Dir. Bryan Ortiz / Bryan Ramirez / Kerry Valderrama 108 mins
UK Release: 24th June 2013
I’m a sucker for anthology films. From Black Sabbath, through to Creepshow and right up to V/H/S. Even the more maligned ones like Body Bags and Campfire Tales I’m quite happy to stick up for. With the success of the aforementioned V/H/S, do we have a resurgence on our hands? I hope so, but let’s see what Sanitarium has to offer.
We begin in a mental institution to learn of how three patients came to be admitted into the facility. We’re guided through proceedings by Dr. Henry Stenson (Malcolm McDowell) who begins with the story of Patient 49. Gustav (John Glover) is an artist / model-maker who creates these gorgeous yet somewhat eerie dolls who wouldn’t be out of place in a Tim Burton animation. He seems a fragile soul and is dependent on daily medication. He also appears able to converse with his creations in a very Puppet Master-esque way, something that becomes more prevalent as his manager Sam (Robert Englund) exerts more and more pressure on him to sell his work. Can he fight his demons to retain his creations or will Sam go over his head, lured by a share of the $6 million offered for Gustav’s work?
Obvious comparisons to the classic Full Moon film aside, this was a great opening chapter to this anthology, buoyed by two great leads (Glover and Englund) it was simple, clever and had a very worthy little sting in its tail.
The next case is that of Patient 26 which Dr. Stenson describes as a disturbing and compelling case of catatonic schizophrenia. This patients story begins in a classroom where we find Steven (David Mazouz) sitting at his desk transfixed by a mysterious hooded stranger standing on the field outside the window. He sees him again soon after on the walk home from school. Steven has a dire home life where there is more than a hint of sexual abuse from his intimidating father (Chris Mulkey). It’s not long before the school suspect something is very wrong in this father / son relationship and Steven’s teacher Ms. Lorne (Lacey Chabert) pays a home visit, but what she discovers will be something quite unimaginable.
What initially plays out here as a standard yet compelling story of child abuse, soon turns into something original and very impressive indeed. This is undoubtedly the strongest story of the three.
The patient in the final case doesn’t seem to have a number, but either way it’s the story of James Silo (Lou Diamond Phillips) who appears to be living in some kind of underground bunker, filled to the brim with essential supplies. Interspersed with this below level existence are glimpses in flashback of how his life used to be. From being a college lecturer with a family, we see an obsession towards a Mayan prophecy for the end of the world gradually start to take over his life, scaring away his students and isolating himself from his family. Is there any way to stop this descent into solitary paranoia?
Sadly the third chapter of the film does see it bow out with a whimper. Phillips is great as the college tutor gradually going nuts, but ultimately as the bar was set so high by the first two stories, this does feel like a little bit of a let down. Overall, while Sanitarium won’t have you hiding behind your pillow, all three stories – especially the first two are solid enough to make you feel a deep sense of unease. If this is the standard for the latest horror anthology redux, bring ‘em on!