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Horror Hospital

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    Ian Jane
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  • Horror Hospital

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    Released by: Dark Sky Films
    Released on: June 15, 2010.
    Director: Antony Balch
    Cast: Michael Gough, Robin Askwith, Vanessa Shaw, Ellen Pollack, Skip Martin, Dennis Price
    Year: 1973
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    The Movie:

    Directed by Antony Balch and produced by Richard Gordon, 1973's Horror Hospital is a bit of a masterpiece, really. It's everything that a good British horror film should be - spooky, atmospheric, quirky, and wickedly funny - and on top of that, it's got a great cast, a fair bit of bloodshed and even a bit of nudity just for good measure.

    The film follows a young man named Jason (Robin Askwith) who, burnt out on the backstabbing rock and roll scene of early seventies London, decides to take a vacation. A suspicious travel agent named Pollack (Dennis Price) books him a 'hairy holiday' at a health hospital out in the countryside and before you know it, Jason is on the train in hopes of finding some rest and relaxation. What he finds, on the train at least, is a foxy little thing named Judy (Vanessa Shaw), who he basically barges in on, putting her understandable trepidation at ease by assuring her that he won't rape her!

    The pair hit if off on the train ride and wouldn't you know it, Judy is on her way to the same hospital. It seems that her late mother's sister, her Aunt Harris (Ellen Pollack), is the executor of her estate and so despite the fact that the rest of the family considers her lifestyle a bit odd, Judy is off to meet her, knowing full well that Aunt Harris' husband is a strange man named Doctor Storm (Michael Gough). They young couple arrive, greeted by a grumpy Aunt Harris who complains about their presence, and soon realize that Storm's experiments and health care techniques are more than just a little bit unorthodox. Before you know it, the pair is in a fight for their lives, fighting off bizarre zombie like patients and dealing with masked guards and a mischievous midget henchman (Skip Martin)!

    From the fantastic opening sequence in which we see Dr. Storm and his henchman decapitate a pair of uncooperative patients to the glammed out early seventies rock sequences to the copious scenes of spaced out patients roaming the halls of the gothic hospital setting, Horror Hospital is an absolute blast to watch. The film moves at a great pace and really benefits from a marvelously macabre script laced with deep pockets of black comedy and some memorable stand out set pieces. If that doesn't sell you, the picture is very well photographed by cinematographer David McDonald (who also shot Antony Balch's oddball sex film, Bizarre a few years before this film) and zips along to an appropriately vibrant score from composer 'De Wolfe.'

    While not shockingly gory by modern standards, the film's on screen carnage still packs enough of a punch to matter and the patients unfortunate enough to have been operated on by the good Doctor Storm are certainly eerie in their own weird way. Performance wise, Michael Gough steals the show as the man in charge, playing his part with a perfect amount of sinister gusto and seeming to relish in the villainous role in which he's so appropriately cast. Ellen Pollack is almost as evil, her Aunt Harris the consummate bitch of the film, leaving Askwith and perky Vanessa Shaw to provide the 'good guy' contrast in the film. All perform admirably well, never quite overdoing it but coming close enough that you won't soon forget them in the film. Special mention has to go to the scene stealing Skip Martin, approaching near Bloodsucking Freaks levels of malevolent midgetry in the picture with style and devilish charm.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Dark Sky's 1.66.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, taken from the film's original 35mm negative, is a very nice. There's barely any print damage to note and the colors are perfect - the film is clean looking while detail is strong throughout. Skin tones look lifelike and realistic and black levels are solid as well. Dark Sky has done a very impressive job here, presenting this obscure low budget seventies film in surprisingly pristine condition, and it completely destroys the previous transfer on the old DVD release from Elite Entertainment in pretty much every way possible.

    The English language Dolby Digital Mono mix, which comes with optional English subtitles, is clean, clear and well balanced. The score sounds very lively while the dialogue is always easy to understand. There isn't a whole lot of range here, it's an older mono track after all, but for what it is, this mix sounds just fine.

    The main extra is a commentary track which Tom Weaver moderates with producer Richard Gordon. Despite the fact that the film was made almost forty years ago, Gordon's memory is very sharp and he's only too keen to share a lot of interesting stories about this production. He covers Blach's involvement, casting the film, some of the themes and ideas and exploitative elements that it deals with and more. There's a really enjoyable and infectious sense of enthusiasm to this talk that makes it a complete jot to listen to, and it's packed with interesting information and fun anecdotes. Aside from that, look for a trailer for the feature, some nice menu screens, and chapter selection

    The Final Word:

    A really well made horror film with a twisted sense of humor running throughout, Horror Hospital looks and sounds great on this rerelease from Dark Sky, and the excellent commentary from Gordon and Weaver seals the deal.
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