HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Stonehearst Asylum
HTS Overall Score:77
The period piece horror movie is an almost forgotten memory to those of us who grew up reading H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, but it is extremely pleasing to see a return to those old classic tales of the macabre. Edgar Allan Poe was a special favorite of mine growing up and I can remember reading and re reading “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Pit and the Pendulum” till the pages were so dog eared and worn that I feared that I would have to replace my parents old copy of Poe’s works. “Stonehearst Asylum” is an adaptation of one of Poe’s more famous works “The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether”, giving it a slight twist and modernizing the ending for American audiences it plays out as a creepy and disturbing look into the psyche of a madman.
After a brief glimpse into 18th century mental treatments in the form of a flashback we are introduced to our hero, Dr. Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess), a young medical doctor who wishes to intern at the outlying Stonehearst Asylum in England. Dr. Lamb (Ben Kingsley), the headmaster at Stonehearst welcomes him in and soon gets our young doctor accustomed to the mental patients housed inside. Dr. Newgate is soon confused at the very “different” approach to mental health treatment, but impressed with the results. As time passes Newgate can’t put his finger on it, but knows something is amiss. The nurses and patients all appear “odd” and the head of security around the place is a bit of a cruel master. The only patient / nurse that he runs across that seems to be sane is miss Eliza Graves (Kate), whom is kept in the Asylum because she stabbed her husband (a monster of a man who is described as having horrible “appetites”). Now she stays in safety, committed by her father while her husband seeks to have her removed from the Asylum.
Quite by accident, Edward goes down to the basement of Stonehearst and makes a discovery so horrifying that it changes EVERYTHING about the place. Determined to complete his stay there, Edward has to bury this realization down within him as he embarks upon a mission only known to himself, an undertaking that very well be more than meets the eye. I honestly can’t explain anymore, as every word I speak past this point of the plot will reveal much too much and spoil the movie. For those of you who have read the old Poe novel you can guess some of the plot twists, but being that they adapted the story with a different outcome, only the essence remains the same.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=35474[/img]I really was surprised by this one, as by all accounts it was a low budget film that went straight to home video. Color me pink and put a bow in my hair when I got the through the first act and was actively excited for the rest of the movie. The great casting of Michael Caine and Ben Kinsley does wonders for the asylum staff and Kate Beckinsale is a dream as the stunningly beautiful Eliza Graves. She’s never been one of the greats, but keeping her as the almost ethereal and mysterious beauty that she is in the movie allows her just the right amount of restriction and freedom to play the part to a T.
Interestingly enough, despite the fact that this is an American produced and directed movie, they kept with the locale and hired a TON of English actors, most of which range from good to great. Especially in their portrayal of madness. Once things start unraveling in this little picture of perfection the horror and the madness starts to see through at every pore. Poe was a master at making you feel nauseated and horrified in the pit of your stomach without shedding a single drop of blood and his original tale is rife with that kind of macabre horror. To make it even more interesting is the fact that Poe wrote “The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether” back in a day when Mental health was in much political turmoil. Back then people were calling for mental health reform as patients were treated as specimens and prisoners instead of people needing health care. Horrific experiments ran wild and the poor treatment of them was becoming a hot topic. Thusly “Stonehearst Asylum” keeps with the core of the short story by showing both sides of the coin. The horrific crimes created by mentally ill people and the other side being the torture and “treatment” given down by men who saw them as little more than animals. It pulls at your heart strings, giving us insight into WHY the main characters do what they do, on both sides of the fence.
The movie is not without its flaws, as you can see some of the low budget squeak through in some of the locations and the cramped quarters given to the whole movie. If you look real closely you can see some of the set piece seams and the background actors sometimes ham it up a tad much. Still, they did a great job considering the shoe string budget.
Rated PG-13 for disturbing and violent images, sexual content and language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=35482[/img]The 2.35:1 AVC encoded image carries a certain stylistic form to the presentation, giving the film a desaturated look that features blues, greys, light greens and greys to fit the macabre scenario that Edgar Allan Poe writes about. Colors look slightly blue/grey and the picture has a certain softness to it that resembles the misty time that Poe describes in his short story. The detail is still there, and there is plenty of little intricacies to see in the picture, especially the clothing and the grimness of the asylum in general. When Edward Newgate hides in the wine cabinet while Dr. Lamb describes his grim rise to the top and the consequences of those who oppose him shows off some great looking nuances to the film. The contrast is always well balanced and whites show appropriate punch, albeit there are some times where they bloom JUST a little bit. The blacks are well detailed and really don’t show much crush, but there is a bit of washing out in some scenes due to the uniquely desaturated color grading to achieve the period look. A good looking image that holds up well under scrutiny, especially when considering the stylistic choices made.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=35490[/img]The Dolby Digital lossless 5.1 track holds up similarly under scrutiny, giving a very pleasing experience without going into the realm of greatness. Dialogue is front and center for this track, with some mild use of the surrounds in the mix. Well balanced it has some great dynamics to the front sound stage, but unfortunately there really isn’t a whole lot of ambient noise in the rear channels. Or at least not as much as there could have been. There IS some solid ambient noises in the forest escape and the creepy creaking of the asylum at large, but the musical score really takes up the majority of the back end. I was actually surprised at the amount of low end to the track, as the LFE channel lit up quite often and gave out some really nice and powerful bass. The track is mainly a dialogue centric one, and shows its limited budget at times, but never is chintzy or feels low quality, just mainly a drama track at heart.
• Making of featurette
“Stonehearst Asylum” does an excellent job at creating that creepy yet aristocratic nature of Edgar Allan Poe’s works which results in a very satisfying viewing experience. The period horror piece is largely a thing of the past and it is nice to see a take on the old classics of yore instead of relying on JUST gore and brain matter (although there is a time and place for those as well) so prevalent in today’s horror genre. The video and audio are both very impressive with the only weak link in the package being the lack of extras. If you’re a fan of a nice cerebral horror movie that deals with horror of the mind vs. horror of the eyes, then I definitely recommend a watch.
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Jim Sturgess
Directed By: Brad Anderson
Written By: Joe Gangemi, Edgar Allan Poe
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 AVC
Audio: ENGLISH: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, English DD 2.0
Studio: Millennium Entertainment
Runtime: 113 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: December 16th 2014
Buy Stonehearst Asylum Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: A good watch for the horror crowd
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