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Lions Gate presents
Dark Asylum (2001)

"He's probably waiting near the exit. We're going to have to risk it. Get the keys and let's make a run for it."
- Dr. Maggie Belham (Paulina Porizkova)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: May 30, 2002

Stars: Paulina Porizkova, Judd Nelson
Other Stars: Larry Drake, Jurgen Prochnow
Director: Gregory Gieras

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, terror and language
Run Time: 01h:36m:32s
Release Date: March 05, 2002
UPC: 658149789623
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Stormy nights, homicidal killers and insane asylums would seem like a pretty good combination for the core of a suspense thriller. This straight-to-video release, directed by Gregory Gieras, uses all three, yet somehow never gels into a wholly satisfying experience. The components are there, but it ends up becoming a repetitive retread of itself.

A mysterious serial killer, dubbed "The Trasher" (Larry Drake), is believed responsible for over twenty murders, or so we learn during the opening credits, via a convenient expository news broadcast. The bumbling police accidently come across the lair of "The Trasher" one night, deep in the sewer system, and somehow are able to capture him. The police are so pathetically mindless in this film that it's a wonder they even knew which end of their gun to point.

For reasons that could only exist in the mind of a lazy B-movie screenwriter, the prisoner is ordered to be held at the murky Crestmore Asylum, until "the Feds arrive." So many characters talk about waiting until "the Feds arrive" that I laughed out loud everytime someone uttered the phrase. A handful of even more skittish and buffoonish cops are left to guard the prisoner until midnight when, of course. "the Feds arrive." Crestmore is one of those dimly-lit movie sanitariums, and in this case is due to be closed down. This handy plot device assures that the building is all but abandoned, with only a skeleton crew of equally inept guards. In reality, the capture of a killer of this magnitude would be a massive event, and the fact that he is left in the care of four inexperienced cops is laughable.

County psychiatrist Dr. Maggie Belham (Paulina Porizkova) is called in to assess the mental condition of "The Trasher" and to try and learn what makes him tick. Predictably, "The Trasher" escapes from his maximum security holding cell, dispatches the cops and guards, and is then trapped in the locked down asylum, along with Dr. Belham and the janitor Quitz (Judd Nelson). From this point on, Dark Asylum becomes an endless cat-and-mouse chase movie, with the lumbering psycho hunting Belham and Quitz, all the while bashing through endless balsa wood doors and plate glass windows while constructing elaborate traps. As you might expect, "The Trasher" is desperate to escape before "the Feds arrive."

Larry Drake is wonderfully over-the-top as the pasty-fleshed psycho, and his enormous body and even larger bald head make him look rather like a demonic Uncle Fester. Sort of an uber-Hannibal Lector, he can chew through straight-jackets, survive multiple gunshots, perform impromptu surgery on himself and still toss out more than a few tag-line worthy quips ("Time to die"). Drake's performance is the best part of the entire film, in a hammy B-movie kind of way, with some of his early scenes actually downright creepy.

Porizkova and Nelson are stuck with the predictable victims-on-the-run roles, and spend most of their time narrowly escaping the clutches of the rampaging killer. They also set their own fair share of hokey traps, none of which really work. Porizkova's character isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, and at one point offers up their hiding spot over a walkie-talkie, directly to the killer. By the time the big climax rolls around, Porizkova suddenly becomes a cross between Alien's Ripley and Terminator's Sarah Connor, and that transformation seems about as realistic as Dark Asylum's Keystone Kops.

Even at a brisk 97 minutes, it seems to take forever until "the Feds arrive."

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: It appears that Dark Asylum is presented in a 1.78:1 transfer, though it is not indicated anywhere on the packaging (it is described simply as "letter-box"). Literally, the entire film takes place in dark hallways or dimly lit sewer systems, so there really aren't any excessively bright sequences; instead there are endless scenes lit by cold blue light or swinging light fixtures. The thematic tone is very dark, and luckily black levels are strong, resulting in image detail and shadow depth that is more than adequate. A few minor specks, but for the most part the print is free of any significant flaws.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 stereo audio transfer has more punch to it than some poorly mixed 5.1 tracks that I've heard. The music cues have a nice, deep resonance, and there is ample channel separation to give the illusion of a more discreet mix. The often silly dialogue is captured well, and the overall presentation is much better than anticipated.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The case indicates a trailer, but there didn't appear to be one on the disc anywhere. Instead, there's just 24 chapters and subtitles in English and Spanish.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

The whole premise of this film is hinged on the comically inept police and asylum personnel. Once that giant hunk of plot convenience is digested, Dark Asylum plays out like countless other crazed killer flicks. Larry Drake is fun to watch as the creepy psycho, but the rest of this mostly fizzles.


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