Friday, October 29, 2021

looney tunes.

Almost at the end of the whole 31 Days of Horror thing and realised I'd yet to feature a spooky portmanteau horror yet.

So here you go.

Asylum (AKA House of Crazies, 1972).
Dir: Roy Ward Baker.
Cast: Peter Cushing, Britt Ekland, Robert Powell, Herbert Lom, Barry Morse
Patrick Magee, Charlotte Rampling, Barbara Parkins, Ann Firbank, Sylvia Syms, James Villiers, Megs Jenkins, John Franklyn-Robbins and Geoffrey Bayldon.

Working with the mentally disturbed... can lead to a breakdown. ”

The slight of hip and pretty of lip former boot maker Doctor Martin (onetime Jesus and father of Enoch -  Powell) has been invited to the famed Cleftpate asylum for an interview regarding the job of head of mentalism.

Which I've been told is an actual medical term and not something I randomly made up.

After acing the first round of questions and nailing the team-building exercise Martin's prospective boss Dr Paul Rutherford (screech-voiced 70s stalwart Magee, who appears to come with his own wheelchair, which probably saved Stan a few quid when they made A Clockwork Orange) has decided that in order to make sure he's the right man for the job he must take one more unusual test.

You see, it appears that Rutherford's associate, Dr Freddie Starr, has developed a dual personality after being hit on the head with a swingball during garden time and is now housed upstairs alongside all the 'proper' mentalists.

“If you can recognise who is - or was - Dr Starr, I’ll give you the job” announces Rutherford as Mark O'Toole plucks a funky bass-line in the background.

Barbara Parkins was unimpressed by the size of Richard Todd's chopper.

Making his way to the Wacky Wing - and admiring some badly drawn pictures showing the history of mental health along the way - he's soon greeted by the hospital's chief  orderly Max (Catweazle himself, Bayldon), who quickly introduces him to the first of the four patients he must interview in order to find the disturbed doc, a wild haired woman named Bonnie.

It seems that Bonnie (Valley of The Dolls star Parkins) was having a torrid affair (tho' not as torrid as his wallpaper it must be said) with a slick-haired, middle aged banker named Walter (Dambusters and Doctor Who star Todd), whose love for nipple revealing shirts and camp cravats is only matched by his hatred of his well to do wife Ruth (screen legend Sims, who's been in loads of stuff that I frankly can't be arsed typing).

When not busy reminding Walter that she's rich and that he'd be nothing without her Ruth keeps herself busy studying voodoo with “a black charlatan” (not Tim Burgess then) at the local community centre - as you do - and has decided that today's the day to show of her new magical bracelet to her husband.

Which is pretty bizarre seeing as today is also the day that Walter has decided to rid himself of Ruth once and for all.

As opposed to twice and for a bit obviously.

Your dads cum face - trust me I know.

And how does he plan to do this? I hear you cry.

Well by taking her down to the cellar to show her the new chest freezer he’s bought (from Glens, Hutchison. Robertson and Stepek no doubt) before surprising her with an axe to the face, then chopping her up, wrapping the body parts in brown paper and finally popping them in the aforementioned freezer - alongside the spooky voodoo bracelet obviously.

Everything seems to be going swimmingly but as Walter heads upstairs to pour himself (another) large brandy he notices that his wife's - still parcelled - severed head has followed him up the stairs.

Spooky biscuits.

Some time later Bonnie arrives at the house and noticing the smell of fresh gammon emanating from the cellar goes to investigate.

Slowly opening the freezer lid she's - fairly - shocked to find her beloved tucked in behind the carrots.

Which is nice.

As she turns to leave tho' Bonnie is confronted by the horrifying (well I say horrifying but I mean ludicrous) sight of Ruth's paper wrapped body parts trundling menacingly toward her.....

Doc Martin - not this one.

Back in the real life Dr Martin is convinced Bonnie was talking bollocks (as the medical professionals say) and hurries along to see the next patient, an elderly tailor named Bruno (Space: 1999s Professor Bergman himself, Morse) who spends his days sitting on a table pretending to sew trousers for celebrity game show contestants.
Cue a wibbly wobbly dissolve that that's us from the asylum to a dreary backlot at Shepperton where the aforementioned Bruno is struggling to keep his business afloat as his uncaring landlord Stubbins (Franklyn-Robbins who was in lots of really good stuff during his career but we know as the jester-hatted Timelord that sends The Doctor on his mission in Genesis of The Daleks) keeps turning up and demanding the rent.


Enter (gently after a long bout of sweet foreplay) the enigmatic Mr Smith (Cushing), who offers to pay Bruno a small fortune to make a special shiny suit for his son who, by the look of the material is about to start touring as a Nik Kershaw tribute act.

However, there are certain rules that Bruno must adhere to in order to get paid - he must only work on the suit after midnight and stop at dawn and he must do it whilst wearing his wife's underwear.*

“I happen to believe in astrology” exclaims Smith in the way of an explanation.

And with that he leaves the shop.

Sapphire and Steel investigate Brexit.

Starting work on the suit right away, as his wife Anne (Firbank - most famous around here for turning up at the end of The Rise of Skywalker to ask Rey who she is) dutifully brings him copious amounts of coffee and biscuits (Rich Tea, thanks for asking) he almost immediately breaks Smith's rules and carries on sewing after the deadline only to prick his finger on a needle - looking on in mild horror as the blood mysteriously disappears into the fabric.

Don't worry tho' as contrary to Smith's wishes this will have absolutely fuck all effect on the outfit.

Or the climax of the story.

Finishing the suit in record time he excitedly takes takes a cab to Smith's house, rubbing his knees with glee at the thought of all that lovely money but alas everything is not how it seems as Smith is actually totally skint - spending his fortune on the magic pattern book in order to bring his (very dead) son back to life.

This has actually happened to me with art commissions so I can totally understand why Bruno gets a wee bit annoyed and refuses to hand over the suit.

Smith counters this by pulling out a gun and screaming “Give me that suit!”at Bruno and a (very slow) struggle ensues climaxing in Smith accidentally shooting himself and Bruno (not accidentally) stealing the magic book.

As you would.

Nigel Mansell: He's got something to put in you.

Returning home Bruno explains the whole sorry situation to his wife before instructing her to burn both the suit and the book but Ann has other ideas and decides to dress Brian, the shop window dummy she chats to everyday (which is news to both us and her hubbie as it's never been mentioned before) in the smart new supernatural togs....

With absolutely no loin-stirring at the sight of Barry Morse's bouncy manboobs Dr Martin stands dejected, wondering if he should have just applied for a job at Wimpy Burgers instead but his spirits are soon lifted by the smell of sophistication and strawberries emanating from the next room, so with an added spring in his step he heads off to investigate the next patient.

And it's in that room that Martin comes across (not in that way, well not yet - she's a classy lady who would probably want dinner first) the lovely Barbara (the even lovelier Rampling - ask your granddad) - a young and with it woman with a dark secret....

Peter's stiffie.

You see (well you would be if you were watching) after being locked away in Shady-nook for the last year due to suffering from 'the mentalism', Barbara is traveling back to her family home alongside her sharp-suited brother George (Villiers from For Your Eyes Only and Crown Court amongst other classics).

 Although happy to be home she's not too enamored at the thought of having a nurse tell her what to do and when to go to bed and has no sooner sat on her bed than is planning her escape.

A plan that may or may not involve poisoned tea, multiple scissor stabbings, ladies in 70s style suits and split personalities....


Finding that he's in desperate need of the toilet, Martin makes his excuses ("You're talking bollocks hen!") and proceeds to the final room where his next patient, Doctor Byron (Pink Panther star and former Star Wars bounty hunter Lom) sits busying himself making slightly shady looking wind-up tin robots in which, he claims, he can capture peoples souls.

Starting with his own.....

Tunnel or funnel?

Will Dr Martin choose the right patient and get his dream job?

Will Byron end up marketing his tin toys to unsuspecting kids and start the Transformers range 15 years too early?

And will there be a spooky twist ending that begs the question 'who is the real mentalist?'

From those genre stalwarts at Amicus Films (and sometimes AARU Productions if the Daleks - or more importantly Joe Vegoda and his cash - were involved), the late great Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg comes another classically creepy portmanteau horror that is less about scares and shocks and more to do with being a Saturday night rite of passage for those of us (just) the wrong side of 50.

And let's be honest our appreciation of all things horror is much better because of them.

Between 1965 and 1974 the pair released a cornucopia of creep filmed classics including the sublime Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965), the carnie-courting Torture Garden, The House That Dripped Blood, the original Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, From Beyond the Grave and Asylum cementing the companies reputation as the perfect pair for part-work horrors featuring the cream of British - and sometimes American - talent (oh yes and Robert Hutton).

And you can't get much bigger than casting the son of God in the headlining role can you?

OK so this is a pre-Jesus (but just post-Doomwatch) Robert Powell but he's still pretty good, as is the ever twitchy Patrick Magee who alongside  Geoffrey Bayldon make the wraparound story watchable for their performances alone.

The rest of the cast ain't too shady either with the likes of Barry Morse, Richard Todd and Herbert Lom, alongside the likes of Britt Ekland and Charlotte Rampling and the ever present Peter Cushing, seriously it's worth watching for them alone.
Sorry, can you tell I'm a fan?

Well it's either that or lockdown has mellowed mea wee bit.

What sets Asylum apart from the rest tho' is it's unrelenting bleakness and distinct lack of (intentional) comic book style humour that permeates thru' the majority of Amicus' output, Asylum, alongside Vault of Horror and From Beyond the Grave, are the companies attempts at 'serious' horror with nary a giggle on show.

Well except for Richard Todd's way too tight shirt obviously.

Oh yes and bits of a shop window dummy wrapped in brown paper 'menacing' Barbara Parkins.

And maybe the living mannequin.

And those pound shop soul robots.

Other than that it's fucking terrifying.


"Fiona! Look at me! I'm from Dudley!"

Written - like everything else Amicus released at the time by one-shock pony Robert (I wrote Psycho) Bloch at his pulpy best and with a score that utilities every loud piece of music Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky ever composed, Asylum is a by the book (and damn near perfect) example of why when it came to anthology 'orror - Amicus were king.

Don't worry, I'll be back to slagging stuff off next time.

*This last bit is a lie, sorry.

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