Young psychiatrist Dr Martin (Robert Powell) arrives at a remote mental asylum in the country to apply for a position there. He expects to meet Dr Starr, but the man who meets him is the wheelchair-bound Dr Rutherford (Patrick Magee), who claims to have been attacked by one of his patients. When the liberal-minded Dr Martin asks where Dr Starr is, he is told that Starr is now one of the patients, and Rutherford poses the psychiatrist a puzzle: go and interview four inmates, and work out which is Dr Starr. If he gets it right, he gets the job, and can implement his more lenient practices.
Definitely one of the better of the horror anthologies from Amicus, Asylum was scripted by Robert Bloch. What Dr Martin finds when he goes up to interview the four patients is more than just an excuse for their short tales of terror to be told - it's a framing device that builds to a clever climax. But before all that, we're in comfortably familiar territory for this studio, with four people drawn into the presence of vengeful, supernatural forces. The first story is a simple revenge tale, the second an awful warning, and the third a story of genuine madness.
First up is Richard Todd, who murders his wife (Sylvia Syms) and chops up her body to put in a freezer cabinet so he can be with his mistress (Barbara Parkins). However, his wife is a student of mysterious arts, and her body parts, all wrapped in brown paper and tied up with string, return to life. Next, poor tailor Barry Morse is visited by a shadowy figure (Peter Cushing), who gives him magical material with which to make a suit. Then, schizophrenic Charlotte Rampling is taken to a country retreat by her brother (James Villiers) to recover, but her imaginary friend Lucy (Britt Ekland) comes too...
Subtlety isn't necessarily a bonus in Amicus films, so the actors have little time to go into any depth with their characters. However many of the performances are nicely handled; in particular, the scenes that Morse and Cushing share are very well played, but it's the actors in the framing story who have the most fun. The last story, you see, concerns a mad doctor (Herbert Lom) who believes he has brought tiny robots to life, and as Dr Martin complains to Rutherford about the conditions in the hospital, one of the robots begins to stalk them.
One of the appealing things about these films is how plainly ridiculous some of the ideas look on screen, but how the comparitively cheap production gets away with them through sheer cheek. There's not much in the way of outright humour ("Rest in pieces," the dead wife is told at one point), but instead there is an amusing conviction about the horrors that makes them entertaining. A bunch of moving body parts or a dinky killer robot are not without their charms, and even the straightest story, the Charlotte Rampling one, has a neat visual punchline. It's crazy, but it works. Music by Douglas Gamley, which includes some classical excerpts.
Asylum has been released on DVD as part of the Amicus Collection. The film comes complete with audio commentary by director Roy Ward Baker and star Robert Powell.
Reliable British director who worked his way up from teaboy to assistant to Alfred Hitchcock to overseeing his own hit projects from the 1940s to the 1970s. Making his debut with The October Man, he continued with Morning Departure, Don't Bother To Knock, Inferno, The One That Got Away and what is considered by many to be the best Titanic film, A Night To Remember.