Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick: Richard Friedman’s Doom Asylum.
Mitch Hansen is happier than he’s ever been in his life. He’s with his fiancé, they’re driving down the street, drinking champagne. Clearly they will have a long happy life together, right? Shockingly, no! After they get into a horrible car wreck, Mitch is really messed up and his fiancé killed. He wakes up from his own autopsy, murders some doctors, and takes residence in an abandoned mental asylum for ten years. When a local “punk” band and some picnickers decide to check the place out he picks up where he left off and the blood starts to fly. Yes, this is a slasher movie.
The cast here are really not great. Patty Mullen (Frankenhooker) plays the lead (I think) and she’s the only actor or actress in the film that’s even halfway competent. The rest of the cast ham it up as much as possible. The “punk” band looks like they walked right off the set of Return of the Living Dead. This came out in 1987 and it feels about as late 80’s as they come, since they try to push the comedic aspect as much as possible. Most of the dialogue just comes out awkward and forced, though. The killer in particular was clearly influenced by Freddy Krueger, but he doesn’t have the charisma to pull it off and his one-liners are just head scratchingly terrible. If I didn’t know better I’d almost believe that this were some kind of a self-aware parody of awful low budget slasher movies
For the most part, this film is ridiculously formulaic and generic. Most of the runtime consists of characters going one by one into the asylum and getting murdered. It follows every trope down to the black guy dying first (while the killer yells out “I hate rap music!” in a scene that went from goofy to uncomfortable really quick). Even still, the writing is weird and the script is full of holes. The Picnickers can’t be in there for more than 5 minutes without getting a bone saw to the face, but the “punk” band was practicing in there, making tons of noise, and hanging out on the roof for hours without anything happening. I guess Mitch just hates picnics. On top of that there’s a million different bizarre moments to pick out. The nerdy guy chases a flying baseball card while suddenly turning into a sports announcer. The “punk” girls sit around playing chess. One of them flashes her tits at the picnickers to insult them (that’s not how that works). There’s a fight on the roof where one of the characters basically tries to murder the other and nobody seems to care. One of the (male) characters is referred to as “Mom” for the whole movie. Mullen’s character is dumber than a bag of rocks and doesn’t even become the protagonist until late into the film. None of the characters ever run when the killer is near, they just stop in place and wait for him to slowly approach. There’s a dream sequence where two people slowly run at each other and embrace in a field. I could go on and on.
The film is low budget, but not “bottom of the barrel” low budget. It doesn’t look like a snuff film, but it only just barely looks like a real movie. Pretty much everything is shot in broad daylight, killing any kind of atmosphere that they may have had. The camera angles are flat medium shots for the most part and there’s not really any creativity in this department whatsoever. Everything’s in focus, but it doesn’t look like they really thought about this aspect of the visuals all that much. On the other hand I’ve seen much lower budget films with much more ambition in this department. There’s also the score which is pretty atrocious. It sounds like stock music that would come with a cheap movie-making software for free. If they paid much more than that for it they were ripped off.
The one thing this movie does have going for it is the practical effects. The killer has a really messed up face that includes exposed brain and lots of scarring, and it looks great. The kills are generally pretty well-done as well. The drill to the head is shockingly effective and there’s a face melted in acid that looks good, too. Nothing is overly gory, but it’s all kinds of gruesome and mainly just goofy (in a good way). The kills are all memorable too (even the more low-key death scenes), which is basically the most important thing here. The torture at the end might have gone on a little long and been a little too much when compared to the tongue in cheek nature of everything else, but that’s really not a big deal.
Let’s not beat around the bush. Doom Asylum is awful. It’s generic, cliche, and formulaic. There are plot holes and borderline offensive stereotypes. The killer is a poor man’s Krueger without any of the charm, and the dialogue is abysmal. Still…it’s fun. This is a hilarious movie in spite of itself. It’s trying to be funny, and it’s not, but that makes it funny. Does that make sense? This is like the “dad joke” of slasher movies. It makes me laugh because of how incompetently lame it is, and it’s a hell of an entertaining ride because of it. I’d say this is one to check out if you want to see some good kills, bad acting, and terrible jokes.
Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.