DOOM ASYLUM (1987) Blu-ray
Director: Richard Friedman
Arrow Video USA

Scouring the bottom of the barrel of the slasher market, Arrow Video checks into DOOM ASYLUM with their dual-territory Blu-ray of this eighties direct-to-video obscurity.

Ten years after her mother Judy (Patty Mullen, FRANENHOOKER) was killed in a car crash on the way to paradise with her divorce attorney Mitch (Michael Rogen, BASKET CASE 2), her daughter Kiki (Mullen again), her boyfriend Mike (William Hay), and their friends Jane (SEX AND THE CITY's Kristin Davis), Dennis (Kenny L. Price), and Darnell (Harrison White, SE7EN) decide to pay a visit to the nearby abandoned hospital rumored to be haunted by "The Coroner" who murders curiosity seekers with autopsy equipment. The quintet become too distracted by their turf war with a lesbian-communist punk band – singer Tina (Ruth Collins, PRIME EVIL), keyboardist Rapunzel (Farin), and drummer Godiva (Dawn Alvan) – to notice that someone else is lurking the grounds and corridors with a special interest in Kiki.

One of a handful of direct-to-video-bound late eighties horror films from Films Around the World's Alexander J. Kogan and Barry Tucker – among them GRAVE ROBBERS/DEAD MATE, Andy Milligan's MONSTROSITY, and TRAPPED ALIVE – DOOM ASYLUM is a middling slasher that is primarily remembered as a skeleton in the closet of actress Davis, but what meager charms it offers actually improve with additional views. The stilted performances are off-putting at first, but it soon becomes apparent that the cheese is intentional beyond the one-liners of the killer with Mullen's Kiki asking her caring boyfriend if she can call him "Mom" (and continuing to do so even when he is in mortal peril), Collins' extremely entertaining scenery chewing, and Farin repenting her revolutionary beliefs to avoid being killed ("I'm a republican! I voted for Reagan!"); however, if would be reaching too far to attribute little to Jane's labyrinth analogy of the asylum than comic relief psychobabble however surreal the turns of the climax. The early effects work of Vincent J. Guastini (SPOOKIES) ranges from poor to serviceable apart from a drill to the head bit achieved without cutaways. The scenes of the killer stealing away to his lair to watch Films Around the World-owned Tod Slaughter films – including MURDER IN THE RED BARN and THE FACE AT THE WINDOW – the action of which only sometimes parallels what is going on elsewhere in the film concurrently, brings to mind the heavy padding of THE DEATH MERCHANT cut of the Joe Spinell vehicle THE UNDERTAKER which replaced the Satanic slasher film-within-a-film with clips from THE CORPSE VANISHES, SCARED TO DEATH, AFRICA SCREAMS, BEDTIME FOR BONZO, and THE TERROR. Director Richard Friedman made his debut with DEATH MASK – a low-key true crime film familiar to most from its late night TV play in the eighties and nineties – followed by SCARED STIFF/THE MASTERSON CURSE, and some TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE episodes, and would follow up DOOM ASYLUM with THE PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC'S REVENGE. Associate producer Ted Hope went onto loftier if not always better credits like EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN, THE ICE STORM, and 21 GRAMS.

Although produced with theatrical release in mind, the film ended made its debut on home video from Academy Home Entertainment in a version trimmed for an R-rating. The unrated version became available in 2008 from Code Red using its tape master – the film was either finished on video or edited on film with the opening and closing credits video generated while the Tod Slaughter inserts came from Films Around the World's existing tape masters – with an audio commentary by director Friedman, production manager Bill Tasgal (I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE), and producer Kogan. Arrow Video's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC Blu-ray is derived from a 2K scan of the original camera negative and features both 1.78:1 widescreen – seasoned director of photography Larry Revene (CORRUPTION) composed the film for theatrical play – and 1.33:1 transfers, both of which feature 1.33:1 inserts of the video-generated titles and Tod Slaughter inserts. The widescreen version loses some vertical information – including boom shadows – while the 1.33:1 version is a true open-matte version (the original tape master cropped the sides). For a film shot with a lot of natural light with daytime exteriors and interiors, the new transfer has a crisp and lush look that is generally better than the film deserves (although the effects look even more rubbery than before). The LPCM 1.0 mono track has a bit more umph when it comes to the scoring and source music while dialogue and effects are also a bit more lively. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.

The previous commentary has been dropped, but screenwriter Rick Marx (PLATOON LEADER) is on hand for a new track moderated by Howard S. Berger in which he recalls becoming involved with the production through cinematographer Larry Revene (CORRUPTION) with whom he had collaborated on a number of X- and R-rated Chuck Vincent productions. Of the film itself, he reveals that the humor stems from poking fun at the New York hipster underground crowd; however, the general discussion of the "erotic revolution" of seventies porn and the effects of the Meese Commission as well as the porn and low budget film productions' turn towards video. They talk about the ways in which the film checked off exploitation film elements for theatrical, video, and cable markets but that there was originally not going to be any nudity in the film; and that the filmmakers had no idea how to approach Penthouse Playmate Mullens or B-movie actress Collins about doing nudity (Mullens refused and Collins charged per exposed breast). Podcasters The Hysteria Continues also provide a second commentary track in which they recall how they each came across the obscure film, draw on information from the director's commentary track not included here, and generally poke fun at the film's acting and eighties style. It's not an indispensable track but also not an off-putting MST3K-type trashing of the film.

While the DVD commentary track has not been carried over, the disc does feature the archival interviews segment with Friedman, Tasgal, and Kogan (10:56) in which Kogan discusses Films Around the World's transition from distributor to sales agent in the eighties and their briefly active period of production in the late eighties. Friedman and Tasgal recall meeting on MONDO NEW YORK with producer Steven G. Menkin and approaching Kogan to do a low budget horror movie. Friedman recalls cutting the film on 3/4" video and discovering that the video release was missing gore he recalls including, while Kogan did not know of the cuts until Code Red alerted him that the video master was incomplete. Red Shirt Pictures includes some new interviews including "Tina's Terror" (17:56) in which actress Collins recalls being "washed up" as a petit-sized model at twenty-five and trying her hand at the movies, landing her first role in PSYCHOS IN LOVE and appearing in director Gorman Bechard's subsequent films GALACTIC GIGOLO and CEMETERY HIGH (her role in DOOM ASYLUM necessitating her character's early "departure" form the latter film). She recalls the fun set, her co-stars, and tells her version of being approached to do the nude scene (noting that a lot of actresses during the period were particular about doing nudity because of their concurrent modeling and TV commercial work).

In "Movie Madhouse" (19:00), cinematographer Revene discusses his early career working with porn filmmakers Armand Weston, John Amero, and Chuck Vincent. Of the film, he recalls not visiting the location before production started, and how the practice of "shooting from the hip" resulted in too short a running time – even with a second unit that produced not much of use – leading to the use of Films Around the World-owned Tod Slaughter clips. He notes that they pretty much to the script apart from his suggestion of the slow motion bits with Darnell and Godiva that allowed him to use his high-speed camera. "Morgues and Mayhem" (17:38) is an interview with make-up artist Guastini who noted Dick Smith (THE EXORCIST) as a mentor while Tom Savini's book GRAND ILLUSIONS was instructive in learning effects rigs (including the drill to the head bit which was done in DOOM ASYLUM without a metal plate to protect the actor). He notes that the acid-exposed skull was inspired by Smith's GHOST STORY creation, and also acknowledges the contributions of fellow effects artist Paul C. Reilly (TV's MONSTERS) including two severed hand props (one of which was repurposed for a third effect). The disc also includes a stills gallery (3:05). Not provided for review were the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourne or the fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Made-for-TV Mayhem podcaster Amanda Reyes included with the first pressing. (Eric Cotenas)