Color, 1987, 78 mins. 50 secs.
Directed by Richard Friedman
Starring Patty Mullen, Kristin Davis, Ruth Collins, Kenny Price, Michael Rogen
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) and 1.33:1, Code Red (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
Imagine a zero-budget cross between Session 9 and Student Bodies, and that might give you some idea of the weird, ramshackle charm of Doom Asylum, a New Jersey independent splatter film that wound up garnering a small cult following thanks to its cut release on VHS in the late 1980s. As with many of its ilk, some of the cast members eventually went on to some degree of fame, namely Kristin Davis (later to play "good girl" Charlotte on Sex and the City and stuck here in spectacles and a blue bathing suit) and Frankenhooker/pin-up model Patty Mullen.
The storyline is another riff on the standard slasher formula with a traumatized car crash victim (Rogen) reacting the death of his fiancée by killing two coroners who have him laid out on a slab and then finding refuge beneath an asylum. A decade later, some vacationing yuppies (including the daughter of the original car crash victim) and sneering punk rockers happen to barge in on the deserted asylum and, when not squabbling with each other, soon grow to regret their choice of locale when the badly disfigured, wisecracking lunatic starts dispatching of them in varying degrees of arterial mayhem.
A fun artifact if nowhere even close to a "good" film, Doom Asylum heaps on the gore and cinematic Cheez-Whiz with gleeful abandon from start to finish, making this the goofiest Troma film that company never actually made. Continuity never even begins to enter the picture (keep an eye on the killer's TV, which is blank in long shots but runs very long Tod Slaughter clips in close-up), and the actors' various Northeastern accents make for a wonderful clash of delivery styles (with a heavy accent on Joisey). Shot on film but completed on video (complete with chintzy electronic credits), Doom Asylum never rises above its budget but makes for a fine time-killer and a fine souvenir of an age when anyone with an affinity for flinging red stuff at the camera could have his own shot at the big time.
Though you might not guess it from the finished product, director Richard Friedman actually did manage to go on to bigger things; in fact, this was his second film after the sluggish Farley Granger thriller, Deathmask. Some of his future work included episodes of Tales from the Darkside, a Billy Joel video, and the video cult favorite, Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge. He's represented well on the 2007 Code Red DVD release, joined with production manager Bill Tasgal for a lively commentary track in which they frankly assess how the film was made and where it succeeds and fails. Too bad screenwriter Rick Marx (who started in porn and went to several Cannon Films and crime books) isn't on hand as well as he had quite the colorful career. Friedman and Tasgal are joined on-camera by Films Around the World's Alexander W. Kogan, Jr. for a video featurette (10m56s) that covers the making of the film from a broader perspective. The transfer itself is about as good as could be expected given the less-than-prime materials involved; it's certainly sharp enough, and the tacky late-'80s color schemes don't look compromised. This also represents the unseen longer cut of the film, specifically with one character's digits graphically removed in a most painful fashion. The disc is rounded out with some appetizingly trashy trailers for other Code Red titles including Boarding House, The Forest, Devil Times Five, Human Experiments, Stingray, The Dark Ride, Gang Wars, Enter the White Dragon, Nightmare, Love Me Deadly, Silent Scream, The Redeemer and The Farmer.
Over a decade later in 2018, Arrow Video took a crack at the film on Blu-ray in both the U.S. and U.K., raising an obvious question: how good could it possibly look? After all, though it was shot on film, the final editing including the main titles was done on video. The solution here is an interesting one, offering the film in both open matte (1.33:1) and matted (1.78:1) options, the latter preferred by the cinematographer as that's closer to how it was composed with projection in mind (according to an opening disclaimer). However, the 1.78:1 version also reverts to 1.33:1 for the titles by necessity since that only exists on lower quality video, and the drop in quality during that insert is obvious. The rest of the film is transferred directly from the original camera negative and looks pretty stunning in either option; framing is fine on either one, with the 1.33:1 exposing some amusing extraneous info (including boom mics) at times but also featuring more breathing room if that's what you prefer. The 1.78:1 is mostly on point, though a few scenes (especially the slo-mo running through the fields early on) look awfully tight with actors' heads bobbing up out of frame. (The Tod Slaughter black-and-white movie clips are pillarboxed at 1.33:1 on both options.) And yes, it's still uncut; you can't really go wrong either way. Interestingly, there's far more image info visible either way than the earlier DVD, which looks heavily cropped by comparison. The LPCM English mono audio is also in pristine shape, with optional English SDH subtitles provided.
Interestingly, there's no new material here with the past participants; instead you get a much need and welcome audio commentary with Rick Marx (mentioned above) in conversation with Howard S. Berger, spending more time chatting about his incredibly wild journey through the movie world than on the actual feature at hand. There's quite a bit about Chuck Vincent of course (including the classic Roommates), and detours through other exploitation alleys along the way touching on everything from the differences between entertaining people on film versus video to the commercial demands of X-rated films versus more mainstream ones. They also discuss one major novelty of this film: an '80s horror film take takes place entirely in daylight and doesn't rely on jump scares. A second audio commentary, also new, features the lively podcasting gang at The Hysteria Continues offering their own take on the film. Among the highlights: pointing out the power tool mayhem that would never have flown had this gotten a U.K. release back in the day; tying the film to the direction of the slasher craze which was on a down-slide at the time; the joys of spotting Slayer graffiti in the background; and the brief trend of mixing hard rock and horror films, to just give you an idea. Quite a fun party track, especially if you're a fan of the film. Star Ruth Collins, who has the most flamboyant role, appears for a new interview, "Tina's Terror" (17m56s), discussing the unusual way she got the role after it had already been cast with someone very different, her fond memories of her director, and the inside scoop on that unforgettable rooftop chicken-eating scene. She also verifies the stories about the last-minute negotiations involved in her brief topless scene, which wasn't in her original contract. In "Movie Madhouse" (19m), director of photography Larry Revene explains some of the shortcomings of the production (including a short script that necessitated the inclusion of those Slaughter clips and a completely needless second unit), his connection to getting this role via a gig on an Armand Weston production, the art of doing wheelchair dolly shots, and an unforgettable directing mantra from Friedman: "Think cleavage." Special make-up effects creator Vincent J. Guastini turns up for the third and final new featurettes, "Morgues & Mayhem" (17m38s), which is quite an entertaining peek at how he was just starting out at the time learning the ropes from masters like Dick Smith, with the effects for this film "done out of my mother's pantry." He's full of stories about the resourceful methods used to create the effects as well as tangents like the homeless people and rumored dead bodies in the real asylum location. He also points out a gaffe with a blood tube that will forever alter the climax of the film once you've noticed it. The earlier DVD featurette with Kogan, Friedman and Tasgal is ported over, and a stills gallery (3m5s) is also included. The reversible packaging design sports a new cover design by Justin Osbourne, and in the first pressing only, an insert booklet is included with liner notes by Made for TV Mayhem's Amanda Reyes.
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (1.78:1)
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (1.33:1)
Code Red (DVD)
Updated review on July 11, 2018.