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Doom Asylum (1987)

Arrow Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/17/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/31/2018

The term "horror movie" is incredibly broad and over the years, we've seen many titles placed under this umbrella. And within the world of horror, there are a plethora of sub-genres, which cover many subjects. One of the weirdest is the world of abandoned psychiatric hospitals. Over the past few decades, there has been an explosion of these movies, many coming out of the "found-footage" craze. Why? The artsy answer is that these environments are innately scary and that they scratch are our base instincts. The easy answer is that shooting in a derelict building is cheap. Given how these movies are a dime-a-dozen, you would think that the people behind would want to do something to make them different, but they often don't. So, it's odd to see that one of the early entries in the form went out of its way to be different. And, as we'll see, Doom Asylum is very different.

As Doom Asylum opens, Mitch (Michael Rogen) and Judy (Patty Mullen) are celebrating a court victory (of some sort) and are involved in a car accident, where Judy is killed. It's presumed that Mitch is dead as well, but he comes to during his autopsy, despite the fact that the medical examiner has removed half of his face. The story then leaps ahead 10 years. Kiki (Patty Mullen), Jane (Kristin Davis), Mike (William Hay), Dennis (Kenny L. Price), and Darnell (Harrison White) are on a quest to explore an abandoned asylum, even though it is near where Kiki's mother died. They have heard rumors of a demented murderer who roams the building, killing interlopers, but they aren't frightened. However, they soon learn that the legend is true and that they are in danger.

When it debuted in 1987, Doom Asylum may have seemed somewhat unique, as the empty hospital sub-genre wasn't raging like a wildfire back then. But, when watching it today, the main story doesn't come across as the slightest bit original. A razor-thin story leads to a group of unlikable characters simply wandering the corridors of this place waiting to get killed. There's really not much more to it than that. There is no suspense and the murders are all telegraphed. There's no character development for anybody in this movie, so we are left to watch strangers getting offed one-at-a-time.

Wait a minute. Wasn't it stated earlier that Doom Asylum is different? Oh yes, the first act of this film is very different. It was mentioned that is no character development here, but that should not imply that the characters don't have distinct traits. We simply don't know why they act the way that they do. Mike comes across as a spoof of Fred from Scooby-Doo, as he's the leader, but he's so indecisive that he can't get anything done. Dennis appears to be differently abled an is obsessed with baseball cards. Darnell is reminiscent of Hollywood from Mannequin, but is into the ladies. Jane just wants to read, but she wears a bathing suit for most of the film. Once this group arrives as the asylum, they encounter a "band" who is made up of tough females, who really don't feel like they have any place in this movie.

And let's not forget the odd things going on with the story. Again, Mitch is taken to the coroner's office, where the coroner wears sunglasses during the autopsy. The first scene implies that Mitch is an attorney, but he then dons a lab coat and kills people using a coroner's tools. Is this because of what happened during the autopsy? But, the strangest thing is reserved for the relationship between Mike and Kiki. As her mother is deceased, she call's Mike "mom". That seems normal.

In theory, Doom Asylum's claim to fame should be the inclusion of a pre-Sex and the City Kristin Davis, who plays a character who is so close to Charlotte that it brings her acting range into question. But, the movie ought to be remembered for how wackadoodle the first thirty minutes. I don't know if Director Richard Friedman intended for this to be funny, but some of if it hysterical and has to be seen to be believed. Made on the cheap in a real abandoned asylum, Doom Asylum is far from great cinema, but the first act is not afraid to let its strangeness hang out and this keeps things from being boring.

Doom Asylum didn't need any additional set decoration to convince me that it was filmed in an actual asylum in New Jersey courtesy of Arrow Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. (The title sequence is framed at 1.33:1 and one can choose to watch the entire film in this aspect ratio, but why would you?) The image is sharp and clear showing only faint grain and the occasional defect from the source materials. Despite the low-budget nature of this movie, the picture has a very nice crispness to it, so someone at Arrow put a lot of work into this. The colors look very good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The Disc carries a Linear PCM Mono audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 2.3 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a mono track, we don't get any dynamic audio effects here, but the audio is rich and shows no hissing or popping. Unfortunately, the "music" from Tina's band comes through just fine.

The Doom Asylum Blu-ray Disc contains a few extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Screenwriter Rick Marx. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY by The Hysteria Continues. "Tina's Terror" (18 minutes) is a modern-day interview with actress Ruth Collins, who plays the annoying rocker-chick in the film. Here, she shares how she got involved with the movie and her experiences on the film. "Movie Madhouse" (19 minutes) allows Director of Photography to talk about the unusual shooting conditions on the film. Special Effects Make-up Creator Vincent J. Guastini talks about handling the gore in "Morgues & Mayhem" (18 minutes). "Archival Interviews" (11 minutes) delivers talks with Executive Producer Alexander W. Kogan, Jr., Director Richard Friedman, and Production Designer Bill Tasgal from the late 80s. The final extra is a "Still Gallery".

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long