Monday, April 10, 2017


Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here. What do you think of when you hear a title like "Asylum of Darkness"? A title like that sounds to me like it belongs on some obscure horror comic from the 1970s, one of the anthology ones put out by publishers like DC Comics or Warren Magazines. So I went into this viewing hoping that the movie Asylum of Darkness would be a vignette picture, in the style of John Carpenter's Bodybags. I envisioned a trope-tastic setting of the eerie, abandoned asylum, and its lone inhabitant spinning tales of the bizarre, and a lot of popcorn-munching fun for all.

It turns out I wasn't far off the mark: Asylum of Darkness is like something out of one of those old horror comics, with a story involving the blurring of the line between reality and insanity. Unfortunately, it lets that story go on for far too long, and tries too hard to deliver the weirdness.

Dwight Stroud (Nick Baldasare) is a patient in a mental institution after being committed as the result of a jury trial. Tortured by crazed visions, Stroud makes plans to escape, thinking the key to getting well lies in freedom. He succeeds in his escape attempt, only to see his madness deepen with no end in sight.

That's about as much coherent sense as you can make out of this movie's plot. Asylum of Darkness wants to keep you guessing about what's really going on, and for a while, it works. Following a misfire of a prologue in which Stroud escapes from the hospital while being chased by faceless human-shaped creatures, the film switches into a slow-burn, Twilight Zone gear for a while. Stroud tries to make good on his escape by stealing another man's identity and posing as him, only for the people who knew this other man to treat Stroud as though he is that other man. For a while it seems as though the film is building to a "you've always been here" kind of payoff, and even when that possibility begins to unravel, the film still does it well. For about the first forty minutes or so, I was thinking this story would make a great graphic novel.

Past that point, though, the film either loses track of its own story, or becomes so totally committed to screwing with our heads that it doesn't stick to any given scenario for very long. Just as the movie has told us one thing is true, it changes direction and insists the opposite. Stroud is insane, but he isn't, but he is. Does the painter who keeps appearing have eyes or not? To call this movie schizophrenic feels like a slur against schizophrenics. The rug gets pulled out from under us in terms of what is real so many times that it loses all impact, and the film just becomes tiring.

So it's kind of hilarious that, after a hundred minutes of vigorously giving the audience no dependable information about what is even happening, that the movie tries to impose order on itself at the end and give us an explanation of just what the sam-hill we've been watching. It's like watching someone try to put the brakes on a runaway train. It doesn't completely fail, but the movie has to work so hard to make sense out of the mess it's made that I nearly gave up. There's an art to making the kind of movies where doubt of reality is a factor, and moderation is a large part of that. Asylum of Darkness does not practice moderation.

While I didn't have the stamina to keep up with this movie's frantic flight down the rabbit hole, there were details that jumped out at me. Director Jay Woelfel appears to have been heavily influenced by Italian horror. I noticed many details that appeared to be modeled after the mind-bending weirdness of Lucio Fulci, in particular. One of the creatures Stroud wrestles with towards the end of the movie reminded me of the monster from The House by the Cemetery. A woman is attacked by a tentacled mass born out of a corpse, like something out of Zombi 3. The painter, who may or may not be blind, may or may not be insane, may or may not be human, reminded me of The Others. From the creatures to the scenarios to the camera work, the case could be made that Asylum of Darkness is Woelfel's attempt at an homage to giallo horror. The problem is that he tried to pack in too many of the elements that made that genre the strange and beloved thing that it is, and so ran into the old cosmic truth that "more" ain't necessarily more. Fulci's movies had plenty of weirdness, but they were also slow as January molasses, and that's what made them work. Asylum of Darkness on the other hand, is a victim of its own manic energy.

Asylum of Darkness is not rated, but contains scenes of intense violence.

Robert's Score: 3 / 10

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