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Hell Asylum   D+

Full Moon Pictures / Tempe Entertainment

Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Danny Draven
Writer: Trent Haaga
Cast: Debra Mayer, Tanya Dempsey, Sunny Lombardo, Stacey Scowley, Olimpia Fernandez, Tim Muskatell, Joe Estevez.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

Shamelessly lampooning the reality television trend without doing anything interesting with its premise, Hell Asylum finds a sleazy TV producer shooting the pilot of a show called Chill Challenge. Five hot young ladies are sent into a haunted building that has a morbid history. If one of the girls manages to stay the night without dropping out early, she'll walk away with a cool million bucks. The thing is, the producer has the show rigged to prey on each girl's biggest fears, which the girls revealed in pre-show interviews. In any event, someone or something really starts bumping off the contestants. And, yes, it gets bloody.

There's a weak attempt at character development by way of the pre-show interviews, but the characters never really break out of their stereotypical shells. Paige (Debra Mayer) is the bitchy wanna-be starlet, Ambrosia (Tanya Dempsey) is the sexy vixen, Rainbow (Sunny Lombardo) is the gothic chick interested in the supernatural, Stacy (Stacey Scowley) is the timid girl next-door, and Marti (Olimpia Fernandez) is the tough black chick. And while Tim Muskatell brings a sense of sleazy fun to his role as the desperate producer, he's a cardboard cutout like the rest.

This lack of strong, believable characters may not have mattered much had the film delivered any worthwhile scares or chuckles (Jason X's characters were similarly weak, but at least it was fun). Hell Asylum merely delivers lots of flash and noise and not much more. Yeah, the gore flows like wine, showering us with a nice supply of spilled innards, but the violence has very little impact. It's just there, pummeling us over the head repeatedly, but failing to elicit much of a response. Well, there is one cool scene where a ghoul uses a dead guy as a puppet of sorts, but most of the film's gruesomeness is surprisingly uninspired. Too bad.

Pulling triple-duty as cinematographer, editor, and director, Danny Draven should be commended for his ability to turn out a decent-looking product, even if the product isn't worthy of his talents. Shot on professional-grade digital video like his previous film, HorrorVision, it looks nice enough and has some good camerawork and slick editing, but some of the stylistic flourishes (like the frequent use of a transition that turns the screen to snow) become annoying rather quickly. In Draven's video production diary included on the DVD, he talks about the insanely fast eight-day production schedule. He says he wanted to do so much more, but it was impossible to accomplish many things on such a fast-paced shoot. "When it's not your money," he says, "it's not your movie." That said, I see this as more of a filmmaker-for-hire gig for Draven than a film that he can truly call his own. Draven has talent, but I'd like to see a movie where he's able to show what he's truly capable of. I suspect it won't be long.

The special edition DVD from Tempe Entertainment (limited to 2,000 copies) features the film in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, along with a commentary track by Draven and music composer Josephine Soegijanty. The disc also includes the previously mentioned director's diary, cast and crew interviews, bloopers and outtakes, a stills gallery, the usual collection of Tempe trailers, and an interview with Joe Estevez (Martin Sheen's less famous brother), who has a brief role in the movie as the investor who helps finance the Chill Challenge TV show.

As expected, Tempe has packed this DVD full of goodies, but I haven't even mentioned the best bonus feature of them all: Mulva: Zombie Ass Kicker! It's a hilarious 45-minute gory comedy from director Chris Seaver. It's zero-budget and rough around the edges, but it's got attitude, quotable dialogue, and gratuitous dancing. The movie features cameos from Debbie Rochon (American Nightmare) and Troma honcho Lloyd Kaufman. The folks who made this flick are truly demented, but I mean that in the best possible way. If Hell Asylum had been half as much fun as Mulva: Zombie Ass Kicker! it would have been worthwhile. For shame.

Review published 05.24.2002.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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