Asylum (also known as House of Crazies in subsequent US releases) is a 1972 British horror film made by Amicus Productions. The film was directed by Roy Ward Baker, produced by Milton Subotsky, and scripted by Robert Bloch (who adapted four of his own short stories for the screenplay).
Baker had considerable experience as a director of horror films as he had tackled Quatermass and The Pit, and Scars of Dracula. Robert Bloch, who wrote the script for Asylum based on a series of his own short stories, was also the author of the novel Psycho, which Alfred Hitchcock directed as a film.
It is a horror anthology film, one of several produced by Amicus during the 1960s and 1970s. Others were Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, Torture Garden, Tales from the Crypt, The House That Dripped Blood, The Vault of Horror, and From Beyond the Grave.
Shot in April 1972, the film was edited and set for release 15 weeks after the final day of shooting, premièring in July 1972 in the UK. The film had its North American début on 17 November 1972.
Dr Martin arrives at a secluded asylum "for the incurably insane" to be interviewed for a job by the wheelchair-bound, authoritarian Dr. Lionel Rutherford. Rutherford explains that he owes his current incapacitation to an attack by an inmate.
Rutherford reveals his unorthodox plan to determine Martin's suitability for the post of chief doctor. One of the asylum's current inmates is Dr B. Starr, the former head of the asylum, who underwent a complete mental breakdown. Martin is to interview the inmates of the asylum to deduce which one is Dr Starr. If his choice is correct, Rutherford will "consider" him for the post.
The attendant Max Reynolds admits Martin through the security door to the inmates's solitary confinement cells, where he interviews each in turn.
This story is loosely based on Bloch's short story "A Home Away from Home," first published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and adapted for television on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.Robert Powell – Dr. Martin
Patrick Magee – Dr. Lionel Rutherford
Geoffrey Bayldon – Max Reynolds
Bonnie recounts the plot to murder Ruth, the wealthy wife of her lover Walter. Ruth is a possessive heiress who studies voodoo. This results in horrific repercussions after Ruth's dead body has been dismembered and wrapped in individual parcels.Barbara Parkins – Bonnie
Sylvia Syms – Ruth
Richard Todd – Walter
Bruno recounts how poverty forced him to accept the unusual request of a Mr. Smith to produce an elaborate suit of clothing from a mysterious, scintillating fabric that can animate anything, including the dead.
After learning what the suit will be used for, Bruno fights Smith and accidentally kills him. He returns with the unsold suit. His wife Anna dresses their store mannequin in the suit, and its true powers are revealed.
This story was also earlier adapted as an episode of the Boris Karloff-hosted television series Thriller ("The Weird Tailor", Season 2, Episode 4).Barry Morse – Bruno
Peter Cushing – Mr. Smith
Ann Firbank – Anna
John Franklyn-Robbins – Stebbins
Daniel Johns – Otto the dummy
The ebullient Barbara informs Martin she has been in an asylum before. After her release from that facility, she is closely monitored at home by her brother George and a nurse, Miss Higgins. This frustrated existence is relieved when her mischievous friend Lucy comes to visit.Charlotte Rampling – Barbara
Britt Ekland – Lucy
James Villiers – George
Megs Jenkins – Miss Higgins
Martin interviews Dr. Byron, who holds Rutherford in contempt. Byron explains he is working towards soul transference with a small automaton whose head is a likeness of his own, showing Martin several earlier models. Byron plans to "will" his mannequin to life. He explains the interior of the robot is organic, a miniaturised version of his own viscera. Martin concludes his interview, and Max shows him downstairs to deliver his judgment to Rutherford.Herbert Lom – Dr. Byron
Sylvia Marriott – Asylum head nurse
Frank Forsyth – Asylum gatekeeper
Tony Wall – New houseman
Byron successfully brings his mannequin to life; it makes its way to Rutherford's office and kills him with a scalpel. Martin destroys the mannequin, which results in the death of Dr. Byron, and seeks help. Dr. Starr's true identity is revealed: it is "Max Reynolds," who has murdered the real Reynolds two days before. He then strangles Martin to death.
Sometime later, a new candidate for the job arrives and is met by Dr. Starr, who escorts him into the asylum.
This story was later loosely adapted for the Monsters episode "Mannikins of Horror".
Allmovie's review of the film was favourable: "Asylum is a textbook example of the skill that Amicus Productions showed for producing entertaining horror anthology films."
The film was one of Amicus' more popular movies at the UK box office. Despite this it was the last movie Robert Bloch wrote for the studio.
Though Douglas Gamley is credited as having composed the music for this film, the majority of the score is drawn from public domain pieces by Modest Mussorgsky, in particular Night on Bald Mountain (heard over the opening and closing credits). Selections from his Pictures at an Exhibition are also used: "Gnomus" is heard over both an early display of artworks depicting lunatics and past medical practices to deal with the insane, and during the sequence of Byron's mannequin coming to life and making its way downstairs. The booming crescendo of "The Hut on Hen's Legs" is heard over the sequence where the tailor's dummy is animated and rampages in Bruno's shop.
After years of releases using degraded 16mm (for TV) and old theatrical 35mm prints, the film finally received a deluxe DVD release in 2006 from Dark Sky Films. The DVD provides extensive special features including an audio commentary by director Roy Ward Baker and cameraman Neil Binney, plus "Inside the Fear Factory" (a featurette about Hammer rival Amicus Films), cast and crew bios, liner notes, trailers and a still photo gallery. The film was remastered from a pristine 35mm print.