FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Nov 14, 2007

Amicus Week: Day 3

I'm two-for-three with the Amicus Collection, friends. Yesterday I done told you how much I liked And Now the Screaming Starts!, right? Well now I've seen Asylum (1972), and man. MAN. MAN, I SAY. Honestly, I could write a six-word review and be done with it. Don't believe me? Try this on for size:

Holy friggin' crap.
This movie rocks.

See? Short and sweet. Were I simply to leave it at that, we'd all have a lot more time to get other things done. I write less, you read less. But that's not much fun now, is it? I mean, it's not as if you have anything better to do, whilst I have a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots reference I'm just dying to use. Let's get on with it!

Asylum boasts one of the most ridiculous wraparound stories ever, so you know right off the bat that this movie is gonna be something special. Dr Martin (Robert Powell) arrives at Dunmoor Asylum for the Incurably Insane, expecting to interview for the senior houseman position with the asylum director, Dr Starr. However, he's informed by acting director Dr Rutherford (Patrick Magee) that Dr Starr has flipped his lid and is now a patient at Dunsmoor. Rutherford decides that instead of an interview, Martin should be given a test: he is to interview four patients, one of whom is actually Dr Starr. If Dr Martin guesses correctly as to which one is Starr, he gets the job, hooray! That's called professionalism, kids. I mean, it's not like he asked Dr Martin to guess which number between one and ten he was thinking of...this is a very serious test for a very serious job.

Very serious, indeed! As Dr Martin climbs the staircase leading to the patient rooms, he passes by lots of old-timey drawings on the walls, depicting the incurably insane engaging in various incurably insane shenanigans. The swelling music lets us know that these pictures are ominous and frightening. Behold...if you dare!

Oh, those wacky old-timey mentally ill folks. They're so whimsical, just like in Benny and Joon! But even better, because they wear those powdered wigs!

Anyway, Dr Martin meets the first patient, and we get our first story...

"Bonnie" aka FROZEN FEAR

Poor Walter (Richard Todd)- there he is, trapped in a loveless marriage with some broad who's all into "spiritual enlightenment" and forces "stronger than life or death" and all that mumbo-jumbo. She reminds him yet again that she simply will not grant him a what's the poor sap to do?

He invites his wife down to the basement with promises of prezzies, and he delivers: he's gotten her a brand-new big ol' freezer, just what every woman wants. Actually, wifey seems quite pleased with the freezer, but she's decidedly less pleased when she discovers that present #2 is an axe to the head. Walter makes with the chop-chop, carefully wraps each body part, places each body part in the freezer, and calls his mistress Bonnie (Barbara Parkins of Valley of the Dolls...yessss!)- the plan went off without a hitch, wifey is kaput, and Walter and Bonnie can live happily ever after.

Lemme tell ya, I'd had juuuust enough beer at this point to find this all terribly depressing. You know, when you're juuuust buzzed enough to wax philosophical about life and love, about how tragic it is that someone loved you once, but they no longer do- in fact, they so totally don't love you so much that they'll hack you up into bits without a moment's hesitation. You live your life, doing the best you can, and still someday you find yourself all chopped up and wrapped up in many little packages in a freezer in a dark basement. Is this why we live? Should we ever allow ourselves to love? Or to accept presents? Oh, what a worrrrrld!

My deep contemplations came to an abrupt halt when wifey's nicely-wrapped head came rolling into the living room.

Shall I let that one sink in for a mo?

Yes, the head came rolling into the living room, and lemme tell ya, I'd had juuuust enough beer at this point to find this the most hilarious thing I'd ever seen in my whole entire life.

Walter goes down to the basement to check out the goings-on, and encounters more body parts, these with deadly opposable thumbs. Bye-bye, Walter!

Bonnie shows up and well, now all of wifey's body parts have escaped the freezer and they're all scooting around, trying to attack Bonnie. I thought the rolling head was priceless, but that was nothing compared to the torso waddling out of the corner in a threatening fashion.

I so wanted to make out with Asylum right there and then, it's not even funny!

Obviously, Bonnie lived to tell the Tale of the Nicely Wrapped Killer Body Parts, but (also obviously), she's at Dunmoor Asylum and therefore she was driven incurably insane by the experience. I don't blame her one bit. Obviously.


Next up, we meet Bruno (Barry Morse), a weird tailor with a weird story to tell. As happens so often in our dog-eat-dog, workaday world, poor Bruno can't make his rent payment. He offers to craft a lovely custom suit for his landlord in lieu of a cash payment, but the landlord says 'no dice'. Bruno has one week to come up with the money, or it's life on the streets for Mr and Mrs Weird Tailor.

As also happens so often in our dog-eat-dog, workaday world, in walks Peter Cushing to save the day! Cushing is Mr Smith, and Mr Smith wants a lovely custom suit made for his son. He'll pay top dollar for Bruno's handiwork, but he's got some conditions: Bruno must use the weird fabric Smith has provided and follow Smith's weird instructions to the letter. Bruno thinks it's all a little weird, but money is money; he works hard, and five days later he delivers the weird suit to Mr Smith.

Umm, how can I put this...hmm...

Okay, so the weird suit is supposed to bring Mr Smith's dead son back to life when it's placed on the body, but Bruno is all "Nooo! That's just too weird, even for me, the weird tailor!" and he and Smith tussle, and Smith ends up dead, right? And Bruno brings the weird suit home and tells Mrs Weird Tailor to burn it but she's like "Nooo! You worked so hard!" and she puts the weird suit on a mannequin and the mannequin comes to life and no one knows what happens next, except that Bruno ended up incurably insane.

Yeah, that about covers it. Weird, huh?

"Barbara" aka LUCY COMES TO STAY

Barbara (Charlotte Rampling) returns home to live with her brother after a stay at a mental hospital. She's under strict orders from the hired nurse to take naps and avoid popping pills, but Barbara can't manage either- she's up and about and sneaking pills from her hidden stash, kept inside a hair roller.

Yes, Barbara hides pills inside hair rollers. How awesome is that? She totally puts the booze-hiding house mother of Black Christmas to shame!

Before the night is over, Barbara's naughty friend Lucy (Britt Ekland) shows up and convinces Barbara that her brother is trying to get her committed again so he can keep the family inheritance all to himself. Lucy suggests they run away together, and Barbara agrees.

Lucy catches Barbara popping more pills, however, and the two argue. Lucy storms off, and the murderin' starts! Who's behind the killings? Is it Barbara? Is it Lucy? Is it all in Lucy's imagination?

The answer is a resounding YES. Sure, you can see this one coming from a mile away: Barbara's got a bit of a split personality/imaginary friend thing going on, and it's Lucy who does all the killing...but it's Barbara who's incurably insane! Mua ha ha!

The lesson here is, if you're going to be crazy and have a homicidal imaginary friend, you'd might as well have a homicidal imaginary friend who looks like Britt Ekland.


There is no way I can properly express to you the love I had for this last story, which ties into the wraparound quite nicely. Seriously, I just can't properly express it...maybe if you were here with me so I could gesticulate and poke you and point at the screen and rewind and yell, then maybe you'd get it. But as type on a computer monitor? Bah! Insufficient! However, I shall endeavor to try.

Herbert Lom is Byron, a former doctor who's now a Dunsmoor patient- could he be the elusive Dr Starr? We shall soon see!

Byron spends his time crafting little dolls that look like Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots with little human heads.

Byron says the innards of these dollies are perfect scale replicas of real human workings. Sure, sure Byron...I might believe you, if only you weren't incurably insane. Byron has even crafted a dolly in his own image, a dolly I came to call L'il Lom- and Byron says he thinks he'll be able to control L'il Lom with the power of his mind.

Two things: 1) between this, his role in And Now the Screaming Starts!, and his numerous turns as Dreyfus in the Pink Panther films, I'm so totally flying the Herbert Lom flag right now, and 2) did you see that L'il Lom? Dude. You have no idea.

Dr Martin returns to Dr Rutherford's office to tell him that he can, in fact, take this job and shove it- the test is ridculous, and the patients at Dunsmoor are treated poorly. But who cares? The action is with L'il Lom, who, as it turns out, really can be controlled by Byron with the power of his mind. L'il Lom takes off- really, really slowly- and heads out of Byron's room...

...he hides in the shadows...

...he manages to elude the pesky orderly...

...he rings the bell and hitches a ride in the dumb waiter...

...and he makes his way to Dr Rutherford's office where he grabs a scalpel and makes with the poke-poke in the back of Rutherford's head.

Omigod, I was eating that shit UP. Seriously, I must have watched L'il Lom's journey five times. It. Is. Awesome.

Yeah, yeah, we find out who Dr Starr really is- and the end of Asylum is just as over-the-top as the rest of it- and it's oh so good.

Asylum is definitely over-the-top, but in a sort of restrained way, if that makes any sense. Most of these stories, if not all of them, are at least partially tongue-in-cheek, but they're played straight- and that's what makes them so damn awesome. Each segment (written by Robert Bloch of Psycho fame, by the way) takes a sharp left into FuckedUpsVille by the end, whether it be with visions of killer torsos, L'il Lom lumbering down the hall, or simply someone madly cackling at the camera. You know, I loves me some Creepshow, but Asylum just might be the most fun you'll have being scared. Even at its most ridiculous- yes, probably the image of the disembodied head rolling uselessly across the floor in a "terrifying fashion"- there's still something a tiny little bit creepy going on. Just a little. Maybe it's the crinkling of the paper as that wrapped-up disembodied head breathes...or maybe it's the guts oozing out of one of Byron's smashed Rock 'Em Sock 'Em dollies...or maybe it's Bonnie hacking away at her own face with that axe...who knows what might get your goat. Whatever it is, though, I hope it doesn't drive you incurably insane!


RJ said...

This sounds like the most amazing movie ever

spazmo said...

With this review, you have solved one of my most persistent horror-related mysteries. Thank you!

L'il Lom's creepy fleshbotic visage used to crop up from time to time in horror books and magazines like Famous Monsters constantly, and the pics were always infuriatingly unaccredited. Now I know what the fuck he is. Yay! You have completed me!

However, I fear that picture of the waddling torso complete with protruding nipples and twine-induced cameltoe may lead to my early undoing...shudder.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte Rampling AND Britt Ekland together? Two tastes that taste great in one flick? This I gotta see!

Anonymous said...

Together...taste great together...

John Barleycorn said...

Oh man, when I saw Herbert Lom I nearly died. I fucking LOVE the Pink Panther movies! He was SO GOOOOOOOD.

And I love the busty torso! I'd love to see this movie, actually. Sounds good -- with juuuuuust enough beer.

Sarah said...

I've been meaning to see this for a few years now. The VHS copy cover of Asylum at my local video store is awesome. Does the DVD cover feature the twisted face too?

Stacie Ponder said...

Twine-induced's a danger we women face every single day. It's a miracle we get anything done at all!

Theron- I'm sure they taste great, separately or together...nyuk nyuk.

Liquor? I hardly knew her! Nyuk nyuk again.

Herbert Lom rules. His role in this isn't large, but then L'il Lom is so larger than life it almost makes up for it.

Sarah- the DVD does indeed feature that face, which I believe is the nicely-wrapped disembodied head. I'm sure the VHS version is better though, because it pretty much always is.

Stacie Ponder said...

I think what really contributed to making this movie so great was the music- there's this sweeping, grand, emotion-inducing orchestral music indicating that the on-screen goings-on are absolutely terrifying...but they're so not. A wiggling leg, a waddling torso, L'il Lom...none of it was really frightening to watch, but the music was like "THE HORROR THAT IS UNFOLDING BEFORE YOUR EYES IS UNBEARABLE!"


Anonymous said...

Herbert Lom is so good.

And I was surprised and pleased to see that Robert Bloch wrote these pieces. I was thinking the first couple sounded very Lovecraftian—as is the whole concept of the insane narrator and the psycho-O. Henry-twist ending—and Bloch, of course, was one of the youngest member of the circle of correspondents around Lovecraft way back when.

M said...

I loved Herbert Lom the most in The Dead Zone. I often remember the scene where he is making a call to find out if it's true what the psychic told him, that his mother didn't die in the war after all, and is alive and well, living not very far from him. He makes the call and finds out it's true,but hangs up because, as he explains it, some things weren't meant to be. It's just so touching and fatalistic. He's the only one Johnny can't help.

Jason Adams said...

Why does Netflix not want to give me this movie? Why do they hate me?

Anonymous said...

WOW ... I cannot believe I have never seen this movie!!!

Thanks for the tip! Now I must go find it!!

Arbogast said...

I think Li'l Lom looks more like Dan O'Herlihy than Herbert Lom... and O'Herlihy was the evil mask-maker in HALLOWEEN III... hmm, I smell a conspiracy.

whitelabcoat said...

Awesome review of a cool little movie I first stumbled across when I was about ten on late-night TV. I haven't seen it in years - and, so now must track it down and watch it again! Thanks for the reminder. (Herbert Lom was kind of cute then too - in a creepy sort of way.)

Ryan Clark said...

I LOVE this movie. Glad to see you enjoyed it! The Beast Must Die is also a lot of fun.

Mike Justice said...

I've loved this film since I was a wee one, and I don't I've ever read a funnier, more entertaining review than yours. It almost makes me wish I could wipe my memory and watch it for the first time again.