"Camp" or "campy" are words which are often used to describe slightly silly, slightly offbeat movies. And perhaps films are labeled as "campy" far too often. Directors such as John Waters, Frank Henenlotter, and occasionally Tim Burton have perfected the art of making a seemingly serious film where the movie seems to be winking at us the whole time. Keep in mind though, camp can't be forced. Forced camp often becomes torturous. A perfect example of this is the 80s clunker Doom Asylum.
As Doom Asylum opens, a couple, Mitch (Michael Rogen) and Judy (Patty Mullen), are driving along a country road. We learn that Mitch is an attorney and that they are very happy about something, but before we can get any more details, they are involved in a car accident and Judy dies at the scene. Mitch awakens on the autopsy table and kills the coroner and attendant who were about to perform his post-mortem.
The story (?!) then jumps ahead ten years. A group of friends, Mike (William Hay), Kiki (Patty Mullen), Jane (Kristin Davis), Darnell (Harrison White), and Dennis (Kenny L. Price), are driving down the exact same road where the pre-credit crash occurred. This is unfortunate, as Kiki is the daughter of Judy, who died in the crash. The group stops at the crash site (where Kiki finds her mother's mirror...which has been lying there for 10 years), and then they proceed to a nearby abandoned, dilapidated mental hospital. They do this despite the legend that a demented coroner wanders the facility killing anyone who enters. Once at the asylum, they run across an all-girl punk band -- Tina (Ruth Collins), Godiva (Dawn Alvan), and Rapunzel (Farin). The two groups bicker and then the Coroner (Michael Rogen) begins to kill them all, one-by-one.
The home video revolution of the 1980s opened the floodgates for rarely-seen and smaller movies to suddenly find an audience. I distinctly remember going to the local "Mom 'n Pop" video store and perusing the shelves in the horror section. All of the ghoulish covers looked so inviting and it was impossible to tell which would be good choices. I can certainly imagine many people taking home 1987's Doom Asylum and immediately regretting it. The 80s were laden with cheaply-made horror movies and this movie takes the crown as one of the worst that I've seen.
Doom Asylum is one of those movies which is simply bad from beginning to end, so instead of doing any sort of in-depth analysis, I'll simply list all of the movie's problems. If I had to choose the movie's biggest flaw (and that's no easy task), it's that the story makes no sense whatsoever, as it's constantly lacking in detail. What were Mitch and Judy celebrating at the beginning? Why did the group of kids go to the asylum? (Why did they think being at a condemned building was cool?) Why does Kiki suddenly start calling Mike "Mom" halfway through the film? Why was the punk band there? How is it that the Coroner didn't seem to hear the caterwauling of the band (whose avant garde music goes on way too long), but the sound of someone using spray paint gets his attention? Why does the Coroner sometimes take a break from killing to watch old movies? And the ultimate question; How is it that an attorney who was mistakenly pronounced dead suddenly becomes the Coroner? Did he go back to med school during that 10 year gap in the story?
Doom Asylum has all of the trademarks of a cheap horror movie. The film was shot in an actual abandoned mental hospital and the filmmakers attempt to make the most of this location. Unfortunately, it appears that every heavy metal fan in New Jersey got to the place before them and spray painted the entire building top to bottom. The movie features some gore effects, but they aren't very good -- placing a character's glasses on a dummy isn't going to fool anyone. (Although, to be fair, the Coroner's makeup is quite impressive.) The acting is questionable at best, and no one is attempting to tone down their Jersey accents. Even young Kristin Davis, who would go on to fame with Sex and the City, is very stiff in her film debut and sounds as if she's reading all of her lines. Actually, this film may set some kind of cheap movie world record, as the makers of Doom Asylum have inserted about 6 minutes of old black-and-white movies (the films which the Coroner watches) in order to make the film longer.
The film's worst faux pas is its attempts at humor. The Coroner throws in one-liners after he kills his victims. Mike is highly indecisive and he is constantly questioning his every move. Dennis acts out baseball games with his beloved baseball cards. Tina constantly does an annoying laugh. None of these things are ever the least bit funny. Judging from the commentary, those behind Doom Asylum wanted the movie to have some laughs, but they never come. The attempt at humor only makes the movie more painful to watch.
Doom Asylum is committed to DVD courtesy of Code Red. The film is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. I do not know if this was the film's original aspect ratio, but I do know that it was shot on 35mm film. The image is slightly better than one would expect, but it's still not fantastic. The image shows a fair degree of sharpness, but it also shows some notable problems. There are some nagging defects from the source material, such as scratches. The image shows a slight amount of grain. The colors are fine in some shots, but washed out in others. An interesting thing to note is that the bitrate was constantly above 7 mbps, despite the average looking transfer.
The Doom Asylum DVD features a Dolby Digital stereo audio track. This track shows a notable amount of hissing, which is only amplified when one must increase the volume to hear the slightly muffled dialogue. The stereo effects seldom appear, although the film's shooting location would actually serve as a great staging point for sounds to come from the right or left of the screen.
This DVD contains two extra features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from director Richard Friedman and production manager Bill Tasgal. This is a pretty good commentary, as it's obvious that the two haven't seen the film in a while and they are just as amazed by its goofiness as we are. They do recollect what it was like shooting the film on a miniscule budget and they talk at length about the actors, the locations, and what was done to make the film longer. The other extra is an interview with executive producer Alex Kogan Jr. and then one with Friedman and Tasgal. This runs 10 minutes total. Kogan talks about his company and how he became involved in the production of Doom Asylum, while Friedman and Tasgal shares more stories about how the film was made. It should be noted that this is the uncut version of the film and it features some trimmed footage which didn't appear on the 80s VHS release.
During my mid-80s heyday of renting horror movies that I'd never heard of I probably saw something worse than Doom Asylum, but if I did, I've blocked it from my memory. This movie is cheesy badness from beginning to end and even shlock lovers will be hard pressed to find this one endearing. As a matter of fact, while I was watching Doom Asylum, Lloyd Kaufman called and said that even he couldn't watch it.