[Review] 'Asylum: Twisted Tales of Fantasy and Horror' is a Circus of Fun and Bloody Shorts
Based on a concept by Michael Kraetzer, written by Mauro Croche and Guillermo Lockhart, and directed by Carlos Goitia, Asylum: Twisted Tales of Fantasy and Horror combines nine shorts that each touch on the very large idea of death and the less permanent, but almost equally damaging, idea of appearances...
...Brandon (Raymond E. Lee) serves as the throughline for the whole movie and presents a frame narrative in which the different stories are part of his last performance, a kind of one-man routine. His piece incorporates aspects of stand-up and mixes in performance bits as the different stories come to life on stage. The dramatic music and intense eyeball close-up during the opening credits make us already uneasy about Brandon, and the discomfort only grows stronger as he reveals his unhinged and obsessive behavior towards his ex-wife Philippa (Ariadna Asturzzi). The yellow-toothed and grungy clown tells poorly timed and cringe worthy jokes mixed in with stories of his own depressing life with angry outbursts directed at the unseen stage audience. The disheveled performer appears between each segment and ties in themes from each story with the slowly unraveling tale of why his wife left him.
"The Cleansing Hour”- Damien LeVeck
The first short, about a world-renowned priest who performs live-streaming exorcisms, is now a full-length film of the same name on Shudder. A young actress (Heather Morris) feels lucky to be part of the performance and hopes that pretending to be possessed will earn some proper acting credits. To those in the studio, Father Lance (Sam Jaeger) is a sham. For everyone out in streaming-land, the smooth-talking priest draws in a large viewing audience. Father Lance's showmanship skills get put to the real test when a genuine demon wants a starring role in the performance. The story comes off as rushed because the short aspires to be a full-length movie, but lucky for us the fully evolved version is available for your exorcism-battle-viewing pleasure.
"Drudge” - Kheireddine El-Helou
In a metallic workshop, basked in a blue glow, a disguised craftsman builds a mask. The viewer never gets a proper introduction to the masked man, but the antagonist of this short goes by the name Drudge (Cheetah Platt). Switching from the industrial setting of the workshop, we see a lone woman as she wanders through her house late at night. The camera reveals hidden movements outside the house as the woman remains oblivious to any immediate danger. Her picture-perfect life with the all-American turtleneck-wearing boyfriend is quickly shattered when our master craftsman makes his presence known. Dressed all in black and touting some impressive metal accessories, the baddie stalks the woman. The amount of fun killer gadgets the character shows off gives the short the feeling of a serial killer Batman. And while we get no backstory on Drudge, the briefness of the short will certainly pique your curiosity.
"A Father’s Day” - Mat Johns
Next up we get a zombie film in media res. A hungry hoard feeds on some fallen prey, while a limping youngster (Hazel Gibson) slowly saunters up to the group in search of a bite. Behaving like wild animals, the zombies growl and shun the girl, but one zombie (Garth Maunders) shows paternal instincts and offers up a piece of yummy human flesh to earn himself the title World’s Best Zombie Dad. The handsome leading man has sunken eyes and drools blood every time he opens his mouth, but underneath all the gore he finds a way to present as trusting and loving father. The girl zombie seems freshly dead; her wounds are not as severe and she does not enjoy rotten flesh, instead preferring more innocent pursuits like playing in the park. Both lead characters exhibit emotions while still presenting the lifeless and gore-ridden stare associated with the classic zombie. Frequently zombie adventures follow a family unit of some sort as a parent or guardian desperately tries to protect their child. “A Father’s Day” looks at the family unit as zombies and even without dialogue creates a touching moment between a daddy zombie and his kid.
"RIP” - Caye Casas and Albert Pinto
A married couple prepare for an outing as the large and controlling wife (Itziar Castro) tells her small and frail husband (Josep Maria Riera) what he should wear and how he should look. Only through a gentle argument and the wife putting her foot down on the matter of his beard does the couple off-handedly profess the outing in question is the man's funeral. Juan wants to look like himself after his death, but his wife always decides everything. The popularity of the dying man draws quite a crowd and the only thing that could disrupt the success of the funeral would be if Juan did not die. The painstaking efforts Juan's wife and mother (Carme Sansa) take to make sure the funeral will go off without a hitch are wasted when Juan reawakens from his unnamed disease and apparently now possesses the power of immortality. Despite the amount of kitchen appliances used to mangle the man into death, Juan just continues to disappoint his mother and wife. Furthermore, the dissatisfaction of strangers still outweighs the love and life of Juan in this deadpan comedy. Originally a claustrophobic setting with bland and faded colors which reflects the emotionless exchange between the wife and her dying husband, once the story changes directions the colors become much bolder and more vibrant as the room becomes filled with blood and emotions.
“Mamon” - Alejandro Damiani
The next story starts very abruptly as people and objects begin falling from the sky. The reason for such a fanciful beginning is because they are being ejected across the Mexican American border via catapult. The people try to show their displeasure and explain why they belong in America, but a mechanized Mega-Trump (Eddy Vargas) appears and begins shooting and stomping on all the brown people he can see. The whole short follows one bizarre moment after another as the newly expelled people fight back. Definitely some comedic gold wrapped up in this bizarre yet well-executed silliness. Nods to Demolition Man, Lucha Libre, Desperado, and monster movies present serious issues of racism with an otherworldly comical approach.
“Death, Dad, and Son” - Walgenwitz and Winschluss
About midway through the film we get an adorable children’s tale with a large gothic twist. Similar to the family story of two zombies, this short shows Death (Marc Jousset) and his little boy (Fily Keita) in a regular day. Death goes to work in the big and polluted city, while Junior stays home and watches delightful and colorful cartoons. The Claymation figure of death checks names off his list as he watches corrupt, oblivious, and sick people take their final breaths. At home and left to his own devices, little Death watches cartoons about an angel and decides he does not want to be like his dad. Reminiscent of Nightmare Before Christmas, the directors present a character once destined for a more gothic existence, who now decides to try his hand at embracing sunshine and playing the role of giver. However, Junior does not possess a talent for saving and instead creates some pretty ghoulish problems. The storytelling and the artwork build on each other and make loveable characters and a memorable story. Little Death is just too adorable, and I cannot wait for there to be a Funko version of him.
“Entity” - Andrew Desmond
Beginning with the silent and helpless gasps as a young astronaut (Alias Hilsum) slowly floats away from her exploding space station, the camera switches between a close-up of the woman's face framed within her space suit and her body as she slowly floats further into the expansive void of the universe. The close-ups paired with the extreme nothingness puts the viewer into an almost suffocating feeling of drowning. No rescue, nowhere to go, the astronaut exists only within the parameters of her suit. The ending drags on a bit too long and it seemed the director did not know how or when to end the story, but the claustrophobic and suffocating feelings of floating in space will definitely make some viewers squirm.
“Bloodbath” - Adam O'Brien
A man (Michael Lamoureux) works on putting together an engine of some sort while listening to an opera on an old cassette player. He does not speak as he sheds his working clothes and then steps into the shower he apparently hooked up to the motor. He seems very eager for the cleansing embrace of the shower but receives something quite different from the anticipated refreshing warm droplets of water. A little bit of a misleading title because the name of “Bloodbath” makes it seem the lead character will go on a killing spree, but all he wants to do is take a shower. In blood. This is the shortest of the films, but it packs in quite a few questions and will leave you wondering what happens next.
“The Last Show” - Hendryk Witscherkowsky
And just as at the movie’s start, the final tale comes with a clown as well. Taking place in a small-town carnival and shot as if on filmstrip, the last show of this circus decides to end with a clown-run blood bath. Mixing in comic strip images with an intestinal gross-out, the creator of this segment skips any semblance of dialogue, story, or character development and gives the audience an up-close examination of a circus murder spree. Not sure if the film ends on the best segment—the circus scene plays more like a highlight reel for a really gruesome movie—but Asylum definitely goes out with a bloody-bang.
Asylum: Twisted Horror and Fantasy Tales comes to VOD from Red Hound Films November 17th.
By Amylou Ahava
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