(Also released as House of Crazies)
Dr. Martin (Robert Powell, The Asphyx) arrives at Dunsmoor Asylum to interview for a position as a senior houseman. The interview was set up by Dr. B. Starr, but Dr. Rutherford (Patrick Magee, And Now the Screaming Starts) meets Dr. Martin and tells him that Dr. Starr has gone mad and is now a patient in Dunsmoor. Dr. Rutherford proposes a test for Dr. Martin—if he can go upstairs and determine which patient is Dr. Starr, the position of senior houseman is his. The one catch is that Dr. Starr has had a complete break with reality and has assumed a new identity. Feeling confident that he can still figure out which patient is Dr. Starr, Dr. Martin heads upstairs to meet the patients. Each patient that he meets has a strange story to tell, which is then shown in flashback.
This fifth anthology (or portmanteau, to use an even fancier-sounding word) film from Amicus is one of my favorites. I don’t want to give away too much about the plot of each of the stories, because this is one of those films that I feel works best when you know very little about it. (Of course, that didn’t stop various plot points from being plastered all over the poster when the film was reissued in 1979 as House of Crazies.) Still, if you’re a fan of Robert Bloch, you probably know the plots of these stories, as they were all based on short stories of his that had originally been published in Weird Tales, one of the most influential magazines in the history of horror, science fiction, and fantasy . The first story, “Frozen Fear,” was originally published in 1946; the second story, “The Weird Tailor,” showed up in the magazine in 1950 (and was later adapted for Boris Karloff’s television show Thriller); the third story, “Lucy Comes to Stay,” came out in 1952; and the last tale, “Mannikins of Horror,” is the oldest, having first been published in 1939. The stories have since been anthologized and re-anthologized, so if you’re an avid reader of horror tales, you’ve probably encountered one or more of them in print at some point.
As always, Amicus pulled together a great cast. This time around, in addition to the previously-mentioned Robert Powell and Patrick Magee, on board for the fun are Barbara Parkins (The Mephisto Waltz), Peter Cushing (The Curse of Frankenstein), Barry Morse (The Changeling), Britt Ekland (The Wicker Man), Charlotte Rampling (Zardoz), and Herbert Lom (Murders in the Rue Morgue), among many others. The film was directed by Roy Ward Baker, whom you may recognize as the director of And Now the Screaming Starts, a film I wrote about a few dozen posts back. That film was made immediately following Asylum, and you’ll note that several of Asylum’s key actors and a good portion of the crew moved with Baker to the next film.
I gushed about my love for Amicus’s films in that post about And Now the Screaming Starts, and that love goes double for their anthology films. I saw one or two of them theatrically, but I ended up first catching most of them on the CBS Late Movie, as I did this one about eighteen months after it was in theaters. However, by that point I already knew what I was in for, as I’d stumbled across the paperback movie tie-in novel and bought it in the interim. Here’s the cover:
I loved the novelization, and I particularly loved the cover. I found myself staring at the painting on that cover a lot. With the hatchet, and the rat, and the big spooky house with all the bats flying around it, I found that cover to be wonderfully evocative, even if there was neither a bat nor a rat to be found in the film…so it tided me over quite nicely until I finally saw the film. Even though I knew what was coming due to having read the book, the first two stories still scared me quite a bit. But I loved it.
When the video revolution hit, one of the first dozen or so VHS tapes that I bought was a copy of Asylum. I didn’t actually seek it out; I had gone shopping with friends in a nearby larger city, and we happened to stumble upon a rack of VHS tapes. This was in the days when most tapes were unaffordable, so we were quite surprised to see this movie on sale for only $15, surrounded by other films that we would soon come to know as public-domain eyesores. I snatched up a copy and tried to convince my movie-loving friend to grab another, different tape, but he wanted Asylum as well, so we both bought copies that day. Here’s what the front of that tape box looked like:
(By the way, that cover scan comes from the ever-so-wonderful VHS Collector website [www.vhscollector.com]. You might as well bookmark that link now.)
The tape itself wasn’t of the best quality, but I was fascinated to find that it was apparently from Canada, or at least the print that they’d used to transfer the film to tape was. Here’re the opening logos from that tape, courtesy of YouTube and user LogicSmash:
At around the same time, I saw an ad announcing that Nostalgia Merchant had also released Asylum on VHS, but their tape retailed for nearly $60, so I was happy with my fairly-crappy Interglobal copy. Here’s what THAT VHS cover looked like:
My tape of Asylum finally died, but by the time it did, Prism had released a version which was much more affordable (it seems that I got it for about the same price as my Interglobal copy), so that was my final VHS copy. And, for the sake of completeness, here’s what THAT cover looked like, again from the VHS Collector collection:
Of course, these days I watch it on my DVD from Dark Sky films, and I’m debating buying Severin’s Blu-ray edition. Yes, I love the film enough to have bought it three times already and to contemplate buying it a fourth time.
If you’ve never seen the film, I doubt that it will actually scare you, here at a nearly 50-year remove from when it first came out. But then again, it might give you at least a shiver or two. It also contains one of my favorite lines from any horror film (I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s said right after the clean-up of the first murder in the film), so that’s got to be worth something, I reckon. Either way, I wholeheartedly recommend Asylum, the fifth anthology film from Amicus, and one of the best.
Here’s the trailer from YouTube, but be warned—it does contain a few spoilers for the film:
And, luckily for us, the entire film has been uploaded to YouTube for our viewing pleasure. Remember to watch it quickly lest it be removed for copyright reasons:
Up next: Love slaves of Satan tortured to blood-dripping death!