Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bloody Nightmares #3: Nightmare Asylum (1992)

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An entirely unpleasant viewing experience, Todd Sheet's Nightmare Asylum strongly resembles a particularly violent high school play being performed in a haunted house, but with little of the entertainment value that might suggest. Every line is shouted, punches miss by a foot, and generally everyone just seems embarrassed to be involved. Sheets has spoken of his affection for Italian horror directors like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, but this effort is artless and (even worse) tedious despite its hour running time.

To create the proper nightmare atmosphere for his film, Sheets has made a conscious choice to nearly completely avoid a plot. We follow Lisa (Lori Hassel) as she wanders from room to room in a demented funhouse (with wax museum!), occasionally being pestered by a creepy family (and their son Spider) or terrorized by a group of killers who are intent on dispatching people in the messiest way possible. There's plenty of corn syrup and organ meat on display, and it frankly gets to be a tad nauseating. Eventually, the big baddies (think a really talkative Leatherface with long blond hair and his mullet zombie sidekick) drag everyone to the zombie pit (not as fun as it sounds) before we're treated to not one, but two shitty fake-out endings.

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According to the credits, Nightmare Asylum was filmed at The Devil's Dark Side Haunted House. It looks like a lot of fun. It has a wax museum ("Look, it's Pinhead! Cool, Linda Blair from The Exorcist!"), and a creepy morgue and all sorts of gory fun. However, it is not a movie set, and while Sheets gets plenty of mileage out of colored lights and fog machines, the rest of production is painful to sit through. While the cast is obviously speaking as loud as possible, it's only occasionally intelligable which makes long scenes of dialogue (much of which seems to have been made up on the spot) a garbled mess.

There is plenty of gore, including a severed tongue, guts being strewn about, and a stick being shoved up an ass and out a mouth, but it's all ineptly filmed or sabotaged by choppy editing. Occasionally a scene will be broken up by a seemingly random shot of a part of the haunted house, but such moments (along with the predominance of lit Exit signs) tend to remind the viewer of just how cheap looking the production is.

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The acting is terrible, though Matthew Lewis as Spider at least seems to be trying, even if what he's trying to do is annoying. The nastiest of the baddies (Blonde Leatherface and his Mullet friend) have intolerably long scenes together, and the rare occasions when you can understand what's being said ("Oh, your aching banana! Well, my aching cumquat you piece of dookie!"), may make you long for the times that it's incomprehensible.

Make-up is mostly of the white face-paint variety, and the special effects are what you would expect from a Halloween haunted house. We get a few zombies at the end, but by then even viewers with the strongest fortitude will be crying out in pain.

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Nightmare Asylum appears to have been shot on a camcorder, and it has a comparable image quality to low budet porno of the era. The Bloody Nightmares DVD transfer appears to come directly from a home video release, even including the FBI warning at the beginning. There are a few small glitches throughout, but considering the awful production as a whole it would seem petty to pick on them.

Almost the entire soundtrack is taken up by what seems to be a ten second loop from a quite familiar piece of soundtrack music. It's invasive, and seems to have been placed at random. There are some other original pieces of music that appear throughout composed by Enochian Key or Sheets himself, but it serves mostly to drown out dialogue. Thankfully.

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On his website, Todd Sheets refers to himself as a "master of splatter". I respectfully disagree. From looking at his filmography, it seems like the films of Mr. Sheets appear again in this collection. After watching Nightmare Asylum, i'm suddenly starting to worry about what i've gotten myself into.

Oh so very bad.

2 comments:

C. Dennis Moore said...

I've just finished my last of what felt like a million Todd Sheets movies in the Decrepit Crypt of Nightmares set and, unfortunately, they never get much better than NIGHTMARE ASYLUM. Good luck and I look forward to more reviews of Sheets' work.

Doug Tilley said...

I'm sad to say that i've looked ahead and i'm slightly afraid of what is upcoming. Particularly from Sheets (who, I should admit has been very nice and gracious on his comments left to me).
I checked out your blog as well, and I see that you're making your way through the whole collection. I'm glad that it's just not me who enjoys a filmic form of self-flagellation. :)
If you're ever looking for a place to throw some of your thoughts on the collection, or anything else movie-related, together, feel free to drop me a line.