Thursday, December 26, 2019

ASYLUM (1972) (Second Sight Films Blu-ray Review)

ASYLUM (1972) 

Label: Second Sight Films 
Region Code: B
Duration: 88 Minutes 
Rating: Cert.15
Audio: English LPCM 1.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Cast: Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Barry Morse, Robert Powell 

This Amicus produced horror anthology directed by Roy Ward Baker (And Now The Screaming Starts), and written by Robert Bloch (Torture Garden), is a very fine example of the classic portmanteau-film, a collection of chilling (and usually slightly hokey) short stories blended together with a unifying wrap around story. Amicus made a wonderful assortment of them in the 70's, and Asylum is a top-tier entry. I ike that the wrap-around story evolves into it's own vignette, beginning with Dr. Martin (Robert Powell, Harlequin) arriving at an asylum, interviewing for the lead physician position. He's greeted by a wheelchair bound Dr. Lionel Rutherford (Patrick Magee, Lucio Fulci's The Black Cat) who informs him that the job interview will be a bit unusual, with Dr. Martin having to interview four criminally insane inmates who are locked away on the secured second floor, deducing which of the nutters is actually the former head doctor of the asylum, he or she having had a violent mental breakdown themselves, and if he chooses correctly he will be considered for the position. That's our wrap-around story in a nutshell, with Dr. Martin touring the second floor of the facility with an orderly named Max (Geoffrey Bayldon, The House That Dripped Blood) escorting him and offering some wry commentary along the way.

The first of the stories proper is "Frozen Fear", a tale of a unhappily married man named Walter (Richard Todd, The Secret of Dorian Gray) who is desperate to be rid of his wife Ruth (Sylvia Syms, The Tamarind Seed), to that end he has planned to ax-murder her in the basement, as you do. However, her dabblings in the occult makes her murder and dismemberment one worth remembering, with her having vengeance from beyond the grave. This one starts things off briskly as the husband chops her up rather quickly after luring her to his basement/kill-room, wrapping her torso and severed head and limbs in brown deli-wrap paper and tidily binding it with string like a well-manicured cut of meat from the butcher's shop. Stowing her remains in basement freezer he begins planning a getaway with his new lover Bonnie (Barbara Parkins, The Mephisto Waltz) only to be interrupted by his ax-whacked wife whose surprisingly re-animated pieces have a go at him. I loved this one, it's a fun opening salvo that starts things off with a wink and a nod, light-hearted perfection, if you can call wife-murder light-hearted. 

Up next we have "The Weird Tailor" wherein a cash-strapped tailor named Bruno (Barry Morse, The Changeling) on the verge of being evicted from his home is approached by a seemingly wealthy patron named Mr. Smith (Peter Cushing, Corruption), tasked with stitching together a custom fitted suit with the odd instructions that it must only be sewn in the early morning hours after midnight and before dawn. Strange though the request may seem Bruno dutifully fulfills the order per the curious instructions, however, upon delivering the finished suit to his patron he finds that Mr. Smith not only doesn't have the promised money but has some weird occult resurrection in the works! Anything with Peter Cushing in it is gonna be worth a watch, but it's Barry Morse who steals the show this time around. I love his performance as the tailor, and the twist involving a store mannequin was pleasantly unexpected, if a bit goofy.  

Orderly Max next introduces Dr. Martin to a young woman named Barbara (Charlotte Rampling, Orca) in the segment "Lucy Comes To Stay", she relays to him the story of how she was formerly incarcerated at an asylum before being freed, released to her brother George (James Villiers, Otley) who sets her up at home under the supervision of a nurse named Miss Higgins (Megs Jenkins, The Innocents), but having the defacto babysitter watching over her frustrates her. When Barbara's friend, the prankster Lucy (Britt Ekland, What The Peeper Saw), shows up unexpectedly it cheers her up a bit, but when Lucy's pranks turn to murder most foul she blames Lucy, but there's a problem with that scenario we come to find out.

The last of the stories proper is "Mannikins of Horror" starring the always great (no matter how bad the film may be) Herbert Lom (Count Dracula) as a patient at the asylum who is working on some sort of soul-transference process, obsessed with the notion of sending his psyche into that of a tiny automaton, which looks for the most part like a cheap wind-up toy with a well-crafted likeness of his own head on it. Let's just not think about why a mental health facility would encourage such a thing and let him keep the damn toy in his room, but it has a decent payoff that works better than it should. Herbert Lom is fantastic, and the premise works better than the cheap looking robot would have had me believe, this one tying directly into the wrap-around story at the asylum, and then we finish-up with a fun (though not shocking) conclusion with orderly Max addressing us, the viewers, directly, as a new candidate arrives at the asylum for the same sort of interview.    

Audio/Video: Asylum (1972) arrives on region-B locked Blu-ray from Second Sight Films, this looks to be the same 2K scan as released by Severin Films as part of their The Amicus Collection. Framed in 1.85:1 widescreen the 1080p HD image is a bit on the soft side but acceptable given the source, looking to be a theatrical print, colors look good and the grain field is nicely managed for the most part, while looking overly abundant at times, it's not pristine but still a vast improvement over the Dark Sky Films DVD. The English DTS-HD MA 1.0 Mono audio exports the orchestral score from Douglas Gamely nicely,including his wonderfully bombastic rendition of "Night on Bald Mountain" which opens the film. Optional English subtitles are provided.  

Onto the extras we get the same set of extras from the U.S. Scream Factory release beginning with a lively vintage commentary with Director Roy Ward Baker and camera operator Neil Binney moderated by Marcus Hearn, many facets of the production are covered, good stuff. We then get a vintage on-set featurette by the BBC filmed during shooting of the film. New stuff begins with an appreciation of writer Robert Block (Psycho) by writer David J. Schow (Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III), plus a remembrance of Amicus' Milton Subotsky by his widow. The 20-min Inside The Fear Factory Featurette is a nice overview of Amicus Films as told by Directors Roy Ward Baker, Freddie Francis and Producer Max J. Rosenberg, if you're a fan of British horror and Amicus in particular this is a fun watch. The disc is finished up with two trailers for the film.

The single disc release comes housed in oversized black Blu-ray keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork, the a-side featuring new artwork from by artist Graham Humphreys, the b-side featuring the original illustrated artwork for the film, without the blemish of the ratings logo obscuring the front cover and the spine, with the Humphrey's artwork option also being featured on the disc itself.

Asylum (1972) was previously issued by Second Sight Films as a limited edition release with a rigid slipcase along with a 40-page booklet with new essays, and While that edition is now out-of-print the film has kindly been reissued by Second Sight as this attractive standard release. 

Special Features:
- Two’s A Company: 1972 On-set report from BBC 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 (18 min)  
- David J. Schow on Robert Bloch (21 min)  
- Fiona Subotsky Remembers Milton Subotsky – Featurette (10 min)
- Inside The Fear Factory Featurette with Directors Roy Ward Baker, Freddie Francis and Producer Max J. Rosenberg (20 min) 
- Audio Commentary with Director Roy Ward Baker and Camera Operator Neil Binney
- Theatrical Trailers (3 min) 

I have always loved the Amicus horror anthologies, the short-story format is appealing to me, and while there's usually a dud among the three or four stories I find that the occasional bad apple doesn't spoil the whole basket of vignetted-fruit. While none of the stories in Asylum (1972) are particularly horrifying or overly clever they all bring a smile to my face, even the wrap around story is great fun, plus we have an outstanding cast that includes Herbert Lom and Peter Cushing. A well-crafted and stylish series of vignettes that flow well, making this a classic slice of British anthology horror. Asylum gets a wonderful UK release from Second Sight Films, highly recommended to UK readers who have not imported the Scream Factory release.