DOOM ASYLUM – The Blu Review
It was perhaps inevitable that the VHS boom of the 1980’s would eventually lead to full-length features skipping theatrical distribution and being produced directly for video distribution. I can clearly remember 1985’s Blood Cult, the very first film made on video and directly distributed to video. It was a terribly acted, extremely low-budget horror film, released unrated, with over-the-top gore effects. It proved popular enough for the same company to produce The Ripper, starring Tom Savini, both behind and in front of the camera. But even in the 1980’s, most films were actually being made on, well…film, even if the intent was a straight-to-video distribution deal such as Doom Asylum.
But, similar to the indie boom of the 1970’s when practically anyone with a camera, a few dollars, and a bit of ingenuity could create a low-budget film for distribution in big-city grindhouses and small-town drive-ins, the late 1980’s was a boon for aspiring directors who could only raise five-figure financing for their films. And with video stores clamoring for product, it wasn’t long before the straight-to-video market mushroomed. Doom Asylum is a product of this mad rush.
Written by Rick Marx, who penned numerous low-budget exploitationers for Canon Films as well as numerous adult films, and directed by Richard Friedman, who also directed Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge, Doom Asylum is a horror/gore/comedy/spoof of the “so-bad-it’s-good” ilk. Palimony attorney Mitch Hansen (Michael Rogen) has just won a huge settlement and is making good his escape with his girlfriend, Judy. They plan on ditching Judy’s daughter in boarding school and living the high life until Judy dies in a tragic car accident. Mitch is also pronounced dead but actually regains consciousness during his own autopsy. He awakes in terrible pain, disfigured by the autopsy, and confused about Judy’s location, convinced she is still alive. He quickly dispatches both the medical examiner and his assistant but hangs around the hospital in wait for news about Judy.
Ten years later, the hospital is shut down and rumors of a murderer the locals dub “The Coroner,” who still resides in the darkened hospital hallways, abound. Judy’s daughter, Kiki, along with her boyfriend and some other acquaintances decide to visit the deserted hospital to help Kiki move on from the tragedy. Along the way, they meet an all-girl heavy metal band who uses the old hospital for practice. Before long, the kids are mysteriously disappearing. Can Kiki solve the mystery of The Coroner before all her friends die?
The star attraction of this film when it was made was actress and Penthouse Playmate of the Year for 1987, Patty Mullen. Mullen, however, only went on to one other role, and that was a star turn in Frank Henenlotter’s hilarious Frankenhooker, from 1990. Nowadays, the film is more famous for being the first professional gig for Kristin Davis, from Sex and the City fame.
The film doesn’t really work well for a horror film. There are no chills and only a handful of thrills, and those are only during the kill scenes. While the film is quite bloody, for the most part the effects are cheap and cheesy, as befits the entire film. This comes as no surprise as this was effects creator Vincent Guastini’s third film, so he was still learning his trade and, by his own admission, creating effects “from my mother’s pantry.” Nevertheless, the effects are very bloody and fun without being so realistic as to be stomach-churning.
The film doesn’t work terribly well as a comedy, either. Many of the jokes fall flat and some are simply run into the ground. For instance, when the two token black kids first see each other and it’s love at first sight, the film cuts to a slow-motion run through a field and into each other’s arms, which is plain hokey. There is a terrible running joke with Kiki’s boyfriend who simply can’t make up his mind. So every statement he makes, he automatically changes what he just said, sometimes multiple times. So, if he makes a statement like, “Kiki, don’t go in there,” he will immediately follow it up with, “At least, I don’t think you should go in there,” again followed up with, “But you can if you want.” It’s not funny the first time and it’s stale and annoying after nearly 80 minutes of the same gag. It doesn’t help that the acting is wooden and the delivery is monotone.
Kristin Davis’ running gag is being the “smart kid,” as evidenced by her sporting a pair of glasses with the largest frames I’ve ever seen. Her parents are psychologists so she over-analyzes everything that is said. Her purpose in the film is to explain away or dismiss any concerns the other kids have about the disappearances of their friends by poo-poo-ing the notion that anything could be amiss, thus allowing the others to make poor choices by entering the haunted asylum.
Another character is the “sports geek” who is much more concerned about his baseball cards than the pretty girls in bikinis lying around him. His star turn comes as he chases a card blown by the wind into the asylum all while role-playing hitting a home run to win the big game.
So, clichéd story, lame acting, poor special effects, caricatures instead of characters…just why would a company like Arrow sink money into putting this film onto Blu-Ray? For a couple of reasons. The movie certainly doesn’t work well as a comedy or as a horror film. However, it does a decent enough job at spoofing the genre. So if you view the film in the context of a spoof, placing tongue firmly in cheek, there is some entertainment value to be had. There is also nostalgia, which can be a powerful force for adults seeking to recall their fond childhood memories. And, for those of us of a certain age, we can fondly recall haunting the local video store and checking out all the cool covers, counting our change, and hoping we had enough money for at least a one-night rental. (As an aside, many of the covers were actually better than the films.) Or, some of us might have caught this film late-night on the USA or other cable channel that seemed to run the same three films every weekend. For people who remember catching Doom Asylum on the video shelf or on late-night cable this is a chance to relive our childhoods. For the rest of you, it’s a chance to yuck it up at a film that, on its surface, seems to be inept but works quite well on a completely different level.
As mentioned previously, Arrow Video USA has just released this title in high-def. And, just to prove how careful this company is with its releases, there are 1.85:1 and 1.33:1 versions of film, depending on how you prefer to view it. Two audio commentaries are included. One is with The Hysteria Continues, our friends who love slasher films, making general comments about the film and their memories and impressions of it, while the second is with special effects wiz Howard Berger and screenwriter Rick Marx. Berger is an unabashed fan of the film and gushes continually throughout the commentary. It’s just this side of annoying, as I don’t necessarily agree with his views about the film and I’d rather listen to more material from someone who took part in making the film. However, there are plenty of good stories about how the Playmate of the Year, Patty Mullen, refused to take her clothes off for the film and how another actress was willing to as long as she was paid by the breast!
Other special features include interviews with actress Ruth Collins, Vincent Guastini, and cinematographer Larry Revene, as well as an archival interview with the director and producers of the film. A still gallery is also included, as is a booklet with new writing on the film (first pressing only). Arrow has just released Doom Asylum, which can be purchased directly from Arrow Video at http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/category/usa/ or from Amazon.