Monday, December 16, 2019

“If There’s a Heaven, She’s Got a Box Seat” - Doom Asylum (1988) - Film #165

One of the most difficult of genres is the horror comedy. Let us turn to one of the finest examples of this genre, a film which succeeds based on its calculated risk of making the horror only mildly horrific and the comedy even less amusing. The film is Doom Asylum (1988), an early film directed by Richard Friedman, veteran of TV shows such as Tales from the Darkside and Friday the 13th: The Series, not to mention feature films such as Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge (1989).

Of course, some critics do not appreciate comedy or horror. For example, reviewer dood15 writes, " i think this is really the worst movie i've ever seen. no plot, horrible effects, just plain bad." Reviewer Mr Blue-4 writes, "There might be a worse movie out there than this one, but I wouldn't want to see it. This is bad enough. Completely unfunny, and needless to say unscary, horror spoof of slasher films." And reviewer paul_haakonsen writes, "This movie was a horror comedy of sorts, but it failed on both fronts. There was nothing funny about it, and I wasn't laughing even a single time. Nor were there any real horror to it, unless you count some questionable slasher feature as being proper horror."

Despite these reviews, please read on to find out the truth about the rediscovered gem Doom Asylum...

A convertible drives leisurely down the road, the male driver drinking champagne straight from the bottle, his girlfriend explaining they just won a million dollars in a lawsuit before, for some reason, pouring champagne onto the front seat. “We got everything now!” the man exclaims.

Of course, his exclamation of happiness is ironic, as he soon drives into a van as the camera shakes, indicating a serious car accident. In the aftermath, the bloody man crawls toward his bloody girlfriend. He attempts to hold her hand, but finds it is no longer attached to her body. “The doctors’ll take care of me,” she says.

The film cuts to the autopsy room of a morgue, where the man lies on a slab. As is typical of all coroners in the movies and in real life, the coroner munches on a sandwich while dissecting the man’s body. “Get me the saw, Marvin,” the doctor says to his squeamish assistant. “We’ll scoop these brains right out of here.”

Neither the coroner nor his assistant (both of whom wear the most 80s of 80s clothes) mentions the fact that the corpse’s chest is clearly rising and falling. However, the assistant notices the man’s fingers are twitching, though the coroner explains the movement, unconvincingly, as rigor morris.

Then the man sits up, having been half-skinned.

Understandably angry, the man, Mitch Hansen, murders both the assistant and the coroner.

Ten years later, another convertible drives along the same road. This car is filled with young people ready to party (three of them stand up in the back seat, for unexplained reasons—and all of them wear the most 80s of 80s clothes). They immediately begin to explain the legend of The Coroner. “How ridiculous,” a young woman, Jane, says. “A man lurks around a deserted asylum and kills people with autopsy tools? Sure.” (Jane is played by Kristin Davis of the TV show Sex and the City.)

Also, one of the young women is Kiki, the daughter of the woman who died in the prologue (played, like her mother, by Frankenhooker’s Patty Mullen). Her boyfriend Mike, who is comically indecisive, says, “Maybe we shouldn’t go. Or should we?”

“Mike,” his friend Darnell says, “can’t you ever make up your mind?”

“Yeah, sometimes,” Mike replies. “I mean, occasionally. Once in a while.”

They stop, and Kiki and Mike walk around the area where Kiki’s mother died. “She was a wonderful woman,” Mike reassures Kiki. “If there’s a Heaven, she’s got a box seat.”

Coincidentally, Kiki reaches into the grass and finds her mother’s broken hand mirror. (She also asks her boyfriend Mike if she can call him “Mom.”) Then the partners drive to the nearby abandoned asylum, where they encounter an all-girl band making noise music. “That’s Tina and the Tots,” Darnell explains. “They play the local sewers.” Darnell pulls the plug on their equipment, which for some reason causes the equipment to spark. (In a comical sequence, Darnell sees one of the Tots and experiences love at first sight, having a vision of running toward her through the tall grass and embracing.)

The conflict between the partiers and the noise band increases when Tina and the Tots throw water-filled condoms at their nemeses. “My clothes!” cries Darnell. “They’re all wet!”

When Darnell ventures into the asylum to find his love interest, the drummer, he instead encounters The Coroner, who uses forceps to dig into Darnell’s head, murdering him. (The film curiously fails to explain why the killer is called The Coroner when he is actually a wrongly-autopsied lawyer whose second victim was a coroner.)

The Coroner next kills the keyboard player of Tina and the Tots in a conveniently located acid bath.

Following the classic slasher film formula, characters wander off individually, only to be murdered by The Coroner. Dennis, a baseball card obsessed nerd, is killed by a drill in the forehead. As he drops his cards, The Coroner quips, “I really wanted Mickey Mantle.” One of the musicians is strangled with a stethoscope, and the filmmakers have him giggle while he checks for a heartbeat with the same stethoscope. And Kristin Davis encounters The Coroner, who wields a handheld bone saw—she believes the killer to be a delusion, but he proves himself deadly as she sits in a chair, waiting for him to cut her face open almost bloodlessly.

Between the deaths, we watch The Coroner in his everyday life as he watches public domain Tod Slaughter movies on TV and attends to his girlfriend’s rotting hand, which he keeps in a small shrine.

When Mike and Kiki discover The Coroner is real and killing their friends, instead of running away from the asylum, they find the asylum’s chapel and pray. Kiki says, “And I’d just like to add, God, that if we make it through this, I’ll give you anything you want. Money. Sex. A charge card at Bloomie’s.”

The Coroner peeks through the door. “Amen,” he adds, pulling a bottle of Velvet Touch Anesthesia and a syringe from his medical bag (he carries a medical bag despite, of course, his actual profession as a lawyer).

After their respectful prayers, Mike and Kiki continue to wander aimlessly through the abandoned asylum for no apparent reason, while Tina, the last survivor of her band, does the same thing in another part of the building (she has already discovered the bodies of her bandmates, so the reason for her wandering is unclear). Suddenly, The Coroner anesthetizes Mike and ties Kiki to a bed. “Now don’t go anywhere,” he warns her.

He drags Mike to an autopsy table. “And now, what we’ve all been waiting for,” he says as he removes Mike’s shoes and starts slicing off toes.

Tina discovers the torture and attacks The Coroner with a pipe, but after Tina frees Kiki, Kiki knocks Tina onto a conveyor belt which pulls her through a machine with an unclear purpose. In the fashion of a Ted V. Mikels film, the machine somehow converts Tina into a cube of flesh with a hand and a spring sticking out.

With Mike unconscious and nearly toeless, The Coroner chases Kiki through the asylum. Eventually, she runs outside. The Coroner mistakes her for her mother. “I killed them all for you! Aren’t you grateful!”

He approaches her, but she knees him in the groin and runs away. In the end, ironically, she stabs The Coroner in the eye with her mother’s broken mirror.

“I love you!” he cries.

She quips somewhat confusingly, “I’ve got to tell you, I have a real problem with that.” Then she just walks away, having apparently forgotten about Mike, bleeding to death on the autopsy bed.

The End

It must be noted that Doom Asylum is full of creative makeup effects, the credit for which goes to Vincent J. Guastini, who had previously worked on Spookies (1986), and Mindkiller (1987), and who would go on to work on Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor (1990) as well as other classics. Mr. Guastini's work shines in Doom Asylum's gory slasher deaths, from the acid bath to the bonesaw in the face to Mike's clipped toes. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Guastini has had a prolific career as a makeup effects supervisor, and Doom Asylum is only one of the jewels in his crown.

Unlike other slasher films, Doom Asylum distinguishes itself by revealing its killer's origin in the prologue, and then never explaining anything. While films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) slowly reveal the slasher's identity and motivation, Doom Asylum simply sets up the killer's existence. Lawyer Mitch Hansen wakes up during his own autopsy for no fathomable reason, and then he takes on the identity of The Coroner, also for no fathomable reason. Is Mitch a zombie, or a ghost, or a man with a bad infection who has lived in an abandoned asylum for 10 years for no particular reason? The film's trump card is that it never answers any of these questions. It simply allows Mitch to rampage through the asylum (from which all his victims are free to leave at any time) while making humorous quips that are sometimes related to the victims' deaths.

Why would anyone ask for more?