a young woman, Bonnie (Barbara Parkins) who connived with her married lover to kill his wife... who happened to be a student of voodoo.
-an elderly tailor, Bruno (Morse), who was ordered to custom make a suit out of a strange material by a mysterious man (Cushing), with instructions to work on it only at midnight.
-a young woman Barbara (Charlotte Rampling), a drug addict who can't get past the influence of her best friend Lucy (Ekland), a woman only she could see.
-and finally, Dr Bryon who shows Martin his collection of strange mini mannequins, one of them with his own face, claiming he could pass his soul to it, making it come alive.
Asylum is an entertaining anthology film, less gory scenes than one would expect, relying more on the eerie music, intense camera close-ups, suspense and the unrelated stories themselves. Robert Powell with the intense blue eyes listens to each story with fascination and patience, speaks his mind with no reserve and makes it clear why he wants his applied position in that questionable place. The patients themselves were more pitiful than actually scary... well except for patient 4 but still does not take away the fear factor. Dr Bryon leaves us with questions that are not answered, as well as the actual reason why Dr Rutherford chose this method of testing him for the post or the actual reason why Starr went mad in the first place. It started well at the beginning but somehow came out flat towards the end, even though all though, there was a huge sense of foreboding over what Dr Martin would find out at last.
The twist ending will leave you with your mouth hanging open and cringe, like most horror films and asking even more questions. But still a classic.
Asylum was written by Robert Bloch , author of Pyscho.
On its U.S release, it was called House of Crazies.
Dr Rutherford: Never turn your back on a patient.