Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Asylum of the Damned (2003)
"Trust me, Mr. Bishop. God doesn't come around here."- Dr. McCort (Bruce Payne)
Stars: Bruce Payne, Matt Stasi, Tracy Scoggins, Julia Lee
Other Stars: Gregory Wagrowski, Randall England, Bill McKinney, Tommy "Tiny" Lister, Roger Morrissey
Director: Phil Jones
MPAA Rating: R for Horror Violence and Language
Run Time: 01h:24m:39s
Release Date: 2004-09-21
DVD ReviewSometimes the most effective horror movies play upon the uncertainties of epistemology: how do you know what you know, really, and can what you know possibly be trusted? These uncertainties are played upon heavily in this nasty little horror that effectively recaptures some of the uneasiness of early 1980s horror.
James Bishop (Matt Stasi) is a new med school graduate who is beginning to perform his residency at the St. Andrews Asylum for the Criminally Insane. A creepy place with hundreds of inmates, St. Andrews has a bad reputation, and as James quickly learns, it's a well-deserved one. The inmates frequently escape and on occasion overpower the doctors and assume their places. The sinister-seeming Dr. McCort (Bruce Payne) and Nurse Helen (Tracy Scoggins) seem to be up to something other than treating the patients, and inmates who speak to Bishop turn up dead shortly thereafter. When Bishop's fiancee Lauren (Julia Lee) shows up unexpectedly to surprise him, suspicions are taken to an entirely new and lethal level.
Director and former effects-creator Phil Jones combines some of the best of both the past and current horrors in this picture, apparently his directorial debut. Although Jones uses modern sound design effectively here, he's not afraid to let the camera linger in long takes. That's certainly a welcome change after too many years of music-video editing slapped incongruously into horror films. There's also a good visual sense throughout, with attractive compositions and attention to detail that puts it a notch above typical slasher fare.
The weakest point is probably the monster, the Harvester (Roger Morrissey), which looks like a cross between the Queen from Aliens and a baboon. Aside from the poor design, it's plainly seen far too early (the opening sequence) to have a proper buildup, repeating the mistake of Curse of the Demon. Had it been kept more in the shadows, that might have helped. There are some odd quirks to the script that need to be overlooked as well, such as the unlikelihood of this asylum being a site for residency for a G.P., the consistent gullibility of Bishop, and the rather forced device of getting Lauren into a position of being threatened. Although a lot is predictable and rote, the finale packs an unflinching punch.
Stasi makes for a decent male ingenue, while Payne is hamming it up a bit too much. A slightly more restrained performance would have been better, though the slightly-broad gestures and expressions do cause the viewer more than once to wonder whether he too might be an inmate, a concept borrowed from Poe's The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether, among others since. The unrelenting uncertainties about who can be trusted makes for a permeating paranoia that keeps this better than average. The theme is underlined by the effect that the goings-on have upon Bishop: before long, he too is stumbling around, gaping-mouthed as if he too were a patient. Although there is significant gore, it's not the most horrific aspect to the film, which plays upon subtler fears. And for an effects creator, that's quite a remarkable directorial debut.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||1.78:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture generally looks quite good. There's significant graininess, but that's probably atttributable to the film being mostly shot in very subdued light. On the other hand, even in brightly-lit scenes I did not notice any edge enhancement at all, which is a startling improvement for Columbia, long notorious for slapping on unneeded edge enhancement. The picture is slightly soft, but given the filtering that's clearly intentional, and the result is very filmlike and meritorious. This is the second such disc from the Torch Lady that I've seen with this improved picture, and I hope that this becomes the standard for Columbia.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The sound design on the 5.1 tracks is highly effective, with sometimes barely audible howls and screams constantly swirling through the surrounds. Bass is good, with the heavy footsteps of the Harvester in particular slapping deep bass in a convincing manner (even if the costume is less so). Dialogue and music both sound natural. Hiss and noise are practically nonexistent.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Boa vs. Python, Carandiru, Kaena: The Prophecy, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: The sole extras are trailers. The feature is represented by a red-band R trailer, unfortunately in full-frame. Five other random trailers of recent Columbia releases make up the balance.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsAn effective little modern chiller that makes for a better 1980s throwback than many others made in recent years, bearing a better-than-usual transfer from Columbia. Not much for extras, though.
Mark Zimmer 2004-09-21