While visiting the isolated and bleak mist-shrouded Dunsmoor Asylum for “the incurably insane”, earnest young psychiatrist Dr Martin (Robert Powell) learns the bizarre and disturbing case histories of several patients from the weary, morose, wheelchair-bound head of the asylum Dr Rutherford (Patrick Magee).
Rutherford explains that he is in a wheelchair because of an attack by one of the patients (“Never turn your back on a patient!” he advises Dr Martin) and that Dr Starr – a former member of staff – has developed a “dual personality” and is now insane and a patient himself.
He sets Dr Martin a rather strange challenge. Martin must go and visit four patients in their rooms and if he guesses correctly which one is Dr Starr he can have the position he has come to be interviewed for.
Our young job applicant takes up the challenge and makes his way to the patients with the asylum’s orderly Max Reynolds (Geoffrey Bayldon). Each of the four gruesome stories explains how various inmates ended up at Dunsmoor.
‘Frozen Fear’ features young Bonnie (Barbara Parkins), who tells her story to Dr Martin from her room in the asylum.
Bonnie is having an affair with Walter (Richard Todd), a middle-aged man whose main problem is his annoying heiress wife, Ruth (Sylvia Sims).
He wants to be rid of her and get his hands on her cash but she steadfastly refuses a divorce and mocks him for being stuck with her.
A frustrated Walter cooks up a grisly plan that will make use of a big new freezer he’s bought and had put in the cellar. Meanwhile, Ruth has been studying voodoo.
‘The Weird Tailor’ is arguably the highlight of the film and features Bruno (Barry Morse) as a tailor with huge grey mutton-chop sideburns who looks like he’s just stepped out of another century. Now a shambling wreck reduced to air sewing invisible garments in his room at the asylum, he recounts his terrible tale to Dr Martin . . .
In a dark, foggy London backstreet, Bruno works in his little tailor’s shop. He is skint and his nasty landlord is threatening him and his wife over the rent they owe.
Bruno is desperate and very worried but things perk up when the mysterious Mr Smith (Peter Cushing) enters the shop and requests that a suit is made for him.
This is no ordinary suit though. It’s to be made of a strange, luminous material and Mr Smith has very precise instructions: It can only be worked on after midnight and an astrological deadline is imposed.
Bruno, eager for the revenue, begins work according to the stipulations laid down. To his horror, he eventually discovers the reason for the unusual instructions.
‘Lucy Comes to Stay’ features Barbara (Charlotte Rampling) as a schizophrenic posh girl. Barbara tells her story to Dr Martin in flashback and we cut to a plush country house where Barbara is staying with her plummy brother George (James Villiers) and her Nurse Miss Higgins (Megs Jenkins) after being released from another institution.
Barbara has a ‘friend’ called Lucy (Britt Ekland) and Lucy tends to be a very bad influence on Barbara (and that’s putting it mildly). Is Lucy real or a figment of Barbara’s imagination?
‘Mannikins of Horror’ becomes part of the end of the film in the asylum rather than a flashback.
The patient this time is the pompous Dr Byron (Herbert Lom in an artist’s gown), who still acts as if he is a respected doctor rather than an asylum inmate.
Byron is making good use of his spare time in the asylum, creating miniature figures that he claims are real and have functioning organs – including a murderous alter ego of himself. The animated figure kills Dr Rutherford, but with appalling consequences for Byron.
The ending of the Amicus film is creepy and very enjoyable, wrapping things up nicely as we finally learn who Dr Starr is.
Asylum was made at Shepperton Studios and locations in Berkshire and wrapped inside a month.
Roy Ward Baker