We here at Horror Bound are big fans of horror. Duh. We are also big believers that any fun loving cinephile ought to be. Some people find it hard to get past their fears and some are overwhelmed at the sheer volume of horror out there. Including indie horror, which is wonderful, dozens of genre flicks come out every month. So, where does one start?
Well, we got you covered. This recurring article will be dolling out the 100 essential flicks from horror and will give you a heaping tablespoon of the various eras and sub genres. It also just so happens that this list was created by the great minds behind the Shock Waves podcast, including Charlotte’s adoptive mother, Rebekah McKendry, so it’s basically a family list.
These are not ranked, but, rather, in alphabetical order. Today we go mad for 1972’s Asylum.
Sweet mother of god do I love Asylum. Horror has a long history of the anthology approach. It fits the genre perfectly. Tight, short stories designed to scare the hell out of you. Oral history, tales of the occult and the frightening, these are all the foundations of horror. Instead of tales around the campfire, filmmakers used the new medium of film to weave terrifying yarns.
The anthology format fits this history perfectly. It gives the fan a chance to get solid, bite-sized bits of deliciousness. On a practical level, it also gives filmmakers a chance to build their resume and take chances. This allows the industry to give more voices an opportunity to be heard. One of the first and certainly the most influential was 1972’s Asylum.
Part of why Asylum is so influential is in how it defined the format. Four short films that share an overarching story/character that frames the entire affair. Whether it is the V/H/S franchise or the couple of Creepshows, this format remains for the vast majority of anthology films to this day.
All four of the shorts, and the framing story, were directed by Roy Ward Baker, an absolute legend. Baker you may know as the director of A Night to Remember and a slew of classic thrillers like The Monster Club and Scars of Dracula. He does a fantastic job with the material here.
The framing or connecting story is that of Dr. Martin who is interviewing the authoritarian head of an asylum for the criminally insane, Dr. Rutheford, who you may remember scaring the pants off you in things like Marat/Sade and Tales from the Crypt. He is now wheelchair bound after being attacked by an inmate and Dr. Martin is here to hear his various inmates.
The first, called Frozen Fear, tells of Bonnie and her plot to kill and dismember Ruth. Bonnie is played to perfection by the one and only Barbara Parkins, who you may remember from The Mephisto Waltz or Valley of the Dolls. This segment feels very Hitchcock and, well, why not, it’s based on a Hitchcock story. Next comes The Weird Taylor, which is the best of the bunch.
In it, a mystery man who simply calls himself Mr. Smith, played by the incomparable Peter Cushing, shows up with a very strange fabric, asking a tailor to make a small suit to exact specifications. It turns out the fabric is magical and will bring whatever wears it to life. The reason it’s small is because Mr. Smith plans to use it on his recently deceased son. If you can believe it, it gets creepier than you think when the tailor puts it on a dummy in his store, which, of course, brings the dummy to life.
Next is Lucy Comes to Stay. Barbara, played by the iconic Charlotte Rampling, has just been released from the asylum. She has a naughty imaginary friend named Lucy, played by Britt Ekland, who you will remember from The Wicker Man. Barbara had rid herself of Lucy while in the asylum. Problem is, Lucy lives at home and is there waiting for Barbara. Mischief ensues.
The final chapter is Mannikins of Horror. Yes, they spell mannequins that way. This one is another creepy tale of dolls come to life, this time an evil scientist named Dr. Byron is reanimating store mannequins to do his bidding. This one is so so, but it’s worth the effort because this installment includes Dr. Byron being portrayed by Herbert Lom, who you will remember as the foil of Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies.
So, if you want to see the anthology that started it all, check out Asylum. There are some great performances and it’s a classic spookfest. Check it out and let the anthology education begin.
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