A lot of things come to mind when we think of The Asylum. We think of terrible, awful mockbusters. And for the most part, we’re right. This company is known for putting out films ahead of major studio releases that are similar enough to trick people into buying their movie instead. They released Transmorphers instead of Transformers, basically for a target audience of confused grandmothers just looking for “the big robot movie” to buy for their grandson for Christmas. It’s a demographic that’s kept them in business for almost twenty years at this point.
After so much time spent making movies like Alien vs. Hunter, Independents’ Day and Sinister Squad, The Asylum has actually seen a bout of success in the past few years since the release of Sharknado. They happened to time that release perfectly with the onset of a cultural fascination with purposefully bad movies. These films are popping up more and more often now, all with the intent of trying to recapture the flair of ‘80s B-Movies like Troll 2 and Hobgoblins.
Birdemic, Thankskilling, Kung Fury, they’re all a part of that same movement. Ironically, The Asylum, which always tried to be the Z-Grade alternative to mainstream titles, has gone mainstream. It’s even behind the TV series Z Nation on SyFy.
The overexposure of Asylum honestly makes me a little nostalgic for the way things used to be, when they made bad movies that weren’t supposed to be bad, they were just supposed to be made quickly and cheaply so that they could be released as soon as possible. And sometimes, against all odds, The Asylum would actually put out something good. It’s bound to happen with any DTV company with an output this huge.
Most titles they do are going to be terrible. But not all of them. And with that said, here are a few surprisingly good titles that slipped through the cracks.
Halloween Night is a blatant rip off of Halloween and is barely able to disguise this fact. I mean, it doesn’t even really want to disguise that fact, it just wants to wallow in being a trashier, second-or-third-rate version and I happen to be the kind of person who loves movies like that. I think this one’s easier to swallow because it’s just doing what hundreds of Halloween rip offs did in the ‘80s. It’s not like there could be a bigger theft on a lower budget than Offerings. Good or bad, Halloween Night is entertaining and feels like a lost mid-‘80s DTV slasher.
The Hitchhiker is not The Hitcher (1986), but it was made to coincide with the release of the remake, which was a pretty bland rehash overall. This one, though, is a surprisingly enjoyable low-budget exploitation movie. It’s sleazy and gory, but endearingly so. Definitely one of the first that came to mind when thinking of Asylum movies that were better than I expected them to be. And it’s more enjoyable than the film it’s ripping off, which is its own achievement.
Haunting of Winchester House
I don’t know if this is Stockholm Syndrome because it’s on virtually every Walmart 8-pack, but Haunting of Winchester House is not the lifeless, desperate moneygrab that I expected. It’s deeply flawed but at times actually kind of creepy. Most Asylum mockbusters are actually slower than you would think, but that style works for Haunting of Winchester House, which is trying to create as much dread and tension as it possibly can. At the same time, it throws every ghost trope at the wall to see what sticks and, thankfully, some of it does. Plus, it’s a really interesting real-world location that’s been the backdrop for surprisingly few movies.
The Beast of Bray Road
Released in 2005 to cash-in on the real-life sightings that inspired it, as well as the awareness if not success of Wes Craven’s Cursed, Asylum’s Beast of Bray Road is actually one of the better werewolf flicks of the mid-2000s. It’s definitely low-budget, but so were Ginger Snaps and Dog Soldiers. Unlike those two, this one’s definitely more focused on just being a straightforward monster movie and as such it’s a success. For the lack of money, the gore effects are strong. The creature may look like a Halloween costume, but I kind of like that about it.
King of the Ants
Stuart Gordon’s King of the Ants is a really good movie. It was distributed by Asylum at a point when independent psychological thrillers were getting really, really big. There was a flood of them throughout the early 2000s. This movie is an intense, well acted thriller that feels like Gordon returning to his stage roots. It’s very performance driven. But is also a contemplative piece about violence and the excuses we make for our actions. Partially because it was released under the Asylum banner, it remains one of Gordon’s most unseen efforts, but it’s absolutely worth the watch.