Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Asylum (UK; Roy Ward Baker, 1972)
This episodic(anthology) horror film is emblematic of the 1970's brittish horror films in that upon hindsight, it is far more funnier than it is scary. While this one is not produced by Hammer studios, it could very well be mistaken as such due to its polished visual treatment of exploitative content (although the Hammer pictures I've seen contain more exploitative material such as blood and nutidty). Furthermore, the film's director is responsible for one of Hammer's signature lesbian vampire pictures, Vampire Lovers (1970), a suprisingly good picture whose success can be strongly attributed to Baker's visual treatment. Similarly, the same could be said of Asylum, whose patched-up narratives come from the imagination of Robert Bloch, perhaps best known for writing 'Psycho', the novel that served as the basis for Hitchcock's 1960 film. When a young psychiatrist (Robert Powell) gets summoned to an isolated asylum, his job interview consists of a challenge in identifying, through interviews with four patients, the establishment's head physician who has recently been admitted as a patient himself and has taken on a different personality. The narratives in question are flashbacks into the patients' reasons for internment. With the participation of Peter Cushing, Patrick Magee and Charlotte Rampling, Asylum is good, ridiculous fun, whose ideas behind the horror elements are more frightening than the elements themselves, which by today's standards would be considered dépassé. However, more than a simple document of its time, Asylum is an intriguing exploration into the qualifications of sanity and the risks they ultimately present.