“What’s a psychopath?” – Doom Asylum (Blu-Ray Review)

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A group of partying teens find the perfect place for their antics in the form of an abandoned asylum and become the target of a deformed maniac intent on killing them.

Driven insane after losing his beloved in a car crash (and almost being the subject of an accidental autopsy), The Coroner, wants to paint the walls of the asylum with the blood of his victims and this group are the perfect targets. Thankfully, the teens are not alone in their fight to survive, as they have their wits and the help of an angry (somewhat scantily clad) goth group to help the day.

It’s a film of pure cheese in places and wouldn’t look out of place with the works of Troma Studios for its delivery of over-the-top, wisecracking humour and exploitation. It’s a film of heavy exposition, featuring appropriately camp performances from Kristen Davis (she of Sex and the City fame), Patty Mullen (Frankenhooker and Penthouse Pet of the Year 1988) in a dual role as Judy (the deceased) and her daughter, Kiki, and Ruth Collins (Witch Academy and Playboy centrefold). With a cast like that and equally cliched characterisation, Doom Asylum is exactly what you’d expect from this type of genre fodder.

Richard Friedman’s other works include Scared Stiff and Phantom of the Mall. He’s comfortable in this genre and it shows. The asylum location is put to good effect by Friedman and his writing partners Rick Marx and Steven Menkin.  Corridors look creepy, even in daylight, and the dialogue is ripe.

The Coroner takes a leaf out of the later entries in the Nightmare on Elm Street series as he stalks and quips his way around the building, dispatching victims with over-the-top aplomb, whilst suffering from flashbacks to the tragic event of his path, and enjoying old films in the basement of the asylum. Michael Rogen makes a meal of his role, though isn’t a patch on Robert Englund.

Character development isn’t this film’s strong point and it’s probably not worth trying to remember any of the character’s names or how they know each other, even with the exposition-heavy dialogue that’s more tongue-in-cheek than serious. The women are either strong-willed (the goth group) or delicate flowers (the other women), the men are stereotypes of their character class – the jock, the geek, the black guy – and they all overact, but it certainly fits and exploits the silly humour of the film in its almost Airplane and Naked Gun delivery, just without the witty wordplay and slapstick visuals.

The special effects are impressive, with good use of prosthetics, not only for The Coroner but also for the victims. Flesh is torn and blood is spattered, and it all looks really good thanks to the work of the talented Vincent J Guastini and the skilful director of photography, Larry Revene.

This is a film that revels in how ridiculous it is and Doom Asylum manages to hit its own target of being an apparent parody of the genre, maintaining a balance between slasher horror and horror comedy, without straying too far into either territory. It’s far from a great film, but it’s certainly entertaining.

Presented in both 1.78:1 and 1.33:1 from a brand new 2K restoration, Arrow Video do a great job of restoring the 1987 comedy-horror for the discerning viewer of schlock-horror. The 1.78:1 cut is mastered from a mix of 1.33:1 shots (for video segments) and the widescreen film masters. Although remastered from the camera negative, the film shows its age and the quality of its video stock for the 1.33:1 sequences. It’s cleaner on the film parts, but still has a touch of grain throughout. It’s not terrible and doesn’t distract that much once the silliness gets going.

As with all Arrow Video releases, the disc is packed with quality extras – two commentaries, one with Rick Marx and the other with The Hysteria Continues podcast give very different and highly entertaining insight into Doom Asylum; as does the interviews with Ruth Collins, Larry Revene and Vincent J Guastini, along with archive interviews from the producer Alexander W Kogan, production manager Bill Tasgal and Friedman.

Another great entry in the catalogue of horror films from Arrow Video, it won’t appeal to the masses or many modern horror fans, but fans of the genre – especially those who appreciate retro horror or remember the slasher horror films that populated video rental store shelves in the 80s – will find something to enjoy in this film for its outlandish approach that hasn’t aged well, but still entertains.

Dir: Richard Friedman

Scr: Richard Friedman

Cast: Patty Mullen, Ruth Collins, Kristin Davis, Harrison White

Prd: Steven G. Menkin

DoP: Larry Revene

Music: Dave Erlanger, Jonathan Stewart

Country: USA

Year: 1987

Runtime: 77 mins

Doom Asylum is available on Blu-Ray now.