Saturday, 2 March 2013

Asylum: Mannikins of Horror

‘Mannikins of Horror’ (their spelling, please don’t write in) rounds off the film in an interesting but slightly frustrating way. This segment is in real time, no flashbacks, and is rather brief which is a shame, as the premise is intriguing.
Doctor Byron (Herbert Lom, intense) is a celebrated neuro-surgeon who has gone crackers and now spends his time making models of his ex-colleagues who he believes are responsible for his current condition. These aren’t just bits of plastic and a load of matchsticks glued together, however, indeed Byron claims that he has imbued them with life: organic parts, a fully functioning brain, a soul. We never quite find out how he has achieved this miracle (I have long suspected that this segment is so brief because it pointedly avoids any kind of rational explanation), but he is clear about one thing: they do his bidding, and his bidding is revenge.
After a very short interview, Martin sort of shrugs his shoulders and goes downstairs to discuss his findings with Doctor Rutherford. In the meantime, and over an uncertain timescale (it’s now late at night), Byron stares and stares at a doll that has his own face, seemingly transferring consciousness and the will to kill into it. As Martin and Rutherford rhubarb about methods and treatments, the funny little doll walks across the floor, out into the hall, climbs into the dumb waiter and hitches a ride directly into Rutherford’s office, where it stabs him in the back of the head and kills him.
The whole sequence is extraordinary for a number of reasons, firstly for the fact that the Mannikin traverses the equivalent of several miles of ground whilst travelling at a steady third of a mile an hour; secondly that, despite having a clearly solid and inflexible body it can, apparently, bend and climb stuff and quite easily escape from a locked down secure unit and, finally, that it goes to Rutherford’s office without a weapon of any sort, only coincidentally picking up a discarded  scalpel en route, thereby saving the manikin the crushing embarrassment of travelling all that bloody way simply to gently poke the back of Rutherford’s head with his plastic finger.
Anyway, before you can say ‘Jesus of Nazareth, Doctor Martin has dashed the homicidal homunculus to the floor and crushed it with his foot at which point everyone goes ‘urrggh’ because the little model is full of real life wet, red guts.

Finally, it is revealed that Doctor Starr is not either of the two young girls, the Jewish tailor or even the bonkers Doctor Byron (who ‘burst open’ at the same time that Martin stamped on his dolly), but the kindly man that Martin believes is Max, the Orderly (the Crowman, remember). Starr / Max wastes no time in strangling Doctor Martin with a stethoscope, before bending over his corpse and emitting the most horrible sound, a breathy, scraping kind of maniacal laughter with rises in pitch and intensity and volume: it’s a terrible and terrifying noise, and may be the scariest thing in the film.
As a coda, we see another young man arriving for a job interview. He is met by Doctor Starr and shown inside…
As you might have guessed from the amount of verbiage on the subject, ‘Asylum’ is a firm favourite of mine, a film that I have watched and enjoyed many, many times. For the most part, it’s well written, well directed (by genre stalwart Roy Ward Baker) and, with the exception of Charlotte and Britt, well-acted. It zips along nicely, and doesn’t let ridiculous things like logic get in the way.  Like all portmanteau horror films it can be patchy but, on the plus side, there isn’t time for the dodgy comic story that mars so many of these types of productions. Ultimately, I suppose I’m saying that watching ‘Asylum’ is a very good idea so, although I’ve probably spoiled it all* for you by giving everything away, you should probably get that sorted as soon as.  
* I’m not apologising for the spoilers, by the way, the film is 42 years old, after all.


  1. I'd watch this again right now, but that horrible laugh from Geoffrey Bayldon at the end really scares me. Brrr.

  2. I first saw this film when I was 13 years old...and the murderous homonculous segment has disturbed-then-intrigued with me for the last 36 years. It really is a triumph of pacing over plot holes and it appears to have subsequently inspired at least one episode of the early 1990s television anthology "Monsters".
    By the way, Starr/Max the orderly really pulls the end together with his maniacal murder and laugh; it's a very effective scene which draws the viewer away from the plot-disconnects of "Mannikins" and ends the film on an energetic note of scream-fading-into-dread.