David R. Ellis' Asylum (not to be confused with the excellent Amicus anthology film of the same name), a low-key straight to video release from MGM, is as generic as its name implies. The film follows a young woman named Madison (Sarah Roemer) who leaves home to attend school at the very same college where her brother committed suicide years before. Upon her arrival, she's warned by a quirky old caretaker that the residence that has been recently renovated has ghosts.
She pays the old man no mind and soon meets a few of the other kids living in the residence - Tommy (Travis Van Winkle), Maya (Caroline Garcia), Holt (Jake Muxworthy) and a young computer wiz dubbed String (Cody Kasch) - as well as the obnoxious floor monitor who goes by the nickname of 'Rez' (Randall Sims). After exploring a hidden (and off limits) section of the dormitory, the kids soon come to the conclusion that their dormitory used to be an asylum and when strange things start happening, they try to uncover the buildings secret past.
The kids soon find out that a Dr. Burke (Mark Rolston) once conducted some very unorthodox experiments in the creepy old building until he too succumbed to madness. He was murdered, but his ghost still haunts the halls of the dorm and the dreams of those who reside there.
If Asylum sounds a little familiar, that's because it is. It borrows very heavily from A Nightmare On Elm Street particularly in the way that the antagonistic Dr. Burke works his way into the subconscious of his victims. There are a few obligatory subplots, one for each of the students, that attempt to give us enough back story on their characters to make them interesting but sadly they fail to really create much of a spark. Madison's had a sad life, having lost her brother and earlier her father to suicide. Holt used to be a fat kid and was forced to overeat by his insane parents. Now he overcompensates by working out and keeping in impeccable shape. Maya is a typical 'easy' girl keen on making it with the boys, while String turns out to be only sixteen years old and a computer genius with problems at home. These are all fairly shallow and don't keep the characters from feeling like cardboard cut outs.
Dr. Burke is a reasonably amusing villain even if he is a cross between Freddy Krueger and Dr. Giggles. He isn't original but at least he takes care of his prey in some rather interesting ways. Detailing the kill scenes would spoil the best parts of the film so we won't go there in this review but let it suffice to say that it's here that the film earns its R rating. There's a little too much CGI in some scenes for them to really have much impact, but they're amusing in a dumb sort of way.
When it's all said and done, however, Asylum fails to really ever kick it into high gear. The film isn't scary because we know pretty early on where it's all heading and the unoriginal script and bad character development can't be saved by some entertaining gore. The film is reasonably well shot and features some nice camerawork and Mark Rolston makes for a fun villain but the reset of the cast can only do so much with the script and in the end, the movie feels very tired.
The anamorphic 2.40.1 widescreen transfer on this test disc is bugged with a 'property of 20th Century Fox' logo throughout the film and exhibits some truly horrible compression artifacts. Hopefully this is not representative of final product...
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix on this disc is pretty decent. The score sounds pretty decent and dialogue is easy to follow and understand throughout the film. There are some fun directional effects thrown into the mix during a few of the more 'horrific' scenes in the film and bass response is reasonably strong. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion and the levels are all properly balanced. Optional subtitles are provided in English, French and Spanish.
Aside from some trailers that play before you get to the main menu screen and the obligatory chapter selection option, this release is completely barebones.
Asylum is pretty goofy stuff. It doesn't have an original bone in its body and it's riddled with cliché after cliché. It does have a few fun gore sequences and a couple of moments that try to turn the film around but it's too little too late and ultimately you can't help but feel like you've been there and done that before once this barebones disc finishes spinning. Skip it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.