AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD: NOW, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 77 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
When Michael “Mitch” Hansen and his fiancee Judy get rather too friendly with each other while Mitch is driving their car, they crash and Judy dies before Mitch’s eyes. Mitch awakes in an asylum on an autopsy table minus most of his epidermis, kills the coroner and his assistant, and escapes. Ten years later, the area is plagued by rumours that Mitch is still alive, living in the now dilapidated asylum and the perpetrator of several deaths. Never mind, a group of teenagers still think that it’s a nice place to picnic….
Most of us like or even love a bad movie sometimes, and I reckon that probably goes more for horror fans than lovers of most other genres. I have a particular fondness for terrible 1950’s sci-fi thrillers and terrible 1980’s Italian gore epics while much like my co-writers Ross Hughes and David R. Smith I enjoy a slasher movie more often than not, even if I’m well and truly aware that what I’m watching isn’t very good. However, it’s always far more fun viewing a film that wasn’t actually intended to be bad than a film that was, and I can’t quite understand the thinking behind people deliberately setting out to make something that’s intentionally awful. The makers of comedy slasher Doom Asylum obviously had an incredibly meager budget to work with, but fans of films as diverse as Carnival Of Souls, The Evil Dead and Blair Witch Project know that extremely limited funds are definitely not a hindrance to making a good or indeed excellent horror film if there’s talent involved. In fact sometimes a minute budget can be a bonus and make the end product more effective.
Sadly Doom Asylum, with its highly irritating characters, mostly terrible acting, often abysmal dialogue, and lousy spoof horror gags, didn’t suggest to me that the people behind the camera – or indeed most of the people in front of it – had much talent and skill, and it seemed obvious that they just opted to make a shoddy product from the word go, and not even in an ironic way which may have partially saved it. Rather than falling into the trap that many comedy horrors do of having the scares overshadow the laughs or vice versa, this film just doesn’t seem to be trying very hard in either area, and is often just plain stupid, existing in some strange alternate universe where deserted buildings are powered by electricity and autopsies are carried out in asylums. Of course this may still be enough for some people. If you enjoy the output of Troma or the films of Fred Olen Ray for example, then you may get some enjoyment out of it. For me though, I have to say that – with the exception of a few strange bits of humour that did get me chuckling and some rather good makeup effects – I found it a bit of a chore to watch.
So we begin with couple Mitch and Judy driving around in their car drinking, possibly celebrating the ill gotten gains of a lawsuit, set to the song The House Of The Rising Sun, which I heard in another film The Endless a short while ago. That one had more versions, this one only has two, one of them heard twice. I guess they used it because its lyrics were in the public domain. Hansen doesn’t think to make this pair likable, especially Judy when she promises to send her “little brat” to school, which means that when the car crash occurs [which we don’t see at all, just a bit of POV shaky camera and then the aftermath, though let’s not hold that against the filmmakers if that’s all they could afford to show], it’s hard to care when they both lie there on the grass covered in blood and she dies right in front of him. Placing the film’s first gag – Mitch taking Judy’s hand only to find that it’s been severed from the arm – in the middle of this scene weakens the emotional effect even more, while Patti Mullen and Michael Rogen don’t know whether to play the scene for laughs or pathos and fail at both. Cut to the autopsy, where the coroner describes everything he’s doing to his assistant who finds it a bit sick-making. Pretty funny aye? A moving finger tells us that Mitch is alive if not exactly well. The coroner barely reacts to the other guy being stabbed to death, though several times later characters behave in a similar way. In one scene somebody just sits there on a bench while the killer approaches her, making no attempt to flee or fight back. I guess that the screenplay could be mocking other, more ‘serious’ films that do things like this, but I didn’t get the impression that it was trying to be as clever as even that.
Now we segue forward several years to those dumb kids en route to the asylum to picnic, and, while Kristin Davis is fine as Jane despite being given some stupid, irritating things to say, most of the acting elsewhere is painful to watch. The worst one out of the initial group has to be Mullen again, playing Kiki, Judy’s daughter [revealing this almost immediately is an odd thing to do], her line delivery is just atrocious. But then the group discover a female three-piece punk-goth band playing in the asylum [you can’t make out any of the words that are screeched which could be deliberate, but why is the vocal part of the song is recorded really quietly?]. Their front girl is Tina, and as played by Ruth Collins she’ll get on your nerves very quickly what with the way Collins constantly has her full of attitude and in your face in an annoyingly over the top way. She doesn’t want these visitors around at all, despite providing the film’s sole flash of topless nudity to some of them. Meanwhile the two African-Americans of each respective group Darnell and Godiva fall in love at first sight and imagine themselves running towards each other in slow motion [yawn]. Dawn Alvan, who gets to utter the horrible line “I’m just a lonely chocolate single girl”, is abysmal as Godiva, Harrison White not too bad with some reasonable comic delivery, but I couldn’t wait for Mitch to start offing this lot, and fortunately he soon does in this short 79 minute film, albeit a 79 minute film that devotes a great deal of time to Mitch watching Tod Slaughter films [though in some long shots the TV screen is blank]. Now, even though I like my horror old as well as new, I’ve never seen a Tod Slaughter [villainous star of a series of often horror-tinged Victorian cheapie melodramas in the 1930’s and ‘40’s] film, so I was glad to get a taste, except that I got far more than just a taste and even seemed to be treated to the endings of two or three films.
Mitch appears to be modeled on Freddy Krueger, from his appearance to his liking for wisecrackery along with the slaying, but his lines are lame, and in some shots the makeup is different and Mitch looks more like Leatherface. Huh? At least his killings are mostly satisfyingly gruesome, quite diverse, and the majority of the effects really are quite good – yes, you can sometimes see the seams what with the sharp Blu-ray picture, but then again I’d say much the same with CGI which almost always seems obvious, at least with this kind of thing. A drill in the forehead, a head in acid and a surprisingly wince-inducing toe cutting with a decent model foot will probably please gore hounds, though there’s little attempt to make the build-ups to these bits scary. In fact the thing isn’t scary whatsoever, while most of the supposedly comic dialogue falls totally flat – though I did smile at Mike constantly calling Kiki “mom” – the way it’s done is just so odd and even a bit wrong but kind of amusing. Then there’s one half-decent comic set piece where Mike and Tina have a pathetic fight right in front of Godiva who totally ignores it because she’s busy swooning thinking about Darnell, though the climax of the brawl, which has Mike hanging from the edge of a wall, goes on forever and was clearly intended as padding. The exchange:”I bet that’s Mike hanging from the edge of the building”, “Yes, but I wouldn’t worry it’s not like he’s gonna fall” is kind of genius though.
There’s a little bit of Jason Lives-style self awareness a few times, like when a character mentions that if she went off on her own in a horror film then she’d die. Perhaps they should have tried to do a bit more of this sort of thing even though it’s not really my cup of tea. Mostly it’s just very lame, with even the final confrontation, which ought to carry some emotional heft, done badly. The real asylum setting looks creepy during the opening credits but isn’t exploited much elsewhere. The total absence of night footage is unusual but not capitulised on in any way. Cinematographer Larry Revene does a decent job with some nice lengthy tales such as when Darnell is in the asylum, while the synth score isn’t too bad as these things go, but little effort seems to have been made – and one can say that about the film in general. I’m going to admit that I’d never heard of Doom Asylum prior to receiving the review disc from Arrow, but I guess that it must have a cult following if it’s now got a Blu-ray release, so obviously many people see something in the film I don’t. I do think that some alcohol would have improved my viewing experience and if you’re seeing it for the first time it’s something that I’d recommend. As it was, I found it to be just fairly [but not totally] bad rather than “so bad it’s good”.
Despite my many issues with the film, I have nothing but praise for Arrow’s Blu-ray release. The new 2K transfer is amazingly clean, sharp and bright for a movie that probably didn’t look much good even on a cinema screen. I was especially impressed with the skin tones which don’t always look quite right in these things to me. The mono audio is also worthy of note, providing a cleaner balance and wider range than the sound in many similar films. You have the option of viewing in 1.85:1 or 1.33:1. I found the latter to be preferable, with more information along the edges of the frame can be seen in the full screen version and the SD black and white inserts less jarring. Sometimes character’s heads are slightly cut off in the 1.33.1 version too.
Arrow have put together no less than five special features while porting over the interviews, if not the audio commentary, from the Region 1 Code Red DVD. First up is the 18 minute Tina’s Terror in which Ruth Collins provides quite a bit of insight into what it was like making this film and other similar efforts while also giving us plenty of stories like Rogen being accidentally locked in a cupboard with all his makeup on, and what happened when shooting the rooftop chicken-eating scene which you’ll certainly remember from the film. She calls the film a classic but seems to likable that I wished I could have found her performance to be actually good. Movie Madness has Revene chat for 25 minutes and provide even more production information that I guess I could have included in this review but which will be more fun for you to find out for yourself. I could have guessed that the script was too short and needed padding, but it seems like far more was made up on the spot than one would think. He thinks that the film never made it into cinemas and expresses surprise at its popularity. Makeup effects creator Vincent J. Guastini turns up for the third new featurette, the 17 minute Morgues & Mayhem. He says how he did the effects in this film out of his mother’s pantry, closely recreated the way Tom Savini did these things, points out a visible blood tube in the film’s climax that I have to say I didn’t initially notice, and discusses things like homeless people and rumored dead bodies in the real asylum location. Together the three interviews paint a very good and balanced view of the film’s production, and that’s before the eleven minute DVD interviews with Friedman, production manager Bill Tasgal, and producer Alex Kogan Jr. Rather amusingly, the latter points that Variety praised the film for its reams of Tod Slaughter footage which were actually put in because the film was too short and the studio owned the rights to those movies!
The first of the audio commentaries features main writer Rick Marx in conversation with Howard S. Berger. “I think I tried to make this good” says Marx who admits some of the flaws in the script while Berger seems to find the film genuinely satirical and spends ages extolling its mostly dubious virtues to Marx, who actually spends more time talking about his career including bravely his time writing porno movies, and touches on a lot of topics concerning exploitation films and their audiences. Pretty interesting. The second audio commentary, also new, features the The Hysteria Continues lot, and the slasher-mad group provide one of their better tracks to my ears, only occasionally falling back on naming films that are similar or connected to this one in some way. Most of the info you’ll have heard on the other extras, but it’s a real fun listen, and not afraid to bring up flaws and oddities – though they all seem to really like the film. I wish I felt the same.
Can I recommend Doom Asylum? Well, this is the first time it’s been released in the UK, so slasher fans will no doubt be curious and some may find that it pulls off what[ever] it tries to do better than me, and the collection of special features is certainly impressive for such a film [I would say much better than it deserves] and will probably be of interest even if you didn’t like it. You learn quite a bit about low budget exploitation cinema of the time. And of course if you are a fan of the movie than this Blu-ray is essential. But I personally just found the film to be very poor indeed. There are countless better slashers, even comic ones, from the time it was made if you want to explore this sub genre.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
*Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
*1.85:1 and 1.33:1 versions of the feature
*Original uncompressed PCM mono audio
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
*Tina’s Terror – a brand new interview with actress Ruth Collins
*Movie Madhouse – a brand new interview with director of photography Larry Revene
*Morgues & Mayhem – a brand new interview with special make-up effects creator Vincent J. Guastini
*Brand new audio commentary with screenwriter Rick Marx
*Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
*Archival Interviews with producer Alexander W. Kogan, Jr., director Richard Friedman and production manager Bill Tasgal
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourne
*FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes