Doom Asylum (1987)

It’ll Send Shivers Up Your Funny Bone!

Cover image to 1987's Doom Asylum

A group of teenagers decide to spend the day kicking around an abandoned hospital, only to find that another group of teenagers—an all-girl industrial band called Tina & the Tots—has had the same idea. A sense of entitlement leads to confrontation, but the real threat to their peaceful day of trespassing comes in the form of a mad and deformed coroner who haunts the hallways of this particular hospital and murders interlopers with the tools of his trade. Who, if anyone, will make it out alive?

This odd-duck slasher film has wonky characters, horrible musical sequences, and unbearably padded-out scenes, but it also makes good use of location and has some solid gore scenes, so it’s pretty much a wash in my eyes. Is it worth trudging through the monotonous absurdity to get to the goods? Mayhap it is, but your mileage may vary.

This slasher film is terribly odd, and its characters reflect that. Mike (William Hay), who I suppose is meant to be considered a hero character, is wishy-washy to the extreme. He can’t utter a single line of dialogue without following it up with another one that doubts it. As a character flaw, it’s an interesting one but it grows stale extremely quickly.

Mike’s girlfriend Kiki (Patty Mullen) is the only one with any semblance of a backstory. Her mother Judy (also Patty Mullen) and her divorce lawyer Mitch (Michael Rogen) were in a fatal car accident very near the hospital, which has left Kiki with something of a mommy complex. She has taken to calling Mike “mom”—the Freudian implications of which I don’t even want to begin to explore.

The teenagers from 1987's Doom Asylum

Perhaps the adorable Jane (Kristin Davis) would be interested, though, as she’s a brainy psychology student who is constantly analyzing everyone around her and every situation she’s involved in. All the brains in the world didn’t keep her from breaking into a haunted hospital, so her credentials don’t impress me much. Then there’s also the dorky Dennis (Kenny L. Price) who is obsessed with baseball statistics and Darnell (Harrison White), who is required to rap at least once because he’s African American and this was the 1980s—unfortunately it is literally one of the worst raps ever recorded.

Darnell falls for Tots drummer Rapunzel (the single-named Farin) and has a ridiculous vision of them running towards each other through a field in slow motion. Bandmate Godiva (Dawn Alvan) is a would-be revolutionary who thinks she’s staging a coup by spray painting a public restroom, and lead singer Tina (Ruth Collins) is an obnoxious and over the top glamazon with the most grating fake laughter that you can imagine.

The coroner from 1987's Doom Asylum

And then there’s the killer coroner. I’m not sure if his identity is intended to be a surprise or not (there is nothing surprising about it), so I won’t delve into it here. But believe me, it doesn’t much matter anyway. All you need to know is he’s ugly, he’s violent…and he watches a lot of television. There are multiple lengthy scenes of him watching old black and white Todd Slaughter films on his TV, and although the scenes he’s watching occasionally coincide with what’s happening in the movie, it’s still an obvious attempt to pad the running time to feature length, and not a poetic narrative device.

DOOM ASYLUM is intended to be a horror comedy, but none of the jokes are funny. The only humor to be found is that of the inept, and that puts a damper on the horror aspects, as well. There’s something of an exploitation PHANTOM OF THE OPERA vibe at work here, and seeking out the parallels may be of interest to someone more scholarly than me. There’s a few good gore gags to break up the absurdity, the best involving facial trauma and toe torture. It’s all done with gooey, old-school practical effects.

Girl band The Tots from 1987's Doom Asylum

Music seems to have been important to the filmmaker’s vision, so it would be a shame not to mention it. Aside from the previously mentioned atrocious attempt at rap, we get to hear Tina and the Tots caterwauling, and my ears are still bleeding. Most of the score is immediately forgettable, but there’s an interestingly raw and garage rock-sounding cover of “House of the Rising Sun” that crops up on the soundtrack, as well.

DOOM ASYLUM was filmed at a genuine abandoned hospital, so it has that going for it. Had it been shot at night, the atmosphere likely would have been creepier, but light rental would have blown the budget. The Essex Mountain Sanatorium was founded in Verona, NJ in 1907, utilizing an empty building previously belonging to a school for wayward children. The need for a Tuberculosis hospital was evident, but still met with much controversy. As the number of patients grew, so did the facility, eventually encompassing a dozen buildings and 200 acres, including farmland.

When Western medicine began to defeat the disease, the number of patients shrank, and with it the number of buildings required. The county searched for ways to use these buildings, and one of them housed a substance abuse rehab center while another took on the care of mental patients. All things must come to an end, and the last patient was released in 1977, and the buildings completely abandoned by the end of 1982. For 20 more years, the buildings stood empty before the last of them were destroyed in 2002.

During the period between 1982 and 2002, many legends of supernatural occurrences at the hospital cropped up. How could they not, with all those years of pain and suffering and death within those walls? This made the hospital an ideal place to film a horror movie on location—I just wish that it had been a slightly better movie.

The script for DOOM ASYLUM was written by Rick Marx, who boasts a fairly large but relatively unknown filmography—probably because many of his films are X-rated, with titles like DADDY’S LITTLE GIRLS and NASTY GIRLS (both from 1983). He segued into slightly more mainstream fare with raunchy sex comedies like PREPPIES (1984) and FIRE HOUSE (1987). Genre fans may be interested in his features GOR (1987) and GOR 2 (1988), and DEAD MAN WALKING (1988). Then again, after watching DOOM ASYLUM, they might not.

It was directed by Richard Friedman, who also brought us SCARED STIFF (1987), PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC’S REVENGE (1989), as well as episodes of TALES FROM THE DARK SIDE (1985-1987), FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES (1987), MONSTERS (1989), and BAYWATCH NIGHTS (1995-1997).

Most of the cast didn’t continue onto much success in the movie business, with a few minor exceptions. Ruth Collins can be found in other genre films like PRIME EVIL, DEATH COLLECTOR, and CEMETERY HIGH (all 1988); HEAVEN BECOMES HELL (1989); HELLROLLER (1992), and WITCH ACADEMY (1995).

Patty Mullen has a very limited resumé, but readers of this blog will likely recognize her instantly as the title character from Frank Henenlotter’s 1990 cult classic FRANKENHOOKER.

Kristin Davis got her start on DOOM ASYLUM but made her way to the big time, first with her role as Brooke Armstrong on MELROSE PLACE (1995-1996) and later as Charlotte York on SEX AND THE CITY (1998-2004), and its subsequent reunion films. Something tells me she rarely brings this film up in interviews.


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