Horror Hospital, 1973.
Directed by Anthony Balch.
Starring Michael Gough, Robin Askwith, Vanessa Shaw, Ellen Pollock, Dennis Price, Skip Martin amd Kurt Christian.
A rock musician becomes the victim of a mad doctor who is looking for subjects to practise his mind control surgery on.
As British as fish n’ chips and cups of tea, Horror Hospital is a 1973 spoof on the mainstream horror movies of the time – Hammer, Amicus, etc. – that stars Robin Askwith (Confessions of a Window Cleaner and owner of probably the most exposed bottom of the 1970s) as Jason Jones, a failed rock musician looking to take a break from everything so he books a holiday at a health farm called Brittlehouse Manor way out in the countryside. On the way he hooks up with fellow traveller Judy Peters (Vanessa Shaw) and they arrive at the manor where they are the guests of Dr. Storm (Michael Gough – Batman/Dracula). a wheelchair-bound ex-Nazi scientist with a penchant for brain experiments and who is very much looking forward to checking in/out his new arrivals.
Sending up the well-worn mad scientist formula and adding a bit of ’70s rock star camp a couple of years before The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Horror Hospital is an absolute hoot, as long as you take it for what it is and go into it expecting nothing more than schlocky fun. The cast – with the notable exception of Dennis Price (Theatre of Blood) camping it up as the flamboyant travel agent Mr. Pollack – play it absolutely straight, which only adds to the madness as the situations the characters find themselves in get more and more absurd. Robin Askwith is surprisingly good as Jason and balances his famous cheeky chappie act with a bit of an edge that works for the part, and Michael Gough is suitably sinister as the creepy Dr. Storm, possibly unaware that the film he is in isn’t to be taken too seriously, and seems to be a combination of every incarnation of Dr. Frankenstein that had been in the movies up until that point. Dennis Price and pint-sized actor Skip Martin (Son of Dracula) as Frederick, Storm’s assistant, are the only other developed characters that are of any interest and seem to know exactly what type of film they are in, although Vanessa Shaw and Kurt Christian seem to be there for eye candy only, but no matter as the film needs a bit of glamour amongst the shots of zombified surgery patients, decapitated heads and modified cars.
Included on the disc is an entertaining interview with Robin Askwith, who likes to remind you that the role of Jason Jones was written especially for him, and also a making-of featurette that includes interviews with a few key members of the production crew, who have nothing but good things to say about making the film, and, like the film itself, there’s not too much more going on than what you see on the surface. Nevertheless, the Blu-ray looks pretty good and is entertaining in a campy, British, 1970s way. It’s no masterpiece but the relatively light tone and gratuitous 1970s nudity means it has a little wider appeal than other genre fare from the same year, such as Don’t Look Now and The Wicker Man, but still with enough of an exploitation edge to keep dyed-in-the-wool horror fans happy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★