Now available on DVD
Directed by David Ellis
Combine the House on Haunted Hill remake and A Nightmare on Elm Street – minus all the good parts – and you will get Asylum. This paint-by-numbers horror film offers neither thrills nor chills. Instead, director David R. Ellis gives us a lesson in predictability and hollow characterization.
Madison McBride (Sarah Roemer) is a girl with a tortured past. Both her father and brother went insane and killed themselves. When it comes time for her to choose a college, she decides to go to the school where her brother died, as a form of closure for herself. Despite the creepy building, flickering lights, and a groundskeeper warning her to be careful, Madison settles in comfortably. She soon befriends a group of freshmen complete with your usual stereotypes â the jock, the slut, the nerd, the sensitive guy, and the tough girl. They soon uncover the dark truth about their dorm â it was once a notorious asylum where an insane doctor performed brutal experiments on his young patients. In 1939, the patients rebelled, killing the doctor, and his ghost is believed to haunt the asylum still.
Even though child torture and evil spirits tend to put a damper on a universityâs reputation, the school evidently decided to leave a section of the old asylum untouched and simply tell students “Don’t go in there.” Why would the university not tear that down? Why refurbish an entire building but leave one dilapidated wing with the all the torture equipment and old records intact? Honestly. And then tell teenagers not to go in there? Yeah, that’ll work. It reminds me of a hilarious sketch from MTV’s The State wherein a penitentiary has a wide-open gate that leads to freedom, but the guards tell prisoners to just consider that “off-limits.”
Sure enough, the kids explore the haunted asylum and draw the attention of the insane Dr. Burke, whose ghost still roams the halls. Of course, each of these white-bread kids has a secret, dysfunctional past for the ghost to prey upon. He forces each of them to re-visit a horrifying memory from their childhood in a dream-like state. Burke’s campy personality and penchant for killing kids in their own minds draws obvious comparisons to Freddy Krueger. The order of his attacks becomes pretty predictable when each student reveals their sad story one-by-one. Furthermore, by telling their story beforehand, it spoils the nightmare that Burke forces upon them. When one student reveals that he let his brother drown, there is no surprise when his Burke-attack involves helplessly watching his brother drown again. Way to spoil the fun.
Among the dorm mates, there is not one likable character in the bunch. As a whole, they are completely unbelievable as friends. Individually, they are annoying and terrible actors. As Dr. Burke, Mark Rolston overacts and has an inexplicable Cajun accent (nobody else does). But most frustrating of all are the characters that keep appearing but serve no purpose. Like a resident assistant named Rez who the script repeatedly suggests plays a role in the killings, but ultimately disappears from the story without explanation. Or Kelso, the campus security guard who keeps showing up to keep these kids out of trouble until they actually are in trouble and then he is nowhere to be found. The script definitely should have dropped these worthless characters.
Screenwriter Ethan Lawrence brings nothing to the table with his feature debut. The killer is a lame Freddy Krueger wannabe and the haunted asylum story draws too much from 1999’s House on Haunted Hill. At least that movie was scary, and Jeffrey Combs’ creepy Dr. Vannacutt was a hell of a lot better than Burke. And he didn’t even talk! Nor does Burke have any decent gore scenes. Someone gets hanged, someone else gets stabbed. Yawn. Freddy didn’t get where he is by not being creative. Step it up, Dr. Burke!
Lawrence’s script is also full of plot holes and unanswered questions. For instance, we are expected to believe a character clearly in his 50s was born in 1928. We also never see any other students in the dorm when Burke is creating havoc. Are there really only six students on that floor? And they all conveniently have tortured childhoods? Please. David R. Ellis’ directing does little to help the movie, either. His previous films have at least attained some cult status (Snakes on a Plane, Final Destination 2) but this dull effort will most certainly be forgotten.
Asylum is not a cheap remake, nor is it loaded with bad CGI, so I cannot hate it completely. There is some level of watchability here. Sarah Roemer – Shia’s love interest from Disturbia – will surely attract male viewers with her ample screen time (not to mention brief nudity). The film is almost so bad it’s good â but not quite. It is predictable, clichÃ©d, and occasionally insulting to one’s intelligence with its sheer stupidity.