Saturday, November 14, 2009

Stay away from 'Hell Asylum'

Hell Asylum (2002)
Starring: Tanya Dempsy, Debra Mayer, Sunny Lombardo, Stacey Scowley, Timothy Muskatell, Olimpia Fernandez and Joe Estevez
Director: Danny Draven
Producers: Charles Band, JR Bookwalter and Tammi Sutton
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Remember "Halloween: Resurrection", the movie where a reality show producer had contestants spent the night in the "infamous Meyers house"? Well, imagine a film that's dumber and more cheaply than that one, and which features and awful script and some of the worst gore effects ever included in a commercial production. If you can imagine that, you have an idea of the awfulness that is "Hell Asylum".

In "Hell Asylum", disgraced television producer Max (Muskatell) is given one last chance by a production company exec (Estevez) to deliver a hit show. He conceives "Chill Challenge", a reality show where five sexy girls are locked in a haunted house for a night where they must complete challenges set by Max in order to win a share of one million dollars. Needless to say, Max's carnival spookhouse tricks are the least of the worries the girls are going to have.

Released the same year as "Halloween: Resurrection", this film is either a case of not-so-great-minds thinking alike, or it's a case of someone trying to copy when they thought was a great idea. Whatever the origin of the idea behind the film, it's a lame one that's made even lamer by a bad use of the "helmet-cam" stchick that was also included in "Resurrection", where the actors are supposedly filming the footage as they move around. Here's it's used to show stairs. Nothing but stairs. And I even think it's the same set of stairs we're shown over and over.

Why not use the "helmet-cam" to show close-ups of the flesh-eating ghosts devour the contenstants? Why not use the device to evoke suspense and horror instead of boredom? Probably because it would require some degree of inventiveness in stretching a budget so low that they couldn't even afford raw sausages to double for intestines being ripped from victims. Instead, what we get looks a mophead dipped in spaghetti sauce (or maybe five cans of spaghetti and meatballs poured onto the chest of the actor. Whatever it is, the gore in this film is so unconvincing that I am amazed that professionals were willing to put their names to this movie. (And this goes for all the effects and costuming, with the exception of a fall down some stairs. It's the only place in the entire movie where any degree of inventiveness is shown, the only point where the film doesn't feel like it was made by a lazy crew who would really rather be working on some up-and-coming band's rock video.

Using the "helmet-cam" set-up for something more creative might have happened if the script for the film had been better. While the writerr did remember to put in some ghost attacks, he forgot to give us a reasonable explanation for why the ghosts attack. Why do the ghosts eat the people they attack? Were they starved to death by their evil, Bluebeard-style husband? Were they demons that were summoned and then trapped in the house? Are they the by-product of the rumored mad science experiments that also took place in the house? The complete lack of any apparent thought given to the "why" of the supernatural attacks in the film make it seem all the more bad.

The awfulness of the film is not the fault of the actors, by the way. The films leads all do a fine job, perhaps even better than the material warrants; it's almost a shame that Tanya Dempsy, Debra Mayer, Stacey Scowley and Sunny Lombardo are wasted in a movie like this, because all appear to be talented actresses.

Speaking of Lombardo, she happens to be the focus of the only sections in the film the truly work, the only time this supposedly horror movie manages to evoke a sense of dread in the viewer. At a point in the film, Lombardo's character is horribly injured and the fesh-ripped ghosts come upon her as she lays there in great pain. She begs one of them to kill her... and it doesn't. It just lets her lay there and die a slow and very painful death. It's a seriously unsettling scene, and it gives a little insight into what this movie could have been if its creators had bothered putting forward some real effort.

As it is, "Hell Asylum" is not worth your time.

Watch the preview, courtesy of Full Moon and YouTube...