Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cushing shines in excellent segment of anthology film 'Asylum'

Asylum (1972)
Starring: Robert Powell, Partrick Magee, Herbert Lom, Barry Morse, Barbara Parkins, Britt Ekland, Charlotte Rampling and Peter Cushing
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Dr. Martin (Powell) is charged with a most unusual final test before being hired for a position at an insane asylum: He must interview several inmates and deduce which of them is the former director of the facility.

"Asylum" is another of those very excellent horror anthology films from the '60s and '70s. This one uses Dr. Martin's final employment test as its framing story (although, in this film, the frame is itself a little twist-ending horror tale that) and the interviews with four of the inmates are the short horrors we are treated to.

First up, we have what is probably the weakest of the bunch... a story where a murdered wife who reanimates to take revenge on her husband and is lover (Parkins), despite having been dismembered and neatly wrapped in a number of individual packages. Athough predictable and goofy, the images of the writhing packages and the capper to the story as it ends and gives way to the frame more than make up for the weak story.

Second, there's the story of a desperately broke tailor (Morse) who receives a most unusual commission from a greiving father (Cushing), and in the end, we learn the lesson that tailor shops and occultism should be kept seperate. This tale is a bit slow-moving, but its beautifully shot, and Morse and Cushing both give excellent performances.

Third, we have the story of Barbara (Rampling) who, after being released from an insane asylum, promptly murders her brother and nurse. Barbara blames the evil Lucy (Ekland) for committing the crime and framing her, but is reality being filtered through the mind of a mad woman? This story is pretty basic and it works first and foremost due to the great performance of Ekland.

Finally, we have the tale of Dr. Byron (Lom), a medical man who has come to believe he can transfer his mind into dolls that he creates. Unlike the other three, this story is not a flashback, but instead takes place in the present and within the asylum walls. It is the most clever and surprising of the bunch, and the way it merges with the framing story is particularly horrific and grand. It's a great closer to a fine collection of stories.

To make this package even better, the film features some nice camera work and a great music score (that is especially effective in the Rampling/Ekland sequence).

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