Hell Asylum (2002)
By: Craig Villinger  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
DVD
Tempe Video (USA). All Regions, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. 72 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Director: Danny Draven
Starring: Debra Mayer, Tanya Dempsey, Sunny Lombardo, Stacy Scowley, Olimpia Fernandez, Tim Muskatell, Joe Estevez
Screenplay: Trent Haaga
Country: USA
Before we get down to business here let us get one thing straight - I despise reality television. Watching a group of boring individuals sit on their arses and talk about things I couldn't possibly care any less about? Please, I can do that during the day either at work, on the train, or in any building where government employees are housed, so why would I want to do it at home when I am looking to be entertained? It might be fair to say however that if a reality TV show like the one that serves as the basis for Hell Asylum came along, my opinion might be changed.

"One hundred cameras, five contestants, a haunted house, and one million dollars, for the person who survives...The Chill Challenge." That is the premise of "Chill Challenge", a high concept reality TV show being pitched by Max, a struggling producer looking for one last shot at the big time. This is not your average reality television show however. No, according to Max this one features "real haunted houses" and is different because "all of the contestants are hot chicks. Hot, young chicks in sexy ghost hunting outfits. Tight, clingy outfits". Well, that sounds good enough for me, and it proves to be good enough for the television network too as "Chill Challenge" is given the official green light to go into production ASAP.

The fun and games are set to take place inside "Mason House", which in the 1800's was home to a notorious fellow by the name of Phineas Mason, an ill-tempered alcoholic who had a habit of importing mail order brides and then torturing and murdering them when they did not meet his expectations. After Mason's departure the house was turned into an mental asylum, however legend has it that Phineas Mason's brides remained in the house as ghosts, which obviously did nothing to help cure the patients of their psychological ills, and so the asylum was closed down, leaving the house deserted. Until the "Chill Challenge" crew come along that is...

With that all important piece of exposition out of the way, our five contestants are free to enter the house, and true to Max's word they are indeed an impressive group of "Hot young chicks". Doing battle for the one million dollars in prize money are Stacy (The shy country girl), Rainbow (The Goth chick), Amber (The sexy blonde with the knee high leather boots and mini skirt), Marti (The smart, tough, athletic one) and Paige (Who thinks she will be the most famous person in the world one day). After a quick spiel from producer Max, the doors are locked and the "Chill Challenge" begins. Basically, in order to win the "Chill Challenge", each girl must complete a series of tasks within the house that are tailored to each ones own worst fears. Complete the task successfully and they will be allowed to continue. Fail, and it is time to leave the house. Naturally, Max and his small group of technicians (who are also inside the house) have a wide variety of spooks and scares in store for the girls in order to put them off their game, however these are hardly even needed as it quickly becomes apparent that they are not alone in the house, and that the ghosts of Phineas Mason's brides have once again returned to kill off the contestants one by one and ensure that "Chill Challenge" offers something that no other reality TV series can - real blood, real guts... and real deaths!

Considering that Hell Asylum was reportedly shot in just eight days with a budget of thirty five thousand dollars, my own expectations for this film weren't exactly high, and the fact that it was produced by Full Moon entertainment (and shot on video) only served to lower them further. In the long run, these relatively low expectations may have proved to be a blessing however, because I found Hell Asylum to be one of the more interesting low budget horror outings that I have seen of late. Acting performances from all concerned are much better than you would expect from a Full Moon production, and the screenplay from Trent Haaga (Toxic Avenger 4: Citizen Toxie) features some interesting dialogue as well as some intelligent references to the reality TV phenomena. Sure, the film looks extremely cheap, but the eye candy is plentiful, and there is enough blood and gore to keep horror fans satisfied until the end, with graphic beheadings, hearts ripped out through mouths, and more than one messy disembowelment. I would have enjoyed seeing at least one of the stunning cast members get completely naked, but it would be wrong of me to criticize the filmmakers for not providing some full frontal nudie action.

Given a little more time and a little more money, this could have been a better film, but it could have also been much, much worse, and director Danny Draven deserves full credit for producing something so entertaining with such a limited amount of resources. Recommended for those who enjoy sexy women, creepy ghosts (who look and act more like zombies when not hidden behind their hooded cloaks) and gore aplenty. Funnily enough, Hell Asylum was originally intended to be a sequel to the less than impressive Prison of the Dead. Thankfully, somebody changed their mind and decided to take the film in a different direction. They should be commended.
Video
Due to its low budget nature, Hell Asylum was never going to look outstanding on DVD, however Tempe have done their best to make us fans happy. We are treated to an anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer which does show its 'shot on video' origins at times, but is certainly nothing to complain about. Some of the darker scenes look a little 'murky' and the image is of course not as sharp as your average Hollywood production, but it is fair to say that Hell Asylum will never look any better than this.
Audio
I was a little surprised to see that Hell Asylum comes with a 5.1 channel surround track which should please hardcore DVD buffs. The limitations of the source material are obvious in parts, but this is still a somewhat impressive sound mix with the surround channels being used to good effect. Dialogue is always easy to understand, and the hard rock/metal tunes which pop up occasionally might just set off a head banging frenzy in some lounge rooms. Check out the song over the closing credits which features the vocal talents of Phantasm star Reggie Bannister.
Extra Features
Tempe have certainly delivered the goods in the extras department. First up in an audio commentary track from director Danny Draven and composer Josephine Soegijanty. Draven does about 95% of the talking, and while I certainly wouldn't say he is boring, this commentary track was not exactly the most entertaining thing I have listed to of late. Still, it was better than anything I've heard from Tim Burton (Draven actually manages to talk throughout the entire film), which should at least say something.

Well worth watching is the Director's Diary - an 18 minute collection of video segments from Danny Draven in which he goes through the pre-production, production, and post-production of the movie. This provides an extremely interesting insight into the process of low budget movie making and shows just how tight a schedule he had to work with. Also provided is a four minute interview with Joe Estevez (Martin Sheen's brother!), a 14 minute collection of cast and crew interviews, a stills gallery, and an interesting 11 minute collection of bloopers and outtakes in which you get to see star Tim Muskatell dislocate his kneecap! Want more? Well we also get a collection of trailers for the Tempe DVD releases of Hell Asylum (Teaser and full trailer), Witchouse 3: Demon Fire, Vengeance of the Dead, Dead and Rotting, Skinned Alive, Ozone, Eddie Presley and Bloodletting.

One of the more interesting looking features on the disc was the 45 minute short film Mulva - Zombie Ass Kicker. With a title like that I was expecting to see a sexy leather clad vixen kicking major amounts of zombie butt with some stylish kung-fu moves, but what I got instead was a very ugly looking geek with chocolate smeared all over her face and a bunch of freaky looking characters who are too strange to describe here. There are a few gory moments in the film, and it features cameo appearances from Troma's Debbie Rochon, Sgt. Kabukiman, and even head honcho Lloyd Kaufman himself. Let's put it this way - if I'd payed money for this short, then I would have been disappointed, but as far as extra features on a DVD go, it wasn't too bad. Also provided is an audio commentary from director Scott Seaver, Debbie Rochon and others who I can't be bothered mentioning, an introduction from a few nutty cast members, and a teaser trailer for something called Scrotal Vengeance which looks like one to avoid.
The Verdict
Hell Asylum is an enjoyable film which would probably score a three by itself, however Tempe have come to the party with an impressive DVD presentation which definitely pushes this release into four "Aussies" territory. Fans of low budget horror should find this release quite satisfactory.
Movie Score
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