The Daily Stream: The Inmates Are Loose In Horror Anthology Gem, Asylum

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Asylum"

Where You Can Stream It: Shudder

The Pitch: Halloween may be over for 2022, but for some of us, the month after October is just an excuse for more scary movies. As Mark Venturini's character in "The Return of the Living Dead" asserts, "this isn't a costume, this is a way of life." November is also a time of preparation for a slew of holidays, birthdays, and celebrations as the leaves change and fall, so by the time one is done orchestrating family visits and planning the gift budget, committing to a two-hour movie might be a tall ask. But what about a crisp 88-minute collection of four creepy stories and a wraparound? What if I told you that one of those stories sees Herbert Lom telepathically controlling a tiny lancet-wielding toy robot with Herbert Lom's tiny face on it?

"Asylum" predates the likes of "Creepshow," "Tales From the Hood," and "Trick 'r Treat," but continues the streak of anthologies backed by the Shepperton Studios-based Amicus Productions. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Amicus would put out creepy omnibus collections, starting with "Dr. Terror's House of Horrors" in 1965 and "Torture Garden" two years later. After "Asylum" in 1972, "Tales from the Crypt," "The House That Dripped Blood," "The Vault of Horror," and "From Beyond the Grave" would follow, often containing four or five short segments bookend by a wraparound story, and usually directed by either Freddie Francis or Roy Ward Baker. Of these, "Asylum" is one of the better efforts, partially due to its star power (Peter Cushing! Charlotte Rampling!) and spirited stories written by "Psycho" scribe Robert Bloch.

Why it's essential viewing

Roy Ward Baker had an illustrious run with Hammer Productions before making movies for rival Amicus. "Quatermass and the Pit" made a splash in 1967 and beyond (Tobe Hooper's "Lifeforce" owes a lot to the sci-fi hit), while back-to-back 1970 features "The Vampire Lovers" and "Scars of Dracula" further cemented Baker's status as a premier genre filmmaker.

The wraparound, as most anthology wraparounds do, provides the pretext for the four stories that follow. It sees a young doctor (Robert Powell) tasked with interviewing four patients to secure a gig at an isolated asylum "for the incurably insane." The four patients provide each story, so you'll go into the tale knowing that each protagonist survives their respective ordeal, but the stories are so amusing that the journey matters more than its ending.

Each tale of terror involves various forms of hubris and madness. A husband kills and chops up his domineering wife, but hubby and his mistress learn that wifey's voodoo obsession ran deep. A desperate tailor takes a job making a suit out of a mysterious material that can only be sewn after midnight (Peter Cushing is his peculiar client). A young woman's erratic behavior might be the result of a bad influence or something wilder. Finally, as promised, Herbert Lom plays an ambitious neurologist who tries to infuse his spirit into an army of toy doll-men, Damballa style. If you can get past the lack of blood 'n guts (though there are cute lil' guts in the Herbert Lom segment), you'll find a great classic horror yarn for movie night, with tons of replay value.

If you dig "Asylum," seek out Baker's follow-up anthology for Amicus, "The Vault of Horror," where the fourth Doctor makes the classic rookie mistake of messing around with voodoo.