Saturday, May 05, 2007

Asylum Night – review


Director: Brad Watson

Release Date: 2004

Contains spoilers

This is a British comedy horror with very B level production values and, you know what, it doesn’t matter. A recommendation suggested to me by Leila, this is a little gem despite the flaws and I’ll reveal at the head of the review that I was really taken by this film.

The film begins with a nurse, we later discover to be Nurse Caldwell (Michelle Esclapez), in a corridor with a flickering light bulb. She tries to jump to bat the bulb (to stop the flicker one assumes) but it is much too high. She gets a chair and stands on it but it is still too high. She strains and the chair falls, making her tumble to the floor against bars. A hand reaches out and grabs her throat and we see a flash of fangs. It is a great opening; it has a jumpy moment and brims with atmosphere. Unfortunately the rest of the film isn’t particularly atmospheric – not that it matters.

Adrienne Carlyle as Ellen ColeEllen Cole (Adrienne Carlyle) has spent two years with a nursing agency in order to be able to infiltrate a high security mental asylum. Her brother, Peter (Nicholas Levene), is incarcerated in there, she believes wrongly, and she has heard rumours of abuse. She is, by trade, a journalist. That night the function room of the asylum is locked off for a Christmas party.

Nicholas Levene as PeterShe manages to speak to her brother, who doesn’t recognise her but does speak of cell 8. Cell 8 is a key card area that goes into the basement and Ellen manages to sneak in. Down in the basement she meets the weirdly smiling Nurse Caldwell and tells her there is a situation upstairs. Nurse Caldwell wanders up to check it out leaving Ellen opportunity to search the basement.

midnight snackHearing someone approach she hides and sees a patient put into a cell with a vampire. Once the vampire has fed he is cattle prodded and taken to an experimenting room where Head Doctor Leonard (Robert Cargill) dissects him alive for his heart.

Michelle Esclapez as Nurse CaldwellMeanwhile, upstairs, Nurse Caldwell has entered Peter’s cell and had sex with him (off camera).

Ellen is caught and taken to the nurses’ station to await the police. Her talk of vampires is dismissed by Doctor Leonard who maintains that she is suffering from paranoid hallucinations. The door is locked and she is left alone, whilst Leonard goes to take Peter to cell 8. In an attempt to save him she hits the cell door override button, releasing the inmates.

Whilst this has happened we have seen Nurse Caldwell in a toilet, where she does have a reflection. She is suddenly wracked with pain and her eye teeth elongate and the whites Once turned her reflection is goneof her eyes turn red. She attacks one of the wandering inmates and has now lost her reflection. Soon the cops, Sergeant Rayleigh (David Farrington) and PC Williams (Elliot Hill), have strayed into a maze of meandering maniacs and ravenous vampires. Ellen’s only hope of escape lies with the bumbling Williams and a deranged serial killer with a machete named Stiles (David Horton). Incidentally there are a range of characters flying around that I haven’t mentioned, these are only the key story elements and there is a lot more in the film to discover.

The vampire lore is fairly simple and yet contains some interesting elements. There are two types of vampires, head vampires can be distinguished by their red glowing eyes – due to the eyes being flooded with infected blood, or so they say. They are immortal and can turn others into vampires or head vampires by choice. The only way to kill them is by stake through the heart or decapitation. Crosses hold them off.

Fred Sandy as StelingerInterestingly the key to them is desire. The asylum has a captured head vampire called Stelinger (Fred Sandy) who is locked behind un-opening bars. His desire for Ellen allows him to pass through them in a ghost like way. Nurse Caldwell did not turn until her sexual encounter awakens desire. The logic of this doesn’t necessarily hold through the film but it is an interesting idea.

The standard vampires can infect others and are described as being little more than animals – though we do get some erudite conversation between a couple of them. Whilst their bite does infect, they are not immortal. Leonard has been trying to find the immortality element, which lies dormant in the standard vampires, and he believes it is easier to extract from the heart if they have just fed.

There is a new vampire deterrent introduced but I’ll mention that in a second when we look at the comedy. Before the comedy let us look at the special effects.

vampire nurseThe effects are mismatched. The lengthening of Nurse Caldwell’s fangs as she turns, for instance, is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time and yet the standard fangs look, in close up, too false. They are a different colour to the teeth and, sometimes, we can see where the fang cap ends and the tooth begins. There is a fiery fireball of doom which is just too cgi for words. Most of the gore works really well (and there is a lot of it), with anything and everything used as a weapon – including a Christmas tree - and yet some of the effects, especially decapitations, look very poor.

That said, sometimes the poor effects are distracted from by the comedy. There is a moment with Ellen and a staff member, when he tells her to wait whilst he checks round the corner. She is looking the wrong way and completely misses two inmates decapitating him. It is a really poor sfx but we don’t care as we then see them play “keepie ups” with his head, a surreally funny moment. When she finally turns round no one is there.

our intrepid heroesMost of the comedy works really well in a quintessentially British way, think of a low budget Shawn of The Dead, but there was one piece that was way too gross out in the first instance and yet managed, later, to be a really funny on-running joke. PC Williams and Sergeant Rayleigh are hiding in a linen closet when something comes at them. Vampire? No. An inmate (George Nicolas), with hands and face smeared in his own poo which he liberally smears on Williams’ face and uniform. The disturbed cops flee.

When I watched that bit I was thinking, ‘uggh, too much’ but later it became a stroke of genius when Williams is surrounded by vampires who can’t bite him because of the smell of poo. In short, poo becomes a vampire deterrent. I should also mention the concept of human battering rams to get into locked rooms, strangely amusing.

The film is referential, very referential. It never feels derivative, however, managing to maintain a level of homage. We get moments clearly from From Dusk till Dawn and there is an Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom sequence, to identify but two of the references. The sets can be a little samey and, at the beginning, I feared that the clinical white of the asylum would detract from any atmosphere, but said atmosphere wasn’t what they were aiming for. Unfortunately some of the sets do wobble!

a lingering closeupThe direction does introduce some crazy angles and bizarre lingering close ups, but it adds to the charm rather than detracts. Some of the pacing is slightly off but the almost two hours of film never dragged.

David Horton as StilesActing wise it is all good, in an independent film sort of way – impressive as the cast is made up of unknowns. Special mention to David Horton as Stiles the serial killer, who is fantastic, and to Esclapez as Caldwell – who looks great and makes a fantastic vampire character.

You can tell, I’m sure, that I was taken with this but I do recognise the issues in there as well. Most was born of budget and inexperience. I’ve given this the score of 7 out of 10 as the film did what it should do, it entertained me thoroughly. I highly recommend the movie; a schlock gore horror 'B' with a twisted British comedy edge. This film is very much what The Witches Hammer should have been.

A trailer is available here.

The imdb page is here.


Christine said...

Yuck, sounds crap! This is one vampire film I don´t want to see!

Margaret said...

One I just discovered as I have been making my way through your blogs. Gotta say, I am not usually really a fan of the gross out jokes, but I did give the loudest and most hearty laugh of all in this film when the officer (you know the one) had his final gross out moment getting splattered in the face. The look on his face, and after all that he went through, well, it was worth enduring the rest of the gross out for that moment. Not a bad film in all. Had some unusual quirky humor that I really appreciated.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Margaret - quirky is probably the best descriptor - glad you enjoyed it