Tuesday, June 13, 2006

ASYLUM

In the Sixties and Seventies, England's Amicus Films produced a string of horror anthology films, using some of the top genre stars of the era and screenplays by such legendary horror scribes as Robert Bloch (PSYCHO, TORTURE GARDEN). ASYLUM (1972), directed by Hammer Films veteran Roy Ward Baker (SCARS OF DRACULA), is a particularly entertaining entry in the series.

A young psychiatrist (Robert Powell, THE ASPHYX) interviews four inmates in a mental asylum to try and determine which one was the former director of the institution before going mad. Is it the wronged wife (Barbara Parkins) whose affair ended in grisly murder? The poverty-stricken tailor (Barry Morse, SPACE: 1999) who was commissioned to make a suit out of an unusual glowing material for a mysterious client (horror legend Peter Cushing)? The schizophrenic beauty (Charlotte Rampling of ZARDOZ) who insists that her possibly imaginary friend (Britt Ekland, THE WICKER MAN) really killed her brother? Or the mad genius (Herbert Lom, Hammer's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) who builds homicidal toy robots with human heads?

Packed with experienced horror performers, a dry wit and PG-rated gore and thrills, ASYLUM is a fun and rewarding trip back to the days when horror films had grown-up casts and clever scripts. Sure, the effects may be hokey by today's standards, but that's part of the nostalgic charm.

Previously issued some years ago by Image Entertainment on a bare bones disc with a soft, scratchy, incorrectly framed print, ASYLUM is about to be re-issued by Dark Sky Films in a vastly-superior edition. Featuring a new, improved transfer culled from original vault materials, and presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, this shock cinema staple has never looked better, with strong, well-balanced colors and impressive detail.

Dark Sky has also seen fit to include a few choice extras, including a full-length, informative commentary track by director Baker and cameraman Neil Binney. There's also a short featurette called "Inside the Fear Factory," that chronicles the history of Amicus and includes interviews with some of the studio's prime movers, including the late Max J. Rosenberg, the president of the company. Additionally, there are bios of the cast and crew, a still gallery, and trailers/TV spots for ASYLUM and Dark Sky's other upcoming Amicus titles. My only criticism of the release is that screenwriter Robert Bloch's name is misspelled on the DVD sleeve as "Robert Black." Considering Bloch's status as one of the all-time great writers of horror fiction, the mistake is particularly unfortunate.

ASYLUM will be hitting the shelves on July 25. If you're a fan of vintage horror, you'll want to pick it up, and if you happen to own the earlier Image version – as I do – it's definitely worth buying again in this new edition. It's that much better.

BUY: The Asylum

BUY: The Amicus Collection (Asylum / And Now The Screaming Starts / The Beast Must Die)