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DVD Review: David Ellis’ ‘Asylum’

Thought David Harley was a little harsh when he reviewed David Ellis’ Asylum? Then you can check out another opinion for Fox and MGM Home Entertainment’s direct-to-DVD release by reading beyond the break. In the film six unsuspecting college co-eds discover their dorm was once the site of a notorious insane asylum infamous for conducting gruesome lobotomy’s on its teenage inmates during the 1930’s. When the dorm begins to echo scenes from its torture chamber past the beautiful heroine (Roemer) questions her sanity and if she will make it out alive.


Those of you that have been wondering when the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET re-make would be hitting store shelves can look no further. Actually ASYLUM–the latest film from Director David R. Ellis (SNAKES ON A PLANE)–is more like a mish-mash of Elm Street clichés and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL set-pieces, borrowing most blatantly from the third NOES installment DREAM WARRIORS.

Tagert Hall, the new dorm at Richard Miller University is hardly what one would call new. 60-years ago the sprawling buildings housed The Burke Asylum. In 1939 the sadistic Dr. Burke–who conducted extreme experimentation on his teenage wards–was slaughtered in a patient uprising. But, before his death, Burke swore to “kill `em all”. Now, it’s said his ghost roams the halls waiting to take bloody revenge. Enter six freshman students, each one with a stack of issues thicker than the campus library’s periodicals desk and what we’ve got here is a by the book ghost story about a psychotic spirit that feeds on the suffering of its victims.

DISTURBIA starlet, Sarah Roemer plays our protagonist, Madison McBride. Madison and her brother Brandon (Benjamin Daniele) watched their father commit suicide about 10-years ago. Last year, Brandon too blew his brains out. So, Madison has some problems. The rest of the cast is an assorted mix of teen movie types (all with the twist of their various personal tortures intertwined). Tommy (Travis Van Winkle, LEFT IN DARKNESS) is the former fat kid whose now beefed up and on a mission to bang anything that moves. String (Cody Kasch) is the teenage computer hacker/genius who can’t seem to make any friends. Holt (Jake Muxworthy, BORDERLAND) is the brooding, brow-furrowed recovering drug addict whose backstory is lifted straight from an anti-marijuana ad I once saw on TV. Maya (Carolina Garcia) is the fiery Latino goddess whose ex-boyfriend used to beat the crap out her and finally, Ivy (Ellen Hollman) is a reformed “cutter” with some serious Daddy problems. For better or worse, this pack of flesh is fodder for the monster, and ultimately the only ones that can stop it.

When I said that this film was seriously jacking plot device from DREAM WARRIORS I wasn’t lying. Each of the cast is essentially sucked into their own personal hell where the evil doctor tortures them with the exact fears they hold inside, before revealing himself and slaughtering them with a pair of large steel skewers. Still, for the most part, and in spite of the lack of originality, the pretty cast members and sometimes inventive kills make the film breeze by. It’s really no worse than many of the later Freddy films (which are admittedly pretty awful). Too bad the performance from Mark Rolston (ALIENS) as Dr. Burke lacks any of the flair (and hokey one-liners) that Robert Englund tended to espouse prior to offing his subjects. It might have lended a campy flair to the standard operating procedure on display here.

Ellis’ direction is pretty perfunctory and the film has little in the way of real frights. None of thrill-a-minute action is on display that the filmmaker brought to the FINAL DESTINATION series, although it’s important to also be thankful that the truckloads of stupidity that was SNAKES ON A PLANE does not also pervade this flick. In the end, the film is simply there. You’ve seen it before. You’ve seen it better and you’ve seen it worse. The cast is all pleasant to look at but none of the acting is going to make you sit up and think “wow, that performer is really going places”. As I mentioned before, the death scenes are passable but not overly gory. The Asylum itself is not terribly scary, even when the teens venture into the dilapidated “under construction” wing. And, the film ends with a bizarre climax that has Madison and Holt battling Dr. Burke in the middle of the woods in broad daylight…making the monster much less menacing in the harsh light of the outside world. Still, for all it’s flaws if you approach ASYLUM with just the right level of been there, done that cynicism than the film might manage to entertain you for the next 90 minutes–in reality that’s pretty much the same M.O. Ellis employed when he had to deal with those muthaf**kin’ snakes!




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