Doom Asylum 1987
aka The House of Horror
Directed by: Richard Friedman
Starring: Patty Mullen, Ruth Collins, Kristin Davis
Review by Luis Joaquín González
So here we have more proof, if ever it were needed, that during the years between 1984 and ’88, we saw the most clichéd titles of the slasher genre’s timeline. After Halloween‘s initial launch, many knock-offs were circulated, but they did at least aim to bring something new to the table in order to garner a following. Whether it was a unique gimmick or an un-slashed calendar-date, the likes of Evil Judgement, My Bloody Valentine and The Prowler were far more authentic than Bloody Pom Poms, Cutting Class, Hollow Gate and Berserker attempted to be.
If I didn’t read that Doom Asylum had been shot in 1987, I would have guessed easily, because it has everything that the entries released on the back of Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street felt compelled to include. Comedic quipping boogeyman? Check. Bunch of attractive young-adults pretending to be teens? Check. Cheesy gore? Check. It’s almost like the producer brought a list of ingredients along to the set and stated that wages wouldn’t be paid until they’d all been ticked off. Where Asylum does differentiate itself a tad is that it goes for the same kind of parody/tongue in cheek outfit that both Return to Horror High and Evil Laugh had sported. Would it do a better job of looking slick whilst wearing it…?
Five bubble-gum teens head off to an abandoned asylum for a secluded break. The site is surrounded by the notorious urban legend of a deranged coroner that slaughtered two doctors before disappearing. When the kids arrive, they bump into Tina and the Tots; a peculiar punk band that use the location to rehearse their gritty sound. Before long the youngsters are being stalked and viciously slaughtered by a heavily disfigured killer…
It’s very unusual for a slasher movie to completely surpass my expectations. Upon re-visiting Doom Asylum for the first time in twenty-years though, I enjoyed my viewing infinitely more than I’d envisioned. What we have here is an entry that gets the mix of cheesy eighties humour and tacky horror spot on to build a good time vibe that is all encompassing. Both Scary Movie and Scream could be described as genre parodies, but one of them was sarcastic with its targeted mocking whilst the latter paid tribute whilst keeping its tongue firmly in cheek. It’s easy to see from the comparison in their popularity, which one went about it the right way and thankfully Doom is a pre-cursor to that style. Director Richard Freidman knew the rules of the category heavyweights and wanted to have a bit of fun with them whilst delivering some splatter. By doing so he’s produced a film that could have gone wrong in so many ways, but instead turns out to be a real treat.
Despite a minimalistic budget, Doom was shot on film, which means that the bright photography looks as crisp as a pot of Pringles and has aged extremely well. Dave Erlanger and Jonathan Stuart’s simple score grows on you as the film progresses and the final twenty-minutes, when the killer stalks the remaining survivors, are credibly atmospheric. As we approach the conclusion, the horror certainly tightens, which is a large switch in mood from the rest of the runtime. Doom is quite obviously a Mickey-take of the slasher craze that’d swept the decade and this is demonstrated in dialogue like, “If I don’t return, don’t come looking for me”. It also means that Friedman gets away with letting his characters merrily wander off to their demise dumbly, because it’s all pulled off with a ‘nudge nudge wink wink’ to the viewer. There is quite a lot of incredibly cheap looking gore here, but the producers must’ve noticed that they had more budget remaining than they expected as the production came to a close. The last two-murders are far more realistic (and credible) than the rest, including one guy getting his toes chopped off with a pair of pliers. It’s a tough thing to watch without flinching and what I found the harshest was that his girlfriend just walks off and leaves him to bleed out and die… Nice! An old VHS copy of this that I bought under the title, The House of Horror, was heavily cut, but thankfully Anchor Bay have restored all the bloody bits.
Doom Asylum doesn’t hang about to jump into the action and it’s impressive how rapidly the killer turns up and gets to work. In keeping us entertained from the off though, I think Friedman made the mistake of not considering his runtime. There are a lot of obviously ‘bolted on after’ scenes of the nut job strolling around in heavy breath POVs and they even went as far as to nail on footage from Todd Slaughter pictures from the 1930s. This gives the film a similar gimmick to the same year’s, Terror Night, but here it’s quite obvious that it was a post-production attempt to pad the runtime. I don’t even think they used the same actor to play the boogeyman watching these flicks? An abandoned asylum was where the action took place and the director really makes the most of it to give the film a maze of isolation. Apparently the site has now been demolished but fans of desolate places will appreciate the idea.
Much like Hide and Go Shriek and Blood Frenzy, Doom Asylum is a good late slasher flick that shows that some of the efforts that came prior to 1988’s re-emergence weren’t as bad as they’re reputed to be. Doing the basics well is more beneficial than going overboard; especially in this genre. Director Friedman would return to the cycle with Phantom of the Mall, a film that… well… I’ll let you know when I post the review shortly…
Only one question remains; and that’s who was paying the electricity bill for a dilapidated hospital? Was it the same person that shelled-out for the phone bill in the house from Silent Night Bloody Night:The Homecoming? How generous…