One day I will get round to doing a podcast episode on the British film Studio, Amicus. They were the small studio that competed with Hammer, but are often forgotten when talking about the history of Horror Cinema. While Hammer focused on the Gothic horror with established characters Dracula, Frankenstein and the wolf man, Amicus tried something different. They entered the market with a series of Anthology or Portmanteau movies. Asylum, released in 1972, is my favourite of Amicus anthology horrors.
The story centres around a young doctor (Robert Powell) attending an interview at a secluded Asylum. As part of the interview he is challenged by the interviewing Doctor (Patrick Magee) to identify the former lead doctor of the facility, Doctor Byron, from the patients, as he lost his mind and is now incarcerated. He visits three patients and they recount the reason they are there, each one a story in the anthology.
As is the case with all anthologies, the stories vary in quality. While I enjoy them all I’m appreciate that elements of them haven’t aged particularly well. While macabre the opening story “frozen fear” hinges on the viewer accepting a concept that can be perceived as creepy or ridiculous. It’s a fast paced opener but not the strongest. The following two stories are much stronger and play out today just as well as they would have done in 1972. “Weird Taylor” has the excellent Peter Cushing in and is wonderfully atmospheric with a suitably weird end. The third of the three is less supernatural, the story of a young woman and her disturbed ‘best friend’. While the ending is predictable today it still has a great punch.
The final part of the film that really makes this a winner for me is that inclusion of the wrap around segments becoming part of the horror. The cast throughout take the horror seriously and are fantastic. I’m invested in each of the stories and the solid performances help me get passed the slightly sillier story points and special effects that haven’t aged well.
In addition to this, the film looks great. The Blu ray upgrade is crisp without loosing the 70s graininess. The colour and details pop, giving the film new life. Asylum is never going to get a 4K scan so this is the best it’s going to look, and it’s excellent.
It’s a great film and a fantastic example of the best of Amicus and British Horror of the 70s.
The special features provide an interesting glimpse of the making of the film, and the history of Amicus.
On the disc there’s a new informative commentary from the director, camera operator and film historian Marcus Hearn. As well as several other new featurettes focusing on the films production and wider place in Amicus history. The two that stand out are ‘inside the fear factory’ a collection of interviews from those involved in the history of Amicus. These are accompanied by a featurettes from the 70s on set. This gives an interesting insight into the film and how films were presented in the early 70s.
In addition to these the Blu Ray comes with a 36 page booklet, containing stills from the movies as well as a selection of promotional posters. However, the primary content is three essays.
“Nothing to loose but your mind” a chronicling the final years of Amicus studios (a essay about the earliest years of the studio comes with second sights other recent Amicus release, The House that dripped blood). “Robert Bloch and Asylum” how the writer came to write the film and his relationship with Amicus studios. “Amicus productions and the rise of portmanteau in horror Cinema”, the title pretty much says it all.
The insight and information from the disc and booklet content round this release out. It’s an excellent presentation of the film with details and discussion on the film and its place in Amicus history.
I’m a sucker for a special edition and this is a beautiful edition. The slipcase is well made and the new art is beautiful. It captures the tone and madness of the film and the likenesses are spot on. It’s made better by the fact that the edition comes with a two sided poster including the new art the original poster art. This is also replicated on the reversible cover.
Overall it’s an Awesome edition of one of my favourite 70s British Horror movies. Second Sight have nailed it once again.