When I was growing up I remember the video rental store being the only place in town you could hope to find new indie films. Being a horror fan even back then, the low budget scary movies were like little secret gems hidden in the NEW RENTAL section between the big blockbuster movies. Unfortunately usually after I watched these unknown films, it would quickly become clear why they never made it to theaters. Most of the time these movies were forgotten as soon as I dropped them back off in the return box, but there was one particular film that for some reason stood out. It was called Dark Asylum, and after almost two decades of not being able to get it out of my head, I was finally able to use the power of the internet to get an old copy.
Dark Asylum is about a serial killer nicknamed “The Trasher”. The Trasher manages to claim several victims before the police are able to catch up with him, but once cornered The Trasher provokes a rookie cop into shooting him so that they are forced to take him to a hospital instead of jail. Apparently the nearest medical facility is Crestmore Asylum, which is in the process of being shut down, but the asylum still has enough basic staff to treat and hold The Trasher until the F.B.I. can pick him up. Dr. Maggie Bellum is called in to do a psych evaluation on The Trasher, but surprise surprise he breaks loose and manages to kill off all the guards. One of the guards does manage to initiate the emergency lockdown which closes the gates and keeps The Trasher from escaping, but this also traps Maggie and the hospital janitor in with the killer. The rest of the movie follows these two as they try to find a way out of the hospital before The Trasher can get his hands on them.
The movie was directed and co-written by Gregory Gieras in 2001 for what at the time was a still young Lionsgate Entertainment. Gieras has worked on several other low budget horror films including Day of Reckoning, Big Ass Spider, and The Prince and the Surfer. Technically The Prince and the Surfer is not a horror flick, but it does have Robert Englund as the evil villain so I’m still going to count it.
One of the things that makes this low budget movie stand out is the surprisingly well established cast. Maggie is played by writer, actress, and model Paulina Porizkova, who was even on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The Janitor and other unlikely hero is Judd Nelson. Nelson has acted in over a hundred films, including being the notorious headstrong rebel in the Breakfast Club. Finally The Trasher himself is brought to life by the late Larry Drake who also has a large list of acting credits, including being the main villain for the Darkman franchise. I can’t resist mentioning that acting legend Jürgen Prochnow also makes an appearance, who has been in more horror films than you can shake a severed arm at.
Most straight to video movies are far from perfect, and Dark Asylum is no exception. At times the movie can be comically over the top, and despite having a low budget the asylum might have managed to still look creepy if they had kept it darkly lit, but instead they chose to light it up like it was the set of a soap opera. This movie suffers from the same issues that you find in most low budget horror movies, but after watching it all these years later I was finally able to put my finger on what made it stand out to me all those years a go, and surprisingly enough it was The Trasher himself.
The Trasher is what you would imagine it would be like if Jason Vorhees and Hannibal Lecter had a demonic love child. At the beginning of the movie he appears to be like an animal, a deadly hulk of a man that kills without making a sound. Even after being captured and chained he sits silently as if he is unable to speak, but when he does finally open his mouth the audience is surprised to hear a strong articulate voice that reveals a much more sinister intelligence than the brute he first appeared to be. Once he breaks loose The Trasher crushes his victims when they’re close enough to grab a hold of, but when they’re armed or he’s outnumbered, he instead chooses to use strategy and the environment around him to get the upper hand. He even holds off on killing the heros at first so that he can instead manipulate them into helping him try to turn off the lockdown by pretending he’s a cop over the radio . Admittedly he could come off a little corny, oftentimes I found myself glad that his head was completely devoid of hair, otherwise there’s several points in the movie he would have twirled the ends of an evil mustache if he had one.
Anthony Hopkins Hannibal was released earlier the same year as Dark Asylum, which may or may not have had a strong influence on the making of this film, but either way I found this movie to be an amusing low budget flick with a surprisingly unique killer.