As Robert Powell drives up to an imposing and austere Victorian looking building with Night On Bare Mountain booming on the soundtrack this one could well have been entitles Tales Of Mussorgsky and Madness. Of-course the American ‘House Of Crazies’ title is far more sensational even if not quite PC but it was different times in 1972 when Amicus released this anthology piece. After ‘The House That Dripped Blood’ they were on a roll with films such as the sci-fi orientated ‘Scream And Scream Again’ and were gearing up to make ‘Tales From The Crypt’ and ‘The Vault Of Horror’, really reaching their golden era. Asylum sees writer Robert Bloch’s tales of terror transformed to the screen under the auspices of legendary producers Max Rosenberg Milton Subotsky and directed by Roy Ward Baker, himself no stranger to such classic horror tropes having helmed ‘The Vampire Lovers’ and ‘Scars Of Dracula’ (1970) and ‘Doctor Jekyll And Sister Hyde’ (1972).
Powell plays Dr Martin who is meeting Asylum head Dr Rutherford, a wheelchair bound Patrick Magee, just a year after a nasty run in with Alex and his Droogs in A Clockwork Orange. Martin is looking at employment but the wraparound story leads him down a corridor to hear the stories of those incarcerated behind the Asylum doors. This is a test and he must determine what is wrong with them. This journey is a bit like looking at Pictures At An Exhibition if you will, as he is accompanied at times by the ever reliable Mussorgsky.
The first tale ‘Frozen Fear’ sees a love triangle between husband and wife Ruth and Walter (Sylvia Syms & Richard Todd) and Bonnie (Barbara Perkins). As they say 3 is a crowd and wealth, blackmail, fear and loathing all play their part here along with a new-fangled Freezer in the basement. Before you can say careful with that axe you meanie, murder is the name of the game but unfortunately due to some sort of occult African mumbo-jumbo so are reanimated limbs, which frankly is more than enough to send you a little mad and to the nuthatch. Funnily enough watching this I could draw parallels to both Sam Rami’s Evil Dead (1983) and George Romero’s segment in Two Evil Eyes (1990) naturally though in a much less bloody sense. ‘The Weird Tailor’ is a more classic story which sees Space 1999’s Barry Morse as a Tailor down on his luck financially but given an odd job by the mysterious Mr Smith (Peter Cushing) to make him a suit for his son. The suit must only be worked on to exact specifications between midnight and 5AM and Mr Smith has kindly provided the odd material himself. You know things are all going to go pear shaped and before the words “what kind of vile necromancy is this” can be uttered The Tailor finds himself stitched up and in solitary confinement too.
By comparison ‘Lucy Comes To Stay’ is a tale of ordinary madness and not the strongest segment despite starring Britt Ekland and Charlotte Rampling. They play friend Barbara and Lucy but Barbara is not at her best seemingly just released from hospital where she has been due to pill popping activities and addiction she cannot shift. Back at the home she owns and obviously quite affluent she has to cope with her brother who she suspects may have designs on her property and a strict nurse who is there to make sure she behaves. However, Lucy has sneaked in and has a plan, so that everything will work out just fine. Stemming from the wraparound device we have the last guest Herbert Lom as Dr Byron in ‘Mannikins of Horror.’ His time is well spent here crafting the mannequins in question, very lifelike figures that possess more than simple materials found in hobby shops. You could even say they take on a life of their own….
In short this is a lot of ghoulish fun with some stories working better than others, the wraparound and Tailor tales for me are less contemporary and more in a classic vein proving the most interesting although the others have some good surprises in store. You have no time to get bored with the format and the cast list is excellent with everyone getting a chance to put in a good compact performance and pick up a quick paycheque after just a short time on the set too. Although Russian composers get the main musical drive Douglas Gamley’s score contribution and interpretation of Mussorgsky’s work should not be overlooked and his percussive nuances of twisting decapitated limbs on ‘Frozen Fear’ certainly inject a bit of humour in that segment. Also, the 70’s locations are great even if much of the films focus is on interiors and this remains very much a period piece which should take you back to more innocent times before special effects and bloodletting infiltrated the genre.
Apart from audio commentary (Director Roy Ward Baker, Camera Operator Neil Binney and film historian Marcus Hearn) there are over 70 minutes worth of extras here including on set reports, interviews with cast and crew, a look back on Milton Subotsky by his wife Fiona, and one on Writer Robert Bloch by screenwriter David J Schow. As ever the new artwork by Graham Humphreys is fantastic as well and the actual film itself has never looked better. I’m keeping fingers crossed that 2020 may see some more Amicus titles being unearthed on Blu-Ray particularly the Doug McClure epics the studio bowed out with as I would love to upgrade my DVD’s of them.