Sanitarium, a superb horror anthology film “hosted by” Malcolm McDowell, presents the curious facts preceding the committal of three individuals to a mental hospital. The three patients are under the care of Dr. Henry Stenson (McDowell). I hope Sanitarium signals a revival of macabre portmanteau films, like Dead of Night (1945), From Beyond the Grave (1974) and Asylum (1972).
Sanitarium is grounded in the depressing reality of mental illness. In episode one entitled ‘Figuratively Speaking‘, John Glover plays Gustave, a brilliant, successful, but deeply insecure and paranoid folk artist who sculpts creepy (yet strangely beautiful) figurines and places them amidst opulent backdrops reminiscent of the hand-drawn sets of Edward Gorey. The slovenly, dreadlocked Gustave is convinced that his figurines are alive and is unwilling to part with them, even though his smooth business manager (a mature Robert Englund) has negotiated to sell them to New York business interests for $6 million. Mayhem and madness ensue.
Episode two, entitled ‘Monsters Are Real‘, is the grim tale of Steven (David Mazouz), an introverted schoolboy who is being sexually abused by his intimidating working-class father (brilliantly portrayed by Chris Mulkey), until a mysterious hooded, black-tongued, razor-toothed “protector” appears on the scene. Steven finds that he has a friend for life.
The final and longest episode, ‘Up to the Last Man‘, follows the descent into solitary paranoia of James Silo, a university professor (Lou Diamond Phillips) who is obsessed by the Mayan calendar’s prediction of the end of the world in 2012. Silo’s fear that Earth will be destroyed by aliens inhabiting a mysterious Planet X alienates him from his students, colleagues and family. Silo designs and builds an underground shelter, filled with essential supplies, inside of which after 640 days of isolation, he begins to experience tremors, hallucinations, and other signs of mental instability. But has Silo really murdered his family who were unwilling to follow him into the bunker, or is his imagination running wild? In fact, is he in the shelter at all or living in a fantasy world while sequestered in Dr. Stenson’s asylum? These tantalizing questions remain unanswered.
What more can I say about this excellent production? The cast – right down to the bit players – is uniformly top-drawer. Phillips’ tortured performance is Oscar-worthy. The cinematography by Philip Roy is lush and elegant, and the soundtrack by Douglas Edward appropriately moody and mournful. No jump scares either!
Released by Image Entertainment, Sanitarium is co-directed by newcomers Bryan Ortiz, Bryan Ramirez, and Kerry Valderrama. Kudos to scriptwriters Crystal Bratton, Kerry Valderrama, Bryan Ortiz, James Hartz, Evan Boston and Scott Marcano for their psychological approach to horror and for coming up with an intelligent screenplay aimed at grown-ups.
Sanitarium is a film that deserves more attention that it’s been getting. It may well be the best horror film of 2013. Don’t miss it. Tell them Diabolique sent you.