During the 60s and 70s, British film makers Amicus productions made a series of films containing several short horror stories, linked by a framing story.
Starring many big names (for the time), these low/medium budget films
told several stories mainly concerning ghosts and the supernatural in a
typically British way, and usually featured some sort of twist ending.
The fifth of these films was 1972's "Asylum", also known as "House of the crazies" for its US release.
Asylum contained dramatisations of stories written and scripted by writer Robert Bloch , who also scripted the film adaptation of Alfred Hitchcocks "Psycho".
This film was the very first Amicus anthology film I ever saw, when it was shown on ITVs Friday night horror movie slot back in the early 1990s, and in a way it kick started my liking for films in the anthology genre as a whole.
Dr. Martin (Robert Powell ) arrives at the secluded "Dunsmoor Asylum For The Incurably Insane", intending to secure a job as a psychiatrist. He is expecting to be interviewed for the position by the manager of the place, a Dr. B Starr, but instead finds the wheelchair bound and incredibly stubborn Dr. Rutherford (Patrick Magee ) waiting for him instead.
Over the course of some verbal sparring between the two men, Rutherford reveals that Dr. Starr suffered a total and complete mental breakdown, and thus was incarcerated in his own asylum, and, should Dr. Martin be able to identify him by interviewing several of the patients there, he will be "considered" for the job.
Rutherford goes on to explain that the patients he is to interview are all completely and incurably insane, and have a penchant for inventing completely false stories,displaying many different alternate personas and being somewhat violent, and as such, the door to the wing he is about to go into can only be opened by pushing a button on his desk, so as to prevent the maniacs from escaping, but Martin reassures Rutherford that he has dealt with severely mentally disturbed people before.
Martin ascends the stairs to the wing he is to interview in and is greeted by Max the orderly, who tells him he has been instructed to give no indications whatsoever which patient is Dr. Starr.
He leads Martin the the first room, where he is to interview "Bonnie"...
Story #1 - "Frozen Fear"
Bonnie and Walter are lovers, however Walter is married to the posessive heiress Ruth. Ruth is a practitioner of Voodoo, and after an argument over wanting a divorce from her, which she will not grant, Walter executes his plan to escape from her.
Walter surprises Ruth by showing her the large chest freezer (still something of a novelty in early 1970s Britain) he has bought for her and had installed in the cellar, she is overjoyed at the gift he has given her, but Walter says there is another surprise for her, when she asks what it is, he responds by bludgeoning her to death with an axe.
Hours pass, and Walter dismembers the body and wraps the individual pieces of it up in brown paper, before neatly packing them inside the freezer, where he hopes they will lay undiscovered for quite some time.
As he finishes off celaning up the murder scene, he notices Ruths Voodoo bracelet still left lying around, so he casually tosses it in the freezer along with the body parts, telling her to "rest in pieces".
The phone rings, and Walter tells Bonnie he has finished his task, Bonnie tells him she is coming, but they will need to take the body parts along with them when they escape, in order to dispose of them somewhere along the way. Walter isnt too pleased about this but goes along with the idea anyway.
He pours himself a stiff drink and sits down to wait for Bonnies arrival, when suddenly he hears a strange noise coming from the kitchen. He is terrified to see Ruths Dismembered head, still wrapped in brown paper, rolling by itself across the kitchen floor, stopping to glare at him ominously as it reaches the doorway. Walter throws his glass at the head, but the head suddenly vanishes. Walter, putting this down to a hallucination brought on by guilt, decides to go down and check to make sure he wasn't imagining things.
He cautiously makes his way down to the cellar, and is shocked to see the freezer lid open. When he looks in the freezer, Ruths dismembered arm shoots up and grabs him by the throat.
Bonnie arrives later, and calls out Walters name, but finds nothing in the house save for the broken glass and spilt drink on the kitchen floor, then, the cellar door creaks open ominously on its own.
She heads down there to see what is happening, but still doesn't find Walter anywhere. Morbid curiosity compels her to look in the freezer, and she finds herself looking at Walters dead body. She makes to go back upstairs, but finds Ruths severed but still breathing head staring back at her, she flees in terror but is set upon by Ruths other body parts. She tries to escape by going through another door, but finds it locked.
She grabs the axe that Walter used to kill and dismember his wife with and tries unsuccessfully to attack the various body parts as they crawl towards her, but she is unable to stop any of them. Suddenly, one of Ruths arms drops down from the rafters and grabs her face, so Bonnie begins wildly slashing at it with the axe....
Bonnie concludes her story by revealing that the police found her laying unconscious the following morning, and that they told her that she had strangled Walter. She says she tried to tell them about Ruth and her various body parts, but everything was gone. She then turns round and reveals a large ugly scar across her face, inflicted upon herself while she was slashing with the axe.
Outside the room, Dr. Martin diagnoses Bonnie as having an acute case of paranoid psychosis, to which Max shrugs his shoulders and moves him to the next room.
Bruno sits cross legged on the table, sewing imaginary cloth with an imaginary needle and thread. Dr. Martin asks him what he is doing, and Bruno begins his tale...
Story #2 - "The Weird Tailor"
Bruno (Barry Morse ) is a jewish tailor who has fallen on hard times. When the rent man comes calling, Bruno is unable to pay him, and instead offers to make him a suit, his offer is refused, and he is tol he has until Saturday morning to come up with the money or he will have to leave.
Bruno tells his wife the sad news, but then their spirits are uplifted when a man named simply "Smith" (Peter Cushing ) enters the shop and asks if Bruno can make him a suit.
Smith produces a bolt of strange cloth, which glows with an other worldly aura, and gives Bruno a set of very detailed instructions governing how the suit is to be made, and what times he can work on it, all of these times being in the early hours of the morning. Brun offers to take Smiths measurements but Smith explains that the suit is to be a surprise gift for his son, and that he needs it completing as soon as possible, promising to pay him £200 (still a lot of money in 1972) when he completes and delivers it to him on Friday morning.
Bruno spends four nights working slavishly on the garment, but manages to get it completed in time and delivers it himself to Smiths house.
Bruno finds Smiths house in darkness and a state of disrepair, which surprises him as Smith appeared to be a very wealthy man, Smith explains that he cannot pay him the £200 as promised, but will settle up with him afterwards. Bruno refuses to hand over the suit until he receives payment, but Smith assures him that there is nothing in the house worth taking, aside from a very rare one of a kind book of magic that he spent his entire fortune on. Bruno becomes angry and looks in one of the rooms to find a body in a coffin, he accuses Smith of being a murderer, but Smith points out that the body is that of his son, who died of natural causes some time ago, and the suit is made of a magical cloth which when he puts it on the body, his son will return to life.
Bruno refuses once again to hand over the suit without payment, but Smith pulls a revolver from his pocket and the two men fight, ending with the gun going off accidentally and killing Smith.
Bruno grabs the book of magic spells and flees the house.
His wife asks what is wrogn when he returns home, and he tells her that Smith was a fraud and to burn the suit because of its unnatural abilities, he says that he will sell the book and get the money that way. As he inspects the books contents, he notices that his wife hasnt fired up their boiler, meaning she is not burning the suit as he requested, she tells him that she thinks that if someone sees the suit on display in the window, that they will come in and buy it, so, to that end, she has dressed their mannequin, who she has named "Otto" in the suit. Bruno cries out in horror, but by then it is too late, Otto has come to life and begins rampaging through the shop, stopping to throttle Bruno.....
Bruno pleads with Dr. Martin to find and stop Otto, but Max coldly locks him back in his room and leads Martin to the next room.
Barbera ( Charlotte Rampling ) sits staring at herself in the mirror, and asks if Dr. Martin is the lawyer she had been asking for. He answers in the negative and introduces himself as a doctor. Barbera dismisses him, and says she has plenty of experience with the medical profession, having been in mental institutions before. Martin asks her to clarify but she says that all she needs is to be let out, what happened wasnt her fault and they should instead look for someone called "Lucy".....
Story #3 "Lucy Comes To Stay"
Barbera is brought home from another stay in a mental institution by her brother George (it is implied throughout the story that Barbera is a habitual drug user, which causes her to hallucinate and blame actions she carries out herself on someone called "Lucy") , she says she feels a lot better after her stay in hospital and that what happened will never happen again. When they arrive home, Barbera is told that they will have a live in carer, Nurse Higgins, to look after her until she gets back on her feet. She doesnt appreciate this one bit and resents the implication that she is an invalid and requires someone to look after her, and, more importantly, to act as a prison guard.
Later that night, Nurse Higgins is called away after a family emergency, and Barbera awakens to find herself alone in the house, so she immediately finds a hidden stash of drug and takes several of the little yellow pills. Lucy ( Britt Ekland) suddenly appears and says that she let herself in after tricking George and Nurse Higgins into leaving by making a fake telephone call from the garage. Lucy is very charismatic and forceful, and tells Barbera that they will need to work quickly if theyre going to escape. Barbera says she doesnt feel too good and Lucy conjectures that she has been taking "those pills" again, which Barbera denies, but Lucy says she knows when she is being lied to. Lucy and Barbera debate abut George wanting to keep Barbera sedated and submissive so that he can make off with the fortune left to Barbera by their late father. Lucy wins the argument and tells Barbera to get the £100 she had been saving for a new dress, so they can use it to rent a room somewhere and go into hiding. Lucy says she has everything planned, and they will leave that night, once George is asleep by stealing his car.
That night, while George is taking a phone call from Nurse Higgins to tell him that the family emergency was a fake, an unseen hand pours some sort of powder into his tea, which George then drinks and falls alseep.
Lucy wakes Barbera and tells her to pack, then she takes a pair of scissors and cuts the phone line, saying that they don't want Nurse Higgins calling the police before they've had a chance to get away.
Barbera once again takes some pills form her hidden stash and swears that she wont take any more when Lucy catches her with them. Lucy accuses her of always choosing drugs over everything else, and not owning up to the fact that she secretly hates both Lucy and George. Lucy gets angry and leaves when Barbera says she cant get through the day without taking the pills, so Barbera follows her, and runs into Nurse Higgins who has just got back. They go through to the study and there they find George slumped in his chair dead, with a pair of scissors sticking out of his chest.
Nurse Higgins tries to call for an ambulance but finds the phone dead, so she follows Barbera upstairs, only to have Lucy stab her in the chest as she reaches the top.
Lucy tells Barbera she is now free of all of them...
Barbera tells Dr.Martin that Lucy is the one they want, not her, and Martin asks where they can find Lucy. Barbera turns to the mirror and, while pointing at herself says "shes right here!" before laughing insanely.
Dr.Martin wonders if Rutherford is playing games with him, and if Dr. Starr actually exists, being as that thus far, all of the patiens he has seen have names beginning with the letter "B", as in "B. Starr", bu tMax says he cannot say anything until Martin makes his choice, before leading him to the final patient.
Max explains that this one is a cut above the rest, as unlike the others, he his a Doctor by the name of Byron (Herbert Lom ).
Byron sits at his workbench making a model of a human arm, and introduces himself cordially as the tow men enter his room...
Story #4 "Mannequins Of Terror"
Byron explains to Martin that he is an accomplished neurosurgeon and Doctor of internal medicine, but of late he has found a new hobby, namely that of making anatomically correct human figurines, which he shows Martin a cabinet full of the almost robot like dolls. He goes on to explain that the figures are not only an accurate cosmetic likeness of the people he has modelled them on, but also internally identical, containing functional eyes, internal organs and a fully functioning brain. He says that is is his belief that one can will life into their likeness, in a similar manner to what God used to create Adam and Eve. Martin finds this concept ridiculous, and declares Byron to be mad when he produces a figure of himself. Byron says he intends to project his consciousness into the figure, and that Rutherford had him locked up.
Martin and Max leave Byron in peace, and Rutherford is informed that Martin is on his way down.
Martin lambastes Rutherford for his poor treatment of the patients, none of whom have had any attempt to make any kind of treatment to help them escape their delusions, but once again Rutherford insists that everyone he has just seen are completely and incurably insane.
Upstairs, Byron lays on his bed clutching the figure of himself in his hands and staring at it intensely.
Rutherford explains that the only real cure for all of them is a lobotomy, which although Martin agrees would be effective, it would also turn anyone it is used on into a mindless vegetable.
Byron still stares at the figure of himself, and suddenly a spark of life appears in its eyes, and the figure begins moving by itself. Byron places the figure on the floor and it begins walking towards the door.
Max enters Byrons room to drop off his dinner, and doesn't notice Byrons homonculus sneak out of the door and make its way into the dumb waiter used to bring the patients food up from the kitchen.
Rutherford asks Martin for his choice, but before he can answer, they are disturbed by a nurse bringing them some refreshments. Martin says he does not intend to choose, instead, he intends to return home and report the asylum for malpractice, as Rutherfords regieme is of no medical or psychological benefit to anyone concerned. Rutherford disputes Martins observations.
Unnoticed as the two men argue over physchiatric treatments for the patients, Byrons homonculus climbs on to Rutherfords desk, where it then picks up a surgical scalpel that Rutherford had left there, and stabs Rutherford in the back of the neck with it.
Martin rushes to Rutherfords aid, but he is dead. He looks up and sees Byrons homonculus walking away, at first he seizes it, but then throws it to the floor. The figure raises its arms defensively, but Martin stamps on it, he removes his foot to reveal still pulsing viscrea flowing out of the figures crushed torso.
Upstairs, Byron cries out in agony, and Max rushes to see what is wrong....
Martin flicks the switch on Rutherfords desk and runs upstairs to find Max horrified at what he has just seen. Martin enquires on Byrons condition, but Max tells him not to go in to the room, as Byrons body has been crushed, as though a weight fell upon him from a great height.
Martin concludes that "Byron" was Dr. Starr, Max asks him if that was his choice, to which Martin replies that it was obvious. Martin then makes for Max's office, saying he intends to call for help, Max makes to stop him, but he is too slow, and Martin enters the room, finding a body hidden under a blanket on the bed. The dead man has been strangled, and Max tells him that he died two days ago, and he hadnt had a chance to get rid of it yet. Martin asks who he was, and is told that the mans name was "Max". Horrified, Martin realises that "Max" is actually Dr. Starr, and that he has killed the real Max and replaced him, as he tries to escape, Dr. Starr (Geoffrey Bayldon ) strangles him from behind with his stethoscope.
As Martin lays dying on the floor, Dr. Starr listens to his heart beat, and when it stops, he begins laughing like a maniac.
Another Doctor arrives for a job interview, and is greeted at the door by "Max", who ushers him inside and then "closes the door to keep out the draughts, as Dr. Starr used to say", before giving one final evil grin to the camera....