Directed by: Bryan Ramirez
Produced by: Rick Carillo
Amanda Rubio Ramirez
Screenplay(s) by: Crystal Bratton
Created by: Kerry Valderrama
Starring: Malcolm McDowell
Lou Diamond Phillips
Music by: Douglas Edward
Cinematography by: Philip Roy
Editing by: Paul de la Cerda
Studio: XYZ Films
Distributed by: Signature Entertainment (United Kingdom)
Release date: June 24, 2013 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 108 minutes
Country: United States
Production budget: (N/A)
Box-office revenue (as of publication): (N/A)
Alrighty so, as I have mentioned in pretty much every freakin' review that I've done over the past week or two, Halloween is just around the corner and I've got a whole load of horror movies that I want to get reviewing, so be all ears for that. Also, it being my equivalent to Christmas round this period, I do plan on doing an article on Lucio Fulci's Gates Of Hell trilogy (City Of The Living Dead, The Beyond, The House By The Cemetery) and I'll see about getting another one in there. Last year I done an article on 'Alternative Halloween Movies' (a link for which I'll be running at the bottom of each review for the next couple of weeks), so with that covered, I might just do one on Dario Argento or something. So, for all the latest in cinema, keep your eyes posted!
Today's movie, which does not have it's own Wikipedia article, is Sanitarium, a horror anthology film released over here in the United Kingdom straight-to-video (I know it's DVD, but doesn't video sound better?). What sold me on the movie was the involvement of Malcolm McDowell, who plays Dr. Stensen, the sort-of Vincent Price figure linking the three stories in the film together. Furthermore, it was £3 in my local Tesco, and horror anthology films, even at their weakest, are oftentimes more engaging in their short-film-format than their feature-length counterparts. It had a lot to live up to, because this year we've been spoiled and graced with the presence of two great horror movies, Evil Dead and Maniac, but even more strangely, they're horror remakes, which are usually a real thorny no-go in my side. The film has three directors (Bryan Ramirez, Bryan Ortiz, Kerry Valderrama), each directing a segment ('Figuratively Speaking', 'Monsters Are Real', 'Up To The Last Man' respectively) on the topic of the mentally ill, the protagonists each patients in Malcolm McDowell's frame story/plot device of the eponymous Sanitarium. Incidentally, I had to get the title's of the individual segments by consulting my personal DVD copy, because nowhere on the Facebook page or the non-existent website does it mention them, and I didn't know it was an anthology film 'til midway through the film, so for the cock-ups, congratulations to the distributor for undermining the film before people have a chance to even watch it!
So, starting with the good, even though it's quite obvious that he's there to pick up the paycheque for about three day's work, Malcolm McDowell is always a welcome presence. He has one of those voices like a Vincent Price that is perfectly suited to voiceover narration, and even if he's reading the telephone book, you could listen to McDowell all day. He has obviously aged over the forty-five years since he graced the screens as Mick Travis in Lindsay Anderson's If..., but in the voiceover and onscreen, there is still the odd flash and twinkle in the eye of what once was. Also, the third segment, Kerry Valderrama's 'Up To The Last Man' is, as a whole, a very solid piece. The director does what those making a short in an anthology film do best, taking the central concept and working on it from the ground up. The paranoid atmosphere with which the segment is imbued is palpable throughout, with some good set design and a surprisingly affecting performance by Lou Diamond Phillips ensure that we believe in the legitimacy of the concept. Despite having two pieces preceding it and more or less following the same "it's all in their head" format, 'Up To The Last Man' still manages to plant the seeds of doubt and, while nothing new, is a strong riff on the end of days concept. Also, there are glimpses of talent in 'Figurative Speaking.' Featuring John Glover in a good performance as Gustav, a troubled artist who looks somewhat like a dreadlocked Alejandro Jodorowsky, there's some interesting use of montage editing techniques to implicate the increasing mental instability of the character as his creations 'speak' to him. As a whole, Sanitarium is a film that has one really strong segment with another decent middle...
of the road one, and another which is absolutely rubbish. While 'Figuratively Speaking' isn't much to talk about, it's still done with relative skill and one can see it for what it's worth, but the second segment of the film, 'Monsters Are Real,' is only frightening in just how boring it is. Featuring a young boy (named Steven. Alice Cooper reference? No, too much.) whose defining feature seems to be massive glasses ("see him there, huh, huh, he has glasses, he's the troubled one."), it's a poor treatise on domestic violence wrapped up in the marauding guise of the horror genre. Furthermore, the plot development, not to spoil anything, involves a boy who is being harassed by a malevolent creature that only he is aware of, and the story moves in such a way that it doesn't end up making sense at all. I'm sorry, I'm open to everything and benefit of the doubt, yadda, yadda, yadda, but this was the one where I just put my foot down and said there is no narrative coherence here, and I've been through Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Last Year In Marienbad et al (both excellent head-scramblers), and you're completely lost on me. Thankfully, we had the Valderrama segment to pick the whole film up again, but 'Monsters Are Real' was one of the worst pieces of horror cinema I've seen in a long, long time. Other things throughout the film are niggles, such as stilted dialogue being performed by hammy actors (a conversation preceding the 'Monsters Are Real' segment involving a student researching for his paper and a security guard is just horrible) and the collective scores by Douglas Edward are textbook horror movie compositions 101. It's like he just read the script and took the incidental cues off of his experience watching just about every other horror movie: that's not how it works. Finally, I know you guys were shooting on sets, but will some tell DP Philip Roy to LEARN HOW TO USE LIGHTING PROPERLY! It's either too bright to be believable or too dark to see, make up your mind at least!
Sanitarium is a film that doesn't come without merits. Malcolm McDowell is always a welcome presence, however minimal his part, and there are glimpses of talent with the use of montage editing technique in 'Figuratively Speaking.' Furthermore, Kerry Valderrama's 'Up To The Last Man,' the film's highlight, is a legitimately strong example of a psychological horror short. The production design of the primary set, the surprisingly effective performance by Lou Diamond Phillips (and the sound design, which I forgot to mention earlier) create an intensely paranoid atmosphere and an interesting riff on the end of days concept. However, despite this, I've still gotta take Sanitarium as a uniform whole, and in that case it's a primarily negative film. 'Figuratively Speaking' is a decent watch, but the second segment 'Monsters Are Real,' is a poor treatise on domestic violence wrapped up in the marauding guise of the horror genre. The only thing scary about it is just how frighteningly dull it is and just how lacking in narrative coherence the short is (this is someone who thinks Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Last Year In Marienbad are coherent movies). I have an open mind, but with 'Monsters Are Real,' it's one of the rare times I've put my foot down and just admitted I was lost because it made absolutely no sense whatsoever. There is some stilted dialogue performed by hammy actors, the collective scores are taken straight from the horror textbook by Douglas Edward ("insert incidental cue here...") and someone needs to tell DP Philip Roy to LEARN HOW TO USE LIGHTING PROPERLY! As I said, there are merits, but it's more bad than good.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 4.1/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired (how do you sleep through three alarms?)