DIRECTOR Bryan Ortiz; Bryan Ramirez; Kerry Valderrama WRITER Evan Boston; Crystal Bratton; James Hartz; Scott Marcano; Bryan Ortiz; Kerry Valderrama STARS Malcolm McDowell; Lou Diamond Phillips; John Glover DVD 24 June
Let’s start with a positive. Malcolm McDowell is in this movie. In recent years the old Droog has allowed himself to appear in a variety of low-budget cinema, paying the bills and keeping his name alive for a new generation of fans. For Sanitarium he’s the narrator and host for what is a horror anthology, and is by far and away the best thing to appear on screen. But given a script of such barrel-scraping calibre, and direction of such ineptitude, even a legend and screen icon won’t sustain your interest.
The building of the title links together three stories, and it’s the first that is the best of a bad bunch, concerning a troubled artist (John Glover) who suffers from headaches and hallucinations. He is tortured by a collection of small, creepy marionettes that he eventually starts to communicate with, and it’s not long before the Sanitarium is calling. The ever-sleazy Robert Englund appears to push Glover over the edge, but any viewer with a modicum of intelligence and knowledge of the genre will telegraph exactly where this is going.
A second tale features an abused child and the fear of the bogeyman, told mostly in confusing flashback that constantly contradicts itself, and the finale has Lou Diamond Phillips as a professor-cum-religious fanatic who has trapped himself alone in an underground bunker while he believes the world outside is ending. Phillips doesn’t have the skill to carry a story alone, even at a sketchy 30 minutes, and how he — or indeed any of the cast — found himself in this ridiculous mess is perhaps the strangest thing about the film.
Anthologies should work, and have been successful theatrically several times in recent years. In fact the short-story format is perfect for a modern audience raised on bite-sized MTV and YouTube clips. The faults with Sanitarium (and there are many) must lie with writer-directors Bryan Ortiz, Bryan Ramirez and Kerry Valderama, who plunder every cliché and steal every idea from a vast horror catalogue. Imitation is of course the sincerest form of flattery, but at least have the decency to add a twist to your own variations. These stories are like home-video remakes with a B-grade cast. You will find odd moments of gore and nudity here, but it feels as if they were thrown in to sustain one’s interest, and with no depth to any aspect of the film, it smacks of desperation. Truthfully, the most fun to be had with Sanitarium is making notes of where you’ve seen it before. Leave this one alone, and try Dead Of Night, Creepshow, or Mario Bava’s sublime Black Sabbath instead.