Showing posts with label asylums. Show all posts
Showing posts with label asylums. Show all posts

Jan 9, 2021


You can’t keep a good gimmick down, which is why, ten years on from the release of Paranormal Activity, found-footage horror flicks are still trickling in. Thankfully, theaters are no longer inundated with them, but quieter and lower key productions are continuing to use the tactic – hence we now have the awkwardly named Haunted Hospital: Heilstätten (which, come on, I will DEFINITELY be calling Triple H for the remainder of this review).

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a group of kids take an array of filming equipment into an abandoned hospital believed haunted for sensationalistic reasons but then – plot twist – turns out the place really does have ghosts! (Or demons, or witches, or the pit of hell, or, you know, something that HMOs will write off as a preexisting condition.) Along with this, the Germany-lensed Triple H opts for a modern update by presenting all the trespassers as hosts of their own very disparate Youtube channels, some more successful than others, which has led to some tension between them all. (I think they used to be friends in real life before or during their Youtube fame, but that’s never made clear). There’s Betty (Nilam Farooq), whose channel seems to consist of her sitting on a bed and talking about makeup but never applying any (accurate); Emma (Lisa-Marie Koroll), who helps participants face their very specific fears; and lastly, there’s Charly and Finn (Emilio Sakraya and the amazingly named Timmi Trinks), who host something called Prankstaz, which is exactly what it sounds like, and which is the most obnoxious thing you have ever seen. (Also accurate). Joining them are Theo (Tim Oliver Schultz), the level-headed worrywart, and Marnie (Sonja Gerhardt), a psychic and Theo’s former squeeze. (I’m going to be honest, I’m not 100% of that breakdown because all the girls, bundled up in hats, scarves, and big jackets, kinda look the same, and most of their names are barely spoken aloud during the entire running time. Girls just sort of keep showing up, making you go, “oh, guess I missed her the first time.” Just know that this movie is basically Hellstätten 90210.) The kids all figure that cross promoting with the sadly successful Prankstaz will boost the number of theiir Youtube followers, and that’s all that matters on the entire planet.

For the first two acts, Triple H unfolds exactly as you would expect: the characters are introduced and established as: the main one who will probably live, the “silly” ones who definitely won’t, and the window dressing ones whom no one will especially care about. Dark hallways are wandered, fleeting creepy things in the dark are glimpsed, fights break out among the cast, and bodies begin to drop. During this time, Triple H is very okay – it’s absolutely every other found footage flick you have ever seen, but it’s well made enough that it doesn’t feel like you’re watching anything offensive. In addition, there’s a scene where Theo berates the two Prankstaz hosts for peddling idiocy on their channel and contributing to “the stupidity of our youth,” so you might be thinking, “Oh, wow, Triple H has a message.” Once the third-act twist happens, whatever credit you were willing to lend toward Triple H goes totally out the window and you will groan, groan, groan. To its credit, you’ve never seen anything like it in a found footage flick, but that’s because the twist is nearly as ridiculous as, say, if it’s revealed that the haunted hospital had been under the hellish influence of an evil cantaloupe named Jeremy.

Haunted Hospital: Heilstätten is every found-footage flick you’ve ever seen – that is, until it’s not, and that’s when it’s worse. If you’re among the breed of fan who devours these kinds of flicks regardless of budgets or reputations, you’re likely to find a few worthy yuk-yuks within. For everyone else, avoid.

Mar 3, 2015


In 2008, Dr. Richard E. Gallagher, a board-certified psychiatrist and associate professor of clinical psychiatry at New York Medical College, documented the case of a patient nicknamed "Julia" whom he deduced was indeed possessed by demons. It's rare that a scientist and psychiatrist would acknowledge the possibility of possession; typically doctors think that possession is either fraudulent or a result of mental illness.

Dr. Gallagher personally observed items flying around the room, Julia levitating off the bed, speaking in tongues, and knowing things about people around her that she could not possibly have known. Here is an excerpt from Gallagher's statement:

“Periodically, in our presence, Julia would go into a trance state of a recurring nature. Mentally troubled individuals often ‘dissociate,' but Julia's trances were accompanied by an unusual phenomenon: Out of her mouth would come various threats, taunts and scatological language, phrases like ‘Leave her alone, you idiot,' ‘She's ours,' ‘Leave, you imbecile priest,' or just ‘Leave.' The tone of this voice differed markedly from Julia's own, and it varied, sometimes sounding guttural and vaguely masculine, at other points high pitched. Most of her comments during these ‘trances,' or at the subsequent exorcisms, displayed a marked contempt for anything religious or sacred.”

Apr 26, 2013


The Slaughterhouse is located on land, which used to be a farm, but was long ago incorporated into the property of the nearby asylum. How this land became hospital property is where this chilling tale begins. Apparently there used to be a farmer named Mr. Allen who once worked the land, raised and slaughtered livestock there, and generally lead the life of a normal, rural New Jersey farmer. His family, I've been told, had owned and farmed the expansive tract of land for generations. 
Then, one day the State came along and seized his land, telling him that they needed it for the mental institution, and that they had the authority to take it under their right of eminent domain. So they forced the farmer off of his own property, and began using the fields that he had cultivated to grow food to feed the asylum's inmates. 
Naturally the farmer was furious, and did not vacate his property without a fight. He would often be seen wandering the fields he once worked, hollering threats and cursing at any hospital employees who came into his sight. After hospital officials padlocked his house, he would repeatedly break in and continue to live there. When they called the police on him, the authorities had to drag the farmer away kicking and screaming. In a rage he vowed revenge against the hospital staff, and anyone else who dared trespass on his land. 
Eventually, out of sheer anger and frustration, the farmer went completely insane. Then, in an ironic twist of fate, Mr. Allen was committed to the very mental institution, which he so despised and had sworn vengeance against.
As the story goes, the farmer spent many years at the asylum, keeping pretty much to himself. After awhile, the aging Mr. Allen seemed to no longer be a threat to himself or anyone else. He had even gained enough of the trust and confidence of the orderlies to be allowed to join inmate work details outside the asylum's walls. Being a farmer by trade, it was not surprising to any of the officials at the hospital that he volunteered for duties in the institution's gardens and greenhouses, and he even tended to the institution's livestock.
Then one day, after working in the same fields, which he had once owned, the old farmer was nowhere to be found. The overseers rounded up all of the inmates to go back to the asylum, and Mr. Allen was just gone. A massive manhunt ensued, but after several weeks of searching, there was still no sign of him. It was as if he had just been absorbed back into the landscape that he was once so much a part of. Now at this point in the story you might be thinking "good for him, he sure showed them." But the legend doesn't end here, in fact it is really just beginning. You see, apparently farmer Allen had never really forgotten what the State had done to him, nor had he forgiven them for stealing his farm. 
Several weeks had passed since the old farmer had made his escape, and things around the asylum grounds had pretty much gone back to normal. Then people started to report hearing horrible animal noises coming from the Slaughterhouse late at night. Witnesses said that the unearthly racket sounded like the death squeals of pigs being butchered. Although people at the hospital were used to hearing these noises during the day when the Slaughterhouse was operating, it was quite unusual to hear them at night when no one was supposed to be there. Patients were starting to become disturbed due to the ghastly sounds, and many inmates had to be restrained or sedated at night to keep them from totally freaking out. 
Although the hospital sent police out to investigate the Slaughterhouse, no one was ever found trespassing. However, it was soon discovered that some of the farm animals were missing. Then one day something happened that would change the course of everything at the institution forever. 
Workers arriving at the Slaughterhouse early one morning were shocked when they entered the building to find the carcasses of various pigs, sheep, and calves strewn around the killing room floor. To make the gruesome discovery seem even more eerie, the walls were smeared with the blood of the animals. Scrawled across the white brick walls were warnings like "I SEE YOU" and "TONIGHT ALL WILL DIE."
The butchers at the Slaughterhouse notified the superintendent of the hospital, and a decision was made that that night an armed guard would pull an all night security shift at the Slaughterhouse, just in case the unknown intruder returned. That evening the blood curdling squeals of dying pigs once again echoed over the fields of Marlboro, yet no call was made to police from the night watchman, so everyone at the asylum felt confident that all was well. 
The next morning all seemed quiet and normal as the butchers approached the old Slaughterhouse for another day at work. There were no dead animals laying around, and no new bloody graffiti, but there was no security guard to be found anywhere either. The men called for him, but there was no answer. Then, one of them saw something unusual – a small stream of blood, which ran across the killing room floor, then trickled down the drain in the middle of the room. The men followed the tiny red river into the next room, then traced it right under the huge steel door of the meat freezer, which was still locked. 
I can only imagine what went through these men's minds when they swung back that enormous door and caught their first glimpse of the grisly spectacle within. There, hanging by a hook from an overhead meat rack, was the blood soaked body of the night watchman, still in uniform, frozen solid, with the decapitated head of a large pig where his own head used to reside. All around the wall of the freezer were writings on the walls – ramblings about greed, and pigs, and revenge. 
Around town the gruesome discovery was kept as quiet as possible, but in a relatively small community such as Marlboro it is hard to keep such a thing a secret for long.  No one was ever convicted, or even charged with the crime, yet everybody around here had a pretty good idea who the killer was, though nobody will talk about it openly to this day. The Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital has since closed its doors for good, and the old Slaughterhouse has stood abandoned and open to the elements ever since the whole incident took place. Crazy farmer Allen was never heard from again, though legend has it that he still roams his fields in search of trespassers. I was told that he even goes back to the old Slaughterhouse at night, where he sits in the attic staring out over his land through a hole in the building's crumbling roof. I've been told that sometimes people who live close to the old farm still hear the faint sounds of animals in their death throws emanating from the ruins of the Slaughterhouse.

Jan 18, 2013


Asylum employees George (Rupert Evans), Ricky (Joseph Kennedy), and Max (Kenny Doughty) believe they are meant for better things, and they believe their unnamed rock band will take them there. It's for this reason that they've seemingly made their peace with working in the kitchen of an asylum serving food to the criminally insane day-in and day-out. 

As the title suggests, a power failure within the asylum kills the lights and puts them on automatic lock down. It's not soon after that the inmates soon begin to slowly take over (that old adage), seemingly led by the brilliantly-blue-eyed Harry Green (Richard Brake, probably best known for taking the lives of the Waynes in Batman Begins, and taking a dump in Doom). In an effort to assist the security team of escorting the inmates back to their rooms, the friends become isolated from each other in different parts of the hospital. And the inmates don't make it easy - not when they're throwing kitchen knives and beating weaker patients to a pulp.

Director Alexandre Courtès and co-writers S. Craig Zahler and Jérôme Fansten are smart enough to set the story in 1989, rendering arguments of "they could have used their cell phones to call for help!" obsolete  And though it's a dream that will forever remain timeless, the year also makes the idea of these young fellows endeavoring to become grunge rock 'n roll stars a bit more palatable, using their location (damn-near-Seattle) and their Nirvana-inspired lifestyle to easily establish just what we would expect of our characters. If the aspiring musician movie trope has taught us anything, it's that country boys are simple, rappers are playas, and rock stars start off with the best of intentions but soon teeter on the edge of losing themselves to drugs, alcohol, and "the life." Today, the grunge movement - and Nirvana specifically - are bemoaned for putting the final nail in the coffin of "true" rock 'n roll (as if there were still a place for Kiss and Bon Jovi in the land of triple-priced coffee) before putting another nail in their own. The grunge movement was the most short-lived in musical history. This does not bode well for our characters.

Asylum Blackout is a simple story, and simple means are used to tell it. Our actors are perfectly competent, and in the case of Evans' George, likable and sympathetic. Courtès rests on old techniques - slow motion,  the Wilhelm scream, distant blurry flashes of "what the fuck was that?" - but manages to use them effectively. He lets the story tell itself, not necessarily in the mood to ramp up the action for the less than patient crowd. But at the same time, there is that indescribable feeling of unfulfillment that permeates the hallways of Sans Asylum. The makings of a potentially unnerving and disturbing tale is here, somewhere, but for whatever reason it never comes to fruition - at least not on a significant level. As a piece of pulp, however, it works just fine. It is a zombie movie without the zombies. It is Friday the 13th with a dozen killers. People die, oh yes, and in brutally bloody ways. The set pieces in this regard are effective and are capable of providing a few thrills, cheap though they may be. The political or societal subtext of George Romero are nowhere to be found (which I bring up because this feels like something he would have made somewhere between Night of the Living Dead and The Crazies) and it makes you wonder if director Courtès ever had any intention of attempting such. IE, yes, Richard Brake biting off one of his own fingers and slowly chewing it is messed up, but after you're done squirming, you wonder what was the point.

If your horror film is set in a lunatic asylum, then that's half the battle. Even the most rudimentary filmmaker can gain some mileage from the dark, barred, and hopeless surroundings in which their characters find themselves, but those with a fine eye and keen sense are apt to deliver a minor horror classic. Brad Anderson's Session 9 comes to mind. And though it didn't set the world aflame, Carpenter's The Ward utilized its institutional environment to maximum effect. And let's not forget the over-the-top-but-wonderful remake of House on Haunted Hill, boasting perhaps the creepiest asylum captured on celluloid. 

In Asylum Blackout, Sans Asylum of Washington State is no different. The place is sprawling, and it's entirely constructed of white brick and gray metal. Dimly lit corridors stretch off into dull darkness, and what light there is becomes lost in a nauseating haze.

Asylums are naturally creepy and very sad. They exude an effortless history - more so than medical hospitals, ancient universities, and even museums. Within the confines of an asylum, even the most mundane object has the power to make your imagination run away; a wheelchair, a master key ring, a tray of pills. They only hint at the madness and the despair you'll find within each room.

While this is all well and good, the problem is Asylum Blackout depends only on the "they're ALL crazy, be afraid!" mindset to shock its audience. It also relies on the idea that the insane behind their cell doors are just dying for a chance to take back, violently, the prison that houses them. In filmdom we're supposed to let that slide and not take things so seriously, but it can't help but feel as if there were a real missed opportunity to say something about the environment of the asylum and those that are housed there. A suggestion that one of the inmates, Pete, is meek and harmless is interesting and injects a little much needed humanity, but his character is never used to full effect. Instead, the innocent are stabbed with crowbars, and bare eyeballs endure tasers.

I've read of critics' dismissal of the film's twist ending (because every horror film needs one these days) but I rather like it. It's in keeping with the aforementioned sadness and despair that asylums exude. That is, until, the last horrific gag of the film - and then you're reminded that Asylum Blackout doesn't want to do anything other than shock you. And I suppose that's okay, depending on what you want. To expect anything more, however, is crazy.