Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Horror Hospital (1973)

Horror Hospital is an outrageously lurid and deliriously trashy 1973 British horror film. Its entertainment value lies mainly in its sheer overwhelming awfulness and the fact that it knows it’s awful and it revels in it.

Jason (played by the staggeringly untalented Robin Askwith, a veteran of such classics of British cinema as Confessions of a Window Cleaner) had had one of his songs ripped off by an unscrupulous band manager, and decides to console himself by taking a holiday. He sees an advertisement for Hairy Holidays, a company that apparently specialises in holidays for hippies and sets off for the country. On the train he meets a pretty young woman named Judy, a young woman with such appalling taste that she actually finds Jason attractive. It turns out she’s heading for the same destination, a manor owned by her aunt. The aunt used to run a whorehouse in Hamburg, but now she’s hooked up with a crazed doctor named Storm. The manor is a kind of health farm, but since Dr Storm is played by Michael Gough we know immediately that he’s going to be an evil mad scientist.

Dr Storm trained under Pavlov but had to leave Russia when Stalin came to power. It seems he was too crazy for Stalin’s tastes. The health farm is simply a way of attracting young people to the remote manor here they become subjects for his medical experiments. They are turned into lobotomised human automatons, completely subservient to Dr Storm’s will, and impervious to pain. The reason for these experiments is never made clear. He’s just a mad scientist and it’s the sort of thing mad scientists do. Logic is not this film’s strong point. He has an assistant, a dwarf named Frederick.

Judy and Jason quickly discover that there is evil afoot, but the bumbling Jason finds himself thrown into a cell while Judy is about to become the next candidate for Dr Storm’s surgery.

The movie tries for a kind of high camp feel, but director Antony Balch doesn’t really have sufficient style to pull it off. It still succeeds moderately well as tongue-in-cheek horror schlock, with plenty of unconvincing gore. The crudity of the make-up and other effects tends if anything to add to the fun. The big black car with the scythe blade for executing troublesome patients and ex-employees is a nice touch.

And it has Michael Gough, and even better Michael Gough as a mad scientist, and that’s sufficient reason on its own for seeing this one. Vanessa Shaw as Judy demonstrates a formidable talent for screaming, a talent she exercises at every possible opportunity. Dennis Price contributes an amusing cameo, and Skip Martin is entertaining as the dwarf Frederick. If you like extremely bad horror that doesn’t take itself even moderately seriously and exults in being silly and trashy then Horror Hospital should deliver the goods for you.

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