The word Schadenfreude is used to describe a derived joy from the perceived misfortune of others – and while it can be used to describe a number of frightening or disturbing situations, it’s most commonly used to describe harmless mockery. Whether it’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 or YouTube fixtures like Ozzy Man, people like to laugh at the unintentionally hilarious. After a while, studios got hip to the fact that some people actually like bad movies and decided to steer into the skid and try to recreate the accidental comedy of schlock like The Room or Plan 9 From Outer Space. They began producing movies that use purposefully crummy special effects or knowingly cheesy dialogue to approximate the “happy accidents” that make B-movies into cult classics. It’s that level of artifice that hobbles what may have otherwise been a charming – if trashy – film like 1987’s Doom Asylum.
The film follows a group of friends who head out to an abandoned mental asylum for…like, a picnic, I guess? It’s not really clear. They have a blanket and picnic basket without food or drinks, the nerdy guy brings a collection of rare baseball cards along for some reason, and both of the women (including Penthouse Pet Patty Mullen and a Pre-fame Kristin Davis) wear skimpy bathing suits but don’t make an effort to tan, and…I’m already thinking about this more than the writer of this film. Anyway, our vapid teen caricatures have to share the asylum with Tina and the Tots, an all-girl industrial rock band that SUUUUUUUUUCCCKKKS. Oh my god. I don’t know if there was some snafu with legal, but it’s clear the actresses pantomimed a song while filming, yet the cut in the movie features just a random assortment of noise in place of music. That’s not me editorializing about the quality of their songwriting, either. It’s literally just 12 seconds of noise looped over footage of the women miming a musical performance. This would be fine in theory, but they seriously spend about 3 minutes of screen time with this nonsense in a movie that’s 79 minutes long. So…yeah.
Of course, they also share the asylum with a disfigured (undead?) ghoul named Mitch who would love nothing more than to murder anyone and everyone that happens across his little hermitage here. Anyone, that is, besides Kiki (Mullen). You see in a previous life, Mitch was a sleazy palimony attorney whose star client, Judy (also Mullen), had just successfully sued her new ex-husband for $5 million. Mitch, who looks a bit like a young, Sicilian Richard Belzer, decides to celebrate this courtroom victory like any red-blooded American would – by tearing ass through some wooded backroads while swilling champagne and making out with a trophy skank. To further establish that both Mitch and his girlfriend are pieces of s--t, there’s a throwaway line about Judy ditching her kid at a boarding school between their Crystal popping and genuinely gross makeout sessions. Eventually the world rights itself as Mitch and Judy get in a head-on collision, killing them both…kinda. See while Judy died in Mitch’s arms, our would-be antagonist wakes up on the autopsy slab, murders the two coroners (one of whom looks like he could be Jeff Goldblum’s shorter uncle or something), and runs off into the night. Since then, he’s just been chilling at the asylum watching public domain movies and murdering whoever roams into his purview. It’s a tale as old as time.
That’s sort of the issue with this whole movie. It falls into so many tropes, there just isn’t a lot to make it stand out. The acting, for one, is ubiquitously terrible – but the only one bad enough to make you take notice is punk rocker Tina. Everyone is awful, but some are doing it purposefully and others suffer from the writing that’s given them. Oh yeah, the writing is also terrible – and not just in the ways you’d expect. Yeah, Mitch makes s----y jokes after (sometimes during) every kill that aren’t clever or funny, but you anticipate that. I’m talking things like Kiki asking her boyfriend if she can start calling him “Mom” like that’s a normal thing to do. This is done at her mother’s grave and it’s not played for laughs (barring one lame incest joke.) She literally just refers to him as “mom” for the rest of the movie. Then there’s the “too cool black guy” Darnell who wears a nameplate necklace like a 12 year-old girl, but is so aggressively oversexualized that he spits some hauntingly sexist remarks both at his friends and 2/3 of Tina and the Tots.
Actually, let’s talk about misogyny because the movie kind of has an issue with the way it talks about and treats women. Of the 6 women in this movie, 4 are purely there as sex items. That includes punk rocker Tina (the only one to show her boobs), young hottie Kiki and her mom Judy, and even brainy nerd Jane, whose bathing suit is definitely more modest than Kiki’s, but cuts so high on Davis’ hip you can see the tan lines from the bathing suit she wears when she’s not being paid to get murdered by a zombified divorce lawyer. More troubling are the characterizations of the other two female characters: wannabe revolutionary Godiva and love-struck Rapunzel, who manages to fall in love with a dude that looks like Vince from Recess while looking at him from literally 100 feet away. Godiva spends all of her screen time spouting progressive slogans and epithets, attacking the patriarchy and seeming every bit the revolutionary – until she’s in danger and renounces it all as a bullshit facade. I’m sure reading into character motivations and actions in a movie like this is making mountains of the faintest mole hills, but having your one liberal character admit that it’s all for show kinda sticks in my craw.
The effects are actually a tad better than you would expect given the budget of this movie. The gore itself is pretty laughable, but the sequence where Mitch uses a bone saw to slice into Kristin Davis’ face is reasonably well put together from a practical effects standpoint. I mean, it’s clearly a puppet head, but it’s a good one. The situation in which Tina gets crunched into a fleshy cube of blegh, however, is less successful. Still, for the most part the effects really are the strength of this movie. It certainly isn’t the music, which sways between a terrible cover of “House of the Rising Sun” (which, funny enough, is in the public domain) and a forgettable score that feels a bit like the stock music that came with whatever the early 80s equivalent of The Final Cut was. That same cheapness is why it’s hard to rate the transition to Blu-ray, because the movie still looks like a crummy celluloid print – but I’m willing to bet that this is the best it’s ever looked. Comparing it to the more recently shot interviews with Ruth Collins (the actress who plays Tina) found in the movie’s relatively verdant special features menu, the picture is about as clear, so who’s to say, really?
Overall, this is an okay, but not great addition to a schlock aficionado’s collection – but not something for the layperson. If you’re looking for a good movie, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a good bad movie….honestly, this still isn’t really it. The film isn’t without it’s charm, but it doesn’t seem like the kind of movie you’ll want to revisit again and again. Arrow Video did a good job of creating a package that provides a good value for fans of the film, it’s really just the movie itself that fails the packaging.