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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Horror Hospital (1973) review


Michael Gough (Dr. Christian Storm), Robin Askwith (Jason Jones), Vanessa Shaw (Judy Peters), Ellen Pollock (Aunt Harris), Dennis Price (Mr. Pollack), Skip Martin (Frederick), Kurt Christian (Abraham)

Directed by Antony Balch

The Short Version: This enjoyably and intentionally tongue-in-cheek, bawdy British horror movie is a gruesome good time for those with a taste for 70's style European terror tales. Deliciously tasteless dialog benefits the witty and goofy script. Fans of kung fu movies will delight in the plethora of stock music used here. A fun, party romp perfect for Halloween for those who can appreciate such things.

Jason is a rock singer who decides to take a sabbatical out in the British countryside at a health clinic run by a doctor Storm. He meets a young lady on the train who is also headed for the resort. Once there, the young couple soon surmise that their creepy caretakers are involved in experiments creating zombies and murdering those who learn of their diabolical plans of mind control and commanding the lure of human desire.

This thoroughly bizarre, intentionally campy British horror opus is one of the nuttiest, most bonkers films to ever seep out of the United Kingdom in the 1970's. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) without the music is one way to describe this one. It's never boring and even when someone isn't being beaten up, decapitated, or being thrown into a smoldering, bubbling pit of quicksand, the bawdy dialog keeps things both lively and humorous. Not only that, but there's a long list of macabre and comically creepy characters to hold it all together.

Michael Gough (the mad doctor from KONGA) plays another insane scientist who performs lobotomies on his patients for his mind control experiments. He also has a gruesome contraption attached to his black sedan that conveniently lops off the heads of escaping victims, the noggins falling into a bloody sack. There's also a gas room, a gaggle of leather clad, motorcycle helmet wearing thugs and a moldy monster that looks like its covered in melting candle wax. Gough is deliciously evil as the pasty faced and wheelchair bound Dr. Storm. He's so outlandishly over the top, he'd of made a great Bond villain.

The candle wax creature strikes!

Skip Martin, the maniacal midget from VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972) nearly steals the show here as Frederick, Dr. Storm's assistant who eventually helps our heroes escape. There's a great scene where he knocks out the guards, but can't reach the door of the room holding the two captives. So the resourceful dwarf decides to stack the two leather clad automatons on top of each other using them as a stepping stool! Of course, getting the two lifeless thugs in position proves difficult as Frederick stumbles and falls before finally releasing his two friends.

"How many times this been eatin', eh?"

The two male protagonists attempt several rescue attempts of their girlfriends and end up captured to be used as future experiments for Dr. Storm. Both are ably played by Robin Askwith (TOWER OF EVIL) and Kurt Christian (GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD). Askwith enjoyed his chance at playing a hero and gets to show off in a couple of energetic fight scenes, one of which has him getting a thorough, yet laughably campy beat down. He manages to escape the clinic (accompanied by the most inappropriate action music), but is caught. You expect the scene to end, but the camera stays on the two thugs carrying him away, frequently stopping to punch, kick and pound him with clubs. To top that, during the fiery conclusion, Jason runs through the kitchen and decides to have a quick bite to eat while the place is burning down around him!

The music is also peculiar and totally out of place most of the time. Kung fu fans will get a major kick out of guessing which Shaw Brothers production these DeWolfe tunes were used in. The opening musical cue from CLAN OF THE WHITE LOTUS (1979) is heard during the above mentioned escape scene and adds an additional layer of comical camp to this sequence.

I honestly can't recommend the gaudy delights of HORROR HOSPITAL (1973) enough. I remember seeing it back in the mid 80's when it was on VHS in one of those oversized clamshell cases. This new DVD from Dark Sky is a major improvement and the best this film is ever going to look. An obscure gem, this is one cracking good Brit horror containing all the ingredients for a ghoulish good time in front of the tube.

This review is representative of the Dark Sky DVD


Rob Talbot said...

An old favourite of mine. :)

venoms5 said...

I hadn't seen it in years since the mid 80's and seeing it on the Dark Sky disc was like seeing it for the first time. I watched it twice back to back. I love this movie, too!

dfordoom said...

This movie is a total hoot. And it has Michael Gough!

Jay Shatzer said...

Favorite part of this flick is when the girl asks him to sing a song on the train and he replies, "Nooooooooooo!" Priceless.

venoms5 said...

@ D: Gough is great in this! On the commentary, Tom Weaver mentions meeting him and says that Gough doesn't like talking his appearances in horror movies. He says he politely declines every time.

@ Jay: There's so many great moments in this one, I can't list just one. The scene with Skip Martin having all sorts of trouble getting his friends out of that room, Luke Askwith's beatdown, Askwith stopping for a quick bite to eat while the hospital falls down around him and then there's all that great dialog. Awesome movie all around.

I Like Horror Movies said...

I didnt know what to make of it the first time, definitely a wild ride but one I want to take again shortly to see how it holds up on the second viewing!

venoms5 said...

Great flick, this one. I imagine it's even more hilarious when you've got a few drinks in you.

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