A young psychiatrist, Dr. Martin, is looking to fulfill an empty job position in an insane asylum. He arrives at the asylum, and upon meeting with the head physician he’s told the reason why a job opening exists. One of the former doctors has him/herself gone crazy, and is in fact one of the patients currently being treated at the hospital. Dr. Martin is then presented with the challenge of identifying his predecessor amongst the inmates, and if he can rightly guess which of the patients was a former psychiatrist in that very hospital – relying only on his interrogation techniques and listening skills – the head of the facility will grant him the open position as he’d be deemed capable of fulfilling the needs demanded by the job.
Dr. Martin then makes his rounds through the rooms of the four incarcerated mental patients, and listens to the crazy story each has to tell as to why they’re being detained; and each story is almost as crazy as the one before it. The good, young doctor studies each as they delve into their history and open up about being a mistress caught in a murder conspiracy, a tailor hired to make a suit using a very unique sort of material, a ‘sane’ woman ‘wrongfully’ accused of murder, and a man obsessed with creating miniature figurines that each have an actual working biology underneath their plastic exterior.
ASYLUM is indeed a horror film anthology. The majority of the time is spent showing us each story told by the inmate in flashback form, and in typical anthology fashion none of the stories have any direct correlation with any of the others. However, unlike a lot of other anthology pictures each story does have an impact on the overall proceedings of the main plot, which is somewhat a story of its own.
Since the goal of Dr. Martin is to identify the ex-doctor amongst the detainees then each story bears some importance to Martin’s investigation, and as viewers we’re inclined to pay attention even if the story doesn’t exactly grab it. Even if a story doesn’t do it for you it will at least feel relevant — It may turn out not to be the story that tells if that person is the doctor, and so you might feel dissatisfied later, but at least it’s delayed.
That being said, I was only displeased with one story and this displeasure almost purely lies within the fact that I’m viewing it for the first time close to 40 years since initial release. A lot of horror has come out since then, and A LOT of horror of that specific type of story has come out as well. It’s an overplayed twist that has worn out its welcome, but if I was to view it upon ASYLUM’s time of release (or just hadn’t seen all of the other films that dealt with the same thing) then it probably wouldn’t have been bothersome.
The other tales are variations of stories you might have seen before, though I doubt you’ve seen any that are anything like the ones in ASYLUM. They contain, loosely, such horror staples as animation, reanimation, and killer puppets - which is the one that concludes the interrogations; and unlike the other stories it is told as part of the present proceedings and not in flashback form. I also found it the most satisfying in that it’s the most comparatively unique against other films of its type. You may have seen killer puppet films, but probably not one like ASYLUM’s. They’re doll sized lego-like men with human(ish) heads that move at the speed of a wind-up robot toy. It doesn’t sound terrifying, and it actually isn’t, but it plays really well. The slow speed at which they move almost compels you to get up and help chug it along.
Not all of the stories work as well as the puppet story does, but they’re never dull and two of them are really interesting, and entertaining. The first kicks things off by offering the creepiest moments in the film, and what follows is an up-and-down scale that never plummets, nor plateaus. It’s like looking at a well-structured argumentative essay; it starts strong, relegates its weakest points to the middle, and ends with a real killer (no pun intended, unless you think that was clever).