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Asylum Erotica (DVD)

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Genre: Crime & Thriller / Suitable for 18 years and over / Director: Fernando Di Leo / Actors: Klaus Kinski, Margaret Lee, Rosalba Neri, Jane Garret, John Karlsen ... / DVD released 2005-07-05 at Boulevard / Features of the DVD: PAL

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      09.07.2012 09:43
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      A daft but sleazy Italian giallo/slasher movie

      A review of just the film. A US import costs about a tenner. There was a UK release, but I suspect it will have been quite heavily edited. The US release goes by the film's alternative title, 'Horror Hotel'. There is no hotel in the film, alas.

      This is a sleazy giallo from 1971. The gialli were murder mystery films in which the violence of the murders and the suspense generated placed them firmly in the horror genre. By having a faceless killer stalking and murdering victims, usually female ones, they were a precursor to the slasher films that were ubiquitous in the 1980s.

      In a sanatorium for women with mental health issues, a man breaks in one night and seems to be about to murder one of the inmates when he is disturbed and makes his escape. The next day a new inmate arrives and various ladies get naked. Then, in the evening, the masked man reappears and this time is able to embark on an impressive killing spree.

      It's a very oddly paced film. Usually a giallo will kick off with a murder and then have a killing every 15 minutes or so. Here we get an initial, aborted murder attempt, and then no killings for about an hour. Then, when the killer returns on the second night, he rivals any of the slasher film Jasons or Michaels in body-count terms. Because no one knows about the killer until a good two thirds of the way through the film, there is no speculation about his identity, so as a giallo this is weak and unsatisfying.

      As a sleazefest, though, it's actually pretty fun. This is the kind of sanatorium where all the patients are young and attractive, and there's lots of nudity. Lots and lots. The newest patient is a blonde who keeps having psychotic episodes (we see her trying to kill her husband on the way to the hospital). We get to see her lounging around naked in bed. There's a nymphomaniac who is desperate to have sex with her own brother when he visits (he refuses); she later satisfies herself with the studly gardener. In addition to that scene, we also see her lounging around naked in bed. There's the suicidal businesswoman, who seems almost cured, although one of the doctors seems oddly possessive of her. She spends a certain amount of time lounging around naked in bed. And there's a woman who is just kind of depressed (I think) who doesn't lounge around naked in bed, but does get a naked massage, take a bath, and eventually gets down to some naked lesbian dancing with an attractive nurse.

      These four are the only patients we really get to see, and they each have their own bedroom complete with en suite bathroom. There are a few other patients (all pretty) who get to share a dormitory. We never learn their story.

      The nudity is a great deal more explicit than is usual for a 1971 film. Some of the shots use body doubles (the lack of an appendix scar gives so much away) for rather, um, frank self-abuse scenes. Most of the murders take place when the victims are naked and in a state of arousal, which is the kind of thing that used to be certain to get a film banned in the UK, but which seems to be less problematic now. Many people will doubtless find this kind of thing offensive, but I just find it funny. It's such an adolescent view of the world that I don't think it can really be argued to have done any harm to anyone. The alleged mental illnesses are obviously bogus, just an excuse to get pretty women sleeping alone in the same mansion, and this feels like a smutty sex comedy with a trashy horror plot tacked on.

      The horror stuff is badly executed. Although some of the killings are technically a bit unpleasant (men and clothed women get killed too - the killer racks up quite a good score in a short time), none of them are well executed enough to convince. For some reason this house full of mental patients has an unguarded room full of medieval weaponry and torture implements (including an iron maiden!), so the killer has a convenient source of tools laid out before him. For some reason he wears all black, including a full face mask like Spider-Man's. How is this meant to disguise him exactly? If you met a person dressed normally wandering through a hospital at night you might ask who he was, but you wouldn't automatically assume he was a serial killer. But if he's wearing an obviously creepy black face mask you're going to know right away that he's up to no good.

      As I say, we're given no story clues as to the killer's identity, but it's easy to guess anyway, as the director doesn't make a very good job of hiding their face. No giallo would be complete without an obvious red herring, and here it's Dr Clay, who has a too close interest in one of his patients (they play drafts together, which just makes it look like they're not clever enough to play chess). The main reason to suspect Clay is that he is played by Klaus Kinski, an actor who always looks like he's just killed someone. Kinski, who made dozens of cheap exploitation films, was notoriously difficult to work with. Here he just looks annoyed all the time, especially when anyone touches his ridiculous hair. He was a great, great actor in the right material, but this isn't it. He mostly smokes instead of acting.

      The rest of the cast do what they can. The other memorable cast members are the ladies, and apart from the one body double scene, they're a delightfully uninhibited bunch. It's hard to really judge their acting as everyone's dubbed, but it's safe to say they won't be winning any Oscars anytime soon. I'd happily nominate them for sex, though! (Not sure how that would work exactly, but it sounds good.)

      The mansion location is nice, although the sets for the interiors are less impressive. The murder weapons look unrealistic, as does the blood. The ending is absolutely hilarious, although I can't spoil it for you - let's just say I've never seen such a beautiful display of police incompetence. The music is charmingly lounge, not really typical giallo music. It often sounds like the more relaxed music you get in early Bond films. Each of the victims has extensive flashbacks to things we have already seen just before they meet the killer, which add nothing to the plot and put about five minutes onto the running time. Given that it comes in at 95 minutes, this padding feels unnecessary, although I daresay some prints had the muckier scenes trimmed.

      Slaughter Hotel is a curious beast. It's almost light-heartedly sexy, but then the final third gets down to some fairly serious horror, which would be unpleasant if it were well executed. I found it highly entertaining, but I'm not sure I should really recommend it to anyone.

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