Color, 1987, 79m. / Directed by Richard Friedman / Starring Patty Mullen, Kristin Davis, Ruth Collins, Kenny Price, Michael Rogen / Code Red

Imagine a zero-budget cross between Session 9 and Student Bodies, and that might give you some idea of the weird, ramshackle charm of Doom Asylum, a New Jersey independent splatter film that wound up garnering a small cult following thanks to its cut release on VHS in the late 1980s. As with many of its ilk, some of the cast members eventually went on to some degree of fame, namely Kristin Davis (later to play "good girl" Charlotte on Sex and the City and stuck here in spectacles and a blue bathing suit) and Frankenhooker/pin-up model Patty Mullen.

The storyline is another riff on the standard slasher formula with a traumatized car crash victim (Rogen) reacting the death of his fiancee by killing two coroners who have him laid out on a slab and then finding refuge beneath an asylum. A decade later, some vacationing yuppies (including the daughter of the original car crash victim) and sneering punk rockers happen to barge in on the deserted asylum and, when not squabbling with each other, soon grow to regret their choice of locale when the badly disfigured, wisecracking lunatic starts dispatching of them in varying degrees of arterial spray.

A fun artifact if nowhere even close to a "good" film, Doom Asylum heaps on the gore and cinematic Cheez-Whiz with gleeful abandon from start to finish, making this the goofiest Troma film that company never actually made. Continuity never even begins to enter the picture (keep an eye on the killer's TV, which is blank in long shots but runs very long Tod Slaughter clips in close-up), and the actors' various Northeastern accents make for a wonderful clash of delivery styles (with a heavy accent on Joisey). Shot on film but completed on video (complete with chintzy electronic credits), Doom Asylum never rises above its budget but makes for a fine time-killer and a fine souvenir of an age when anyone with an affinity for flinging red stuff at the camera could have his own shot at the big time.

Though you might not guess it from the finished product, director Richard Friedman actually did manage to go on to bigger things; in fact, this was his second film after the sluggish Farley Granger thriller, Deathmask. Some of his future work included episodes of Tales from the Darkside, a Billy Joel video, and the video cult favorite, Phantom of the Mall. He's represented well on this DVD release, joined with production manager Bill Tasgal for a lively commentary track in which they frankly assess how the film was made and where it succeeds and fails. Too bad screenwriter Rick Marx (who started in porn and went to several Cannon Films and crime books) isn't on hand as well, since he seems to have dropped off the face of the earth in the past decade. Friedman and Tasgal are joined on-camera by Films Around the World's Alexander W. Kogan, Jr. for a video featurette that covers the making of the film from a broader perspective. The transfer itself is about as good as could be expected, given the shooting conditions and less-than-prime materials involved; it's certainly sharp enough, and the tacky late-'80s color schemes don't look compromised. This also represents the unseen longer cut of the film, specifically with one character's digits graphically removed in a most painful fashion. The disc is rounded out with some appetizingly trashy trailers for other Code Red titles including Boarding House (which makes this film look like Silence of the Lambs), The Forest, Devil Times Five, Human Experiments, Stingray, The Dark Ride, Gang Wars, Enter the White Dragon, and the hotly-anticipated Nightmare, Love Me Deadly, Silent Scream, The Redeemer and The Farmer.

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