Review: Sanitarium / Cert: 18 / Director: Bryan Ortiz, Bryan Ramirez, Kerry Valderrama / Screenplay: Crystal Bratton, Scott Marcano, Bryan Ortiz, Kerry Valderrama / Starring: Malcolm McDowell, John Glover, Robert Englund, Lou Diamond Phillips / Release Date: June 24th
With its grand traditions extending into the annals of cinematic history, the portmanteau horror film is going through something of a resurgence of late. From the found footage frights of V/H/S through to the comedy kitsch of ABCs of Death, it's nice to see this old format alive and well. It's a tricky one to get right, but when it's good, it can be really good. It just depends on the quality of your stories.
Fans will be appeased right from the start of Sanitarium, in which Malcolm McDowell appears as the film's narrator. In inimitable McDowell style, he tells three stories of three inmates, and how they each came to find themselves in his sanitarium. His first story concerns none other than John Glover (of dubious Smallville and Batman and Robin fame) Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger himself) and some creepy Tim Burton-esque marionettes. Glover plays Gustav, a troubled artist who suffers from terrible headaches and rubbish dreadlocks. It's not long before Gustav goes off the rails and Englund, rather literally, goes over them. With Gustav holding lengthy, delirious conversations with his dolls, it's little wonder that McDowell's sanitarium beckons. Very well acted by Glover, it's the best of the three stories. There's an old rule comedians have, about always opening a gig with your best joke. This is like the horror anthology version of that. It's worth it for Glover's dreadlocks alone, although Robert Englund is as reliably slimy as ever.
With the stories running at half an hour each, this doesn't leave McDowell with much to do, although his presence does lend the film an air of authenticity and classiness. But then, the film's three name actors are no stranger to improving awful source material all by themselves. John Glover has practically made a career from it. No such luck for tales two and three, which feature, respectively, an abused child and, um, Lou Diamond Phillips. Much as we like Lou Diamond Phillips (is it even possible to dislike a man whose middle name is 'Diamond'?), he's no Robert Englund. It also doesn't help that they're both far too slow – particularly the second mood-killer of a tale.
Sanitarium is an interesting collection of horror stories, its duller moments enlivened by a few good actors and clever ideas. Even the pay-offs to the less successful ideas go some way to improving the rest of the film. While it could have done with giving its trio of talented actors more to do, it does make the most of what it has. It's not insanely good, but it is decent, all the same.