Asylum: Limited Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Second Sight
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (1st July 2019).
The Film

Interfilm Award – Recommendation (Forum of New Cinema): Roy Ward Baker (winner) and OCIC Award – Recommendation (Forum of New Cinema): Roy Ward Baker (winner) - Berlin International Film Festival, 1973

Psychologist Dr. Martin (Mahler's Robert Powell) is given a bizarre challenge by predecessor Dr. Rutherford (Dementia 13's Patrick Magee) in his job interview as new administrator at an asylum housed in a gothic mansion in the stormy British countryside: he must identify which one of the inmates is his insane predecessor Dr. B. Starr by listening to their stories. In "Frozen Fear," Bonnie (Valley of the Dolls' Barbara Parkins) describes how her lover Walter (The House of the Long Shadows' Richard Todd) killed and dismembered his voodoo practicing wife (Expresso Bongo's Sylvia Syms), storing the body parts in the basement freezer only for the bits and pieces to come back and terrorize them. In "The Weird Tailor" – previously adapted for the Boris Karloff-hosted television series Thriller – Bruno (The Fugitive's Barry Morse) is a tailor of a failing business who is hired by Mr. Smith (Horror Express' Peter Cushing) to make a suit out of material capable of reanimating the dead. In "Lucy Comes to Stay," Barbara (The Night Porter's Charlotte Rampling) is just out of an institution and staying in the home of her brother George (Repulsion's James Villiers) with a nurse (The Innocents' Megs Jenkins) when seemingly imaginary friend Lucy (The Wicker Man's Britt Ekland) pops up for a little deadly fun. Finally, in "Mannikins of Horror" – adapted again later for the Richard P. Rubenstein/Laurel show Monsters – Byron (The Dead Zone's Herbert Lom) creates little dolls that are capable of movement and murder.

Asylum returned to the well of Robert Bloch, who had parlayed his authorship of the vastly different source novel for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho into a screenwriter career largely drawing form his own short stories and whose work would also be adapted for Amicus' Torture Garden and The House That Dripped Blood. Apart from "The Weird Tailor" which benefits from a dependably good performance from Cushing in an underwritten role and "Mannikins of Horror" for Lom's performance more so than the titular creatures, none of the stories are particularly good on their own but the film remains entertaining as a whole. The living dead limbs of "Frozen Fear" are no more convincing than the severed hand prop of Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (which would be repurposed for And Now the Screaming Starts) but the episode is nicely claustrophobic if only for a few minutes. "Lucy Comes to Stay" is entirely predictable, yet there is immense pleasure in seeing Rampling, Villiers, Ekland, and Jenkins go through the motions. The direction of Roy Ward Baker (Scars of Dracula) is stalwart as usual while the photography of Amicus regular Denys Coop (Inserts) effectively uses cool florescent lighting "Frozen Terror" and some expressionistic angles in "The Weird Tailor"). Amicus regular Douglas Gamley – whose association with Amicus extends back to City of the Dead/Horror Hotel as conductor – borrows from Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" for the main titles.

Video

Released theatrically stateside by Cinerama Releasing – and reissued as House of Crazies by Dynamite Entertainment (who also issued The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires as The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula and The Satanic Rites of Dracula as Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride) –and by Paramount in the U.K., Asylum was issued on VHS by Media Home Entertainment sub-label Nostalgia Merchant followed by a Prism Entertainment release in the U.S. and a Guild pre-cert and Vipco VHS in the U.K. The Prism cassette as well as Image Entertainment's 2000 Euroshock Collection DVD were fullscreen transfers with a video-burned title card to replace the copyright information while the original title card was restored to Anchor Bay's 2003 U.K. anamorphic DVD and Dark Sky's U.S. 2006 HD-mastered DVD. Released last year in the U.S. as part of the limited edition Amicus Collection, Severin's Blu-ray featured a 1.78:1-framed transfer with a softish speckly credits sequence possibly lifted from the earlier HD master created for MonstersHD that was utilized on the Dark Sky disc. Second Sight's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is likely sourced from the same master with the opening credits looking slightly better (although there is still some distortion during the title card). As on the Severin disc, things improve considerably after the opening credits. The fine detail of the asylum's line drawings is free of distortion and the transfer calls attention to the "lovely light" camera operator Neil Binney (Alien 3) describes in a film that used to look rather flat and murky in earlier video transfers while the glowing suit in "The Weird Tailor" is also free of the hot spots on the Image DVD.

Audio

While the Anchor Bay UK disc had the usual DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks common to their early releases – including films like this where it is obvious that the audio elements would only have allowed an upmix – Second Sight's edition has not provided any audio enhancement, favoring an uncompressed LPCM 1.0 mono track which is clean and crisp with Gamley's arrangement of "Night on Bald Mountain" appropriately thunderous under the opening credits while the track also captures the more subtle chills like shuffling paper-wrapped severed limbs and the creeping mannikins. Optional English HoH subtitles are also provided.

Extras

Extras are identical to the Severin Blu-ray. Carried over from the Anchor Bay and Dark Sky discs is the audio commentary by director Roy Ward Baker and camera operator Neil Binney which starts off on a technical bent as they discuss the use of smoke machines to add fog to punch up exteriors and lighting the dark wood of Shepperton Studio interiors, and Baker's desire to hire Hammer DP Arthur Grant (Plague of the Zombies) who had fallen ill and had to withdraw three weeks before production. Moderator Marcus Hearn comments on the individual stories – including comedian Spike Milligan as Subotsky's choice for Reynolds (played in the film by Geoffrey Bayldon's A Night to Remember), Bloch's dissatisfaction with the major changes Subotsky made to "The Weird Tailorm" and Rosenberg changing the story order – and the performers, but Baker and Binney remain concerned with the technical challenges from the electric motors and fishing line used to animate the limbs of "Frozen Fear", lighting the magic suit, and animating the "mannikins." Not part of any of the earlier DVD releases but ported over from the Severin Blu-ray is "Two's A Company" (18:18), the 1972 on-set report from BBC featuring interviews with producer Milton Subotsky (The Monster Club), director Baker, actors Rampling, Villiers, Jenkins, art director Curtis, and production manager Teresa Bolland (The Servant). Contrasting the economical efficiency of the company with the major studios and the slump in British filmmaking during the 1970s – an event which allowed for low budget and independent genre filmmakers to avail themselves of some of Britain's top technical talent – the featurette focuses much on Subotsky as he discusses the balance of art and commerce, the importance of good scripts, and sources of private individual and merchant banks for financing. The behind the scenes footage was shot during the production of "Lucy Comes to Stay" – both on location and on the studio with well-done painted exterior backdrop and a mockup of the house exterior – with Rampling, Villiers, Jenkins, and Baker discussing working on a relatively short schedule with longer hours while Curtis and Bolland discuss how Amicus' productivity has ensured regular employment while also allowing the opportunity to work on other productions (with Curtis only complaining about the lack of time to develop the projects adequately).

Ported over from the earlier releases is "Inside the Fear Factory" (20:28) with directors Baker, Freddie Francis (The Ghoul), and producer Max J. Rosenberg (Bloody Birthday). Rosenberg discusses the beginnings of the company and his partnership with Subotsky – including the initial screenplay for Curse of Frankenstein for which they were uncredited and never saw a profit other than the initial five thousand dollars for the screenplay – and Dr. Terror's House of Horrors which also afforded cinematographer Francis his first opportunity to direct for the company. Francis confides his doubts about his ability as a director and his problems with Subotsky, particularly with the "impossible" script for The Deadly Bees. Rosenberg recalls The House That Dripped Blood as the most successful of the Amicus pictures at the time, which lead to them continuing the anthology cycle with Tales from the Crypt. Baker recalls being poached from Hammer by Subotsky for Asylum which Rosenberg describes as being more likened to Dead of Night than the other anthology films. And Now the Screaming Starts source is described as a "dull, tedious novel that made a dull and tedious picture" by Rosenberg while Baker speaks more positively of it (apart from Subotsky's title change). While Baker emphasizes Subotsky's creative influence, Rosenberg asserts his involvement in running the company as managing director before his departure from the company circa The Beast Must Die.

Two new interviews that originated with the Severin edition are "David J. Schow Remembers Robert Bloch" (20:55) and "Fiona Subotsky Remembers Milton Subotsky" (9:38). In the former, Schow discusses Bloch's beginnings with his first book deals and his Weird Tales stories leading up to writing Psycho. He describes the differences between the novel and film, and also refutes the notion that Ed Gein was the primarily influence, instead suggesting Bloch had already been leaning in this direction with "Lucy Comes to Stay". While Bloch was not asked to write the script for Hitchcock's film, he got into Hollywood through television and into film through The Psychopath and The Deadly Bees – following Amicus' adaptation of his novella "The Skull of the Marquis de Sade" as The Skull – before his portmanteau films for the company Torture Garden, The House That Dripped Blood and Asylum; the latter of which he discusses the differences between the story adaptations and their sources, not to mention the alternate Thriller and Monsters adaptations of two stories, as well as the novelization which is more reflective of the original screenplay than the film itself. He also discusses Bloch's later short stories and novels. In the Subotsky featurette, the producer's widow discusses his family life, cultural interests, his pursuit of screenplays and literary sources for projects, and his desire to be remembered for his non-horror projects including the musicals and artier productions like William Friedkin's The Birthday Party. She also recalls some of her set visits, her friendships with the behind the scenes crew more so than the stars, and the anthology format, and her assessments of some of the films, including the "not very good" The Terrornauts for which she wrote the treatment. The Severin edition featured two trailers for the film while Second Sight only includes one (1:32).

Not provided for review were the limited edition contents: rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Graham Humphreys, the 40-page booklet with new essays by Allan Bryce, Jon Towlson and Kat Ellinger, and a reversible poster featuring new and original artwork by Graham Humphreys.

Overall

Asylum, the fifth Amicus horror anthology, serves up some ordinary tales spiked by turns from an excellent cast of familiar British faces and the assured helming of Hammer veteran Roy Ward Baker.

 


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